Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 1 Hansard (28 February) . . Page.. 99..
MR STEFANIAK (continuing):
and do it."He might be right in saying that, but no-one expects him to do that. But you expect him to ask those questions. You expect him to be able to ask intelligent questions in relation to facts put before him, scenarios put before him. Even today we got some evidence out of the Chief Minister here. It was quite interesting that, in his prevarication and his defence of himself, he actually came out and said, "Oh, yes, there was some warning; it was an if—if it had the potential to reach the urban edge". He said it was a big if.
It might have been be a big if, but it was a pretty substantial series of warnings he got there: a 40 to 60 per cent chance of a state of emergency, 70 per cent chance of it getting into Uriarra forest—not very far away, ladies and gentlemen, from Duffy, Dunlop and the suburbs of Weston Creek mentioned as being at greatest risk. There were references to the urban periphery and urban firefighters—all those pointers are there that would have caused any responsible government worth its salt to ask questions. But did you? No.
Another interesting comment from today's proceedings was about Ted Quinlan—a telling stat dec that one. He compared this with the fires of 2001. I think the quote was "no worse than that". That was his comment and his recollection as at 16 January 2006, that cabinet meeting in the morning.
What happened in December 2001? There were letterbox drops. The police went and warned people; they actually went up and warned people at Uriarra forest. I will come to the evidence in relation to some people there, where an 83-year-old woman died because she was waiting for warnings. We had evidence that in that year the police went around. Officials were going up and down with megaphones, warning people—good policy; well done by the government on that occasion. That happened in December 2001 and that caused Ted Quinlan to think that this fire was probably no worse than that. Well, if you warned them then, why on earth didn't you have the nous to ask the relevant questions to ensure that warnings went out again? And, Mr Smyth, I will make some telling comments too that maybe the Chief Minister's absence for a while had something to do with it.
You only have to look at the evidence. You only have to look at the maps of this fire getting worse. You only have to look at the forecast that the fire was growing in size; that the next five days were going to be alarming. A lot of people thought it might be Monday, but it was pretty obvious that this fire was going to be threatening the ACT and that if the weather did not change—and there was nothing to indicate that it would—there was every likelihood this would come. Why, even if you did not warn on the 16th, didn't you warn on the 17th?
Why didn't you declare a state of emergency earlier? Let us even put the warnings to one side now. Mandy Newton, Commander Newton, in the coroner's evidence, wanted a state of emergency declared. And I suspect that if the police had been given proper warnings too, had been given proper briefings on 16 January, they might have liked a state of emergency even earlier than that. And if a state of emergency had been declared then a lot of things could have flowed from that. But even if it was not a state of emergency, even if it was just warnings given at the midday conference, actions could have been taken. Lives could have potentially been saved. Treasured mementos