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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 02 Hansard (Tuesday, 2 March 2004) . . Page.. 468 ..

MR STEFANIAK: Mr Speaker, I ask a supplementary question. Chief Minister, why didn’t you ensure that the public received adequate warning of the serious threat the bushfires posed, given that you were advised that the fires might be serious enough for you to consider declaring a state of emergency?

MR STANHOPE: Once again, Mr Speaker, I do need to put on the record that I have been called to give evidence before the coronial inquest next Monday. I have absolutely no doubt that these are the questions that the counsel assisting the coroner will be asking me in the Coroners Court next Monday. I do know that the shadow Attorney does have some understanding of processes in relation to courts and the operation of courts.

Mr Speaker, before I go on further, I might just say for the record that there really is a matter for some real concern in questioning of this nature a week before I am due to give evidence to the coroner. I have absolutely no doubt that the question that Mr Stefaniak just asked in this place will be asked again by counsel assisting the coroner.

Mr Speaker, there are some issues here for the Assembly: six days before I have been called to give evidence to the coroner on these issues, in relation to a document that was released as a result of a request by counsel assisting the coroner, the opposition has grasped the counsel assisting’s list of questions and is asking them in advance of counsel assisting the coroner doing so.

I am happy to discuss these issues in here, I am happy to respond to the question, but I just want to put on the record that I believe there is a real issue here in terms of the extent to which this parliament is potentially interfering with the administration of justice in asking me questions on a matter that they know will be put to me in the court next Monday. I just say these things for the record. Mr Speaker, members should reflect that I will be questioned on these matters on Monday in the Coroners Court, and I think that is the appropriate place for me to respond to these matters, in the face of a legal inquiry into every aspect of the fire.

To answer the question directly: at the briefing which the cabinet received on Thursday morning, a full range of issues was discussed. A range of theoretical possibilities and potentialities was mentioned. In the context of the briefing, the cabinet was left very generally—I cannot speak for my colleagues but I can speak for myself—with the view or impression that at that stage, that is on Thursday morning, the fires were contained, authorities were in control, there was a range of theoretical possibilities but that at that stage there was no cause for undue alarm. The Emergency Services Bureau was not recommending a change to the nature of the operations for fighting the fire. They were not recommending that there be specific warnings to the community. They were not alerting the cabinet to the need at that time, and in the consequence of the state of the fire at that stage, for any such action.

My attitude to the fighting of the fire—and I know it was the attitude of the minister—was that we had in the Emergency Services Bureau a team of experienced professionals on whom we relied. And we did. We backed their judgment, we backed their professionalism and we accepted their advice.

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