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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 1 Hansard (18 February) . . Page.. 85..


Bushfires

MS TUCKER: My question for the Chief Minister is about the conduct of the bushfire inquiry headed by Mr Ron McLeod. The terms of reference are very broad, but nowhere is public involvement mentioned. Will the process-including submissions, hearings, findings and the report-be open to the public? Could you also explain to us how members of the public will be able to give input to, or raise questions with, the inquiry?

MR STANHOPE: It is the government's intention that the inquiry to be undertaken by Mr McLeod be complete, be inclusive and involve public participation. I have not had a discussion with Mr McLeod about his proposed modus operandi. One difficulty is that Mr McLeod has not yet formally retired as Ombudsman, and he is loath to speak publicly until he does. I believe that he is retiring this week. I am hopeful that Mr McLeod will find himself able then to speak publicly about his intentions. I acknowledge that it is unfortunate that there has been this overlap. I was nevertheless attracted to Ron McLeod as somebody who could and would conduct this inquiry. There is perhaps no person in Canberra better placed to conduct an objective, rigorous, independent review or inquiry into all aspects of the Emergency Services Bureau's response and all issues around the fire. Ron McLeod's reputation for capacity, objectivity, integrity and independence is enormous. It cannot be questioned by anybody. I was very much attracted to the possibility of Mr McLeod conducting this inquiry, for those reasons and for the reason that it must be seen and believed by the people of Canberra to be truly objective and to be at arm's length from the government, conducted by a person whose integrity cannot be, never has been and never will be questioned and who will be absolutely rigorous in his assessment of all of the issues in relation to the response of the Emergency Services Bureau and all other agencies to the fire.

I did note in a report in the Canberra Times-a Canberra Times journalist had obviously managed to contact Mr McLeod and address the question of public submissions to him-that Mr McLeod said that he would be receiving and taking public submissions. He invited anybody willing or wishing to make a submission to make that submission to him care of the Department of Justice and Community Safety, as an interim measure until he was on board full time with the inquiry.

I regret that I cannot answer other aspects of your question, Ms Tucker. I will take further advice on them, but it will be a public process and there will be an opportunity to respond to the report when it is provided. I was determined that the report not have long lead times. It is very important that the answers that can be provided from that review be provided sooner rather than later. I have asked Mr McLeod to report by the end of June. He has indicated that, given the content of the terms of reference and the fact that he will be free to devote his entire and full attention to the inquiry, he can meet that reporting date.

As you said, the terms of reference are broad. They are all-encompassing. That was the government's intention. There is no aspect that I do not want Mr McLeod to look into. I am happy for him to look at every aspect of the response of the Emergency Services Bureau, the ACT Fire Brigade, ACT fire services, ACT police, the department of the environment and ACT Forests. Each of those possibilities is explicitly mentioned in the terms of reference.


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