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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 11 Hansard (21 October) . . Page.. 3855..


Bushfires

MR PRATT: My question is to the Chief Minister, Mr Stanhope. Mr Stanhope, on 13 January you appeared on WIN TV speaking about the threat from the bushfires. You stated that, at that moment, there was no need to be alarmed about the bushfires. However, CSIRO bushfire expert, Phil Cheney, whom you do not know, had previously discussed the fire threat with the director of bushfire emergency services and they had both agreed that the fires were likely to reach Canberra.

Minister, did the director advise you about his conversation with Phil Cheney before you made this statement when, for example, you were both doing your helicopter reconnaissance?

MR STANHOPE: As I indicated, I have no recollection of ever having met or heard of Mr Cheney until some months ago. I certainly have no recollection of anybody from the Emergency Services Bureau, in the week before the fire, mentioning the existence of Phil Cheney to me. That was a very busy, highly tense and difficult period. I do not remember the details of lots of conversations, but I have no memory of ever having heard the name Phil Cheney, ever having met him, or ever hearing of any conversations that he may or may not have had.

As to whether or not, as Mr Pratt has just stated, Mr Cheney advised the Emergency Services Bureau that the fire was likely to reach Canberra, and the Emergency Services Bureau concurred in that, those things are news to me. Certainly, the view had been expressed then that, under certain conditions and in certain scenarios, the fire would break containment lines and, if it did so, of course it would move towards Canberra.

I do not know exactly what time it was, but within that particular timeframe-and I do not know whether it was before 18 January or in the weeks after 18 January, as we continued to face significant threats from fires in the ACT-I do recall a particular conversation in which somebody advised me, for instance, that either the 1939 or the 1952 fire, after passing through the ACT, reached the coast. It burnt all the way to Eden.

I remember a conversation in which somebody said to me that there is a precedent for a fire that breaks out in the Brindabellas burning to Eden, that it has happened in the past. I did not check it, but I was informed by somebody who had some experience of fires and fire behaviour that one of the previous major fires in this region, as I say, burnt through here, down over the Great Dividing Range, down Brown Mountain, and all the way to Eden and the Imlay.

In relation to the fire behaviour on that day, and the intensity of the fire and the storm that struck Canberra, I think one of the interesting things is that nobody predicted the firestorm. This is, of course, a significant part of the debate. Yes, there was a serious fire; yes, we were very aware of it; yes, we devoted considerable resources to it; and yes, we hoped that it would be kept behind containment lines.

There was a fall-back position of an additional containment line, if it did break the first line. At that stage, of course, the strategy was to hold the fire behind containment lines and back-burn. We devoted considerable resources to that. In the event that the fire broke


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