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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 1 Hansard (19 February) . . Page.. 160 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

In relation to the McLeod inquiry, I am determined that there be a short, sharp, vigorous and inclusive inquiry into the operations of the Emergency Services Bureau before and after the fire; that all aspects of the emergency services' preparations, preparedness and expertise be put under the microscope; that we learn the bitter lessons that there may be for us to learn; that we swallow the bitter pills; that we be well placed to protect this community, going into the next bushfire season; and that this community have confidence in the preparedness of its Emergency Services Bureau to withstand fire and disaster to the extent that can be humanly achieved.

As this debate continues, I hope that people keep in focus the fury that nature sometimes vents. In some of the discussion to which I have been privy, in particular in recent days, there has been some moving away from a recognition or acceptance of the fury of the holocaust that beset Canberra on 18 January. It was a firestorm of such enormous force that none of our forces could stand in the face of it. In our discussions around this, we need to remain mindful of that.

Let's look at our processes and our procedures; let's look at how well emergency services performed on the day. But let's do it with a genuine view to finding the answers that need to be found and with a genuine desire to learn from the experience, remaining mindful of the nature of the disaster that befell us. It was a firestorm which, anecdotally, officers of the CSIRO and the ANU are suggesting reached a wind force of up to 200 kilometres per hour-a tornado which, by itself, wreaked enormous havoc, particularly on Chapman and Kambah, let alone the force and nature of the fire, which was part and parcel of the tornado.

Let's keep some perspective on what we faced on the day, and not slip into thinking that it was some sort of zephyr that we could have rushed out and faced with broken branches and wet potato bags. It was not like that at all.

We had 120 fire trucks on the ground that day, and this fire swamped all of them. It ran over the top of all of them. That was the experience all the way, from the Brindabella range to the streets of Duffy. As everyone knows, it burnt a fire tender in Waragamba Avenue. It burnt the tyres to the ground and then it went over the top of that fire tender, from which officers just escaped, and wreaked the havoc that I know it wreaked. I fear, as we rush into this political phase of the disaster, that we tend to forget the nature of the disaster that befell us.

MRS CROSS: I thank the minister for his answer. In general terms, you answered my supplementary in that answer. I just want you to confirm, for the purposes of the Hansard, that you are prepared to exercise your powers under the Coroners Act to ensure that members of the public will be able to participate in the coronial inquiry.

MR STANHOPE: As a result of the notion of the separation of powers, I cannot direct the Coroners Court in the handling or the conduct of any inquiry or inquest. What I have been seeking to achieve this afternoon is a clear understanding from the coroner of the nature and breadth of the inquiry. I am mindful of the strong desire that this not be a narrowly focused inquiry saying, "Yes, there was a fire and the fire proceeded came to Canberra and people died."That is not going to serve the interests of this community, and it is certainly not going to serve the interests of all of those who wish to participate in an inquiry into this fire.

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