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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 1 Hansard (30 January) . . Page.. 17 ..

MR PRATT (continuing):

The ferocity and never before seen dynamics of the firestorm when it hit the frontline suburbs mid-afternoon on 18 January were such that they overwhelmed all firefighting and policing efforts. It seems beyond doubt, for example, that deploying dozens more fire units to Duffy to meet the firestorm would not have saved any more lives or stopped the firewall descending. The accounts of people on the ground were most inspiring and frightening. Mr Speaker, I echo the Chief Minister's praise of the emergency services' senior management and their actions during the disaster.

I will give a couple of examples of the bravery and community spirit that I have witnessed. I have spent a number of afternoons helping out friends who have lost their houses. For example, at 1 Lincoln Place, Chapman, my wife and I spent the afternoon after the fire with a heartbroken Palestinian-Australian family digging through their ruins, sifting through a half-metre deep blanket of ash looking for mum's jewellery. Their harrowing story and those of their neighbours whom I met and spoke to speak volumes for the suddenness and shock of the catastrophic fireball which came over and down Chapman Ridge. There was no warning and they were there on their own and were lucky to get out.

I will not forget the lone motorcycle policeman hastily establishing a road block at the junction of my street with Parry Place on the evening of the 18th. My neighbours and I were up there at sunset anxiously watching the fire approaching from Farrer Ridge. Almost overwhelmed and harried by a number of motorists wanting to get through and after demonstrating much patience, he finally and most forthrightly told them all where to go. I cannot tell you exactly where; Hansard would not cope with that. Perhaps not surprisingly, my neighbours went to his assistance and appealed to the motorists to let the policeman do his duty. Supported by a handful of Urban Services contract personnel, it seemed to me that this one tired policeman, who told me that he was very worried about his wife and family in Kambah, starkly illustrated the incredible overstretching of our emergency services on that terrible Saturday.

Mr Speaker, there are issues which do beg the question. Putting aside our wonderment at the bravery, the spirit and the dedication of our emergency services personnel throughout this disaster, it is time to acknowledge that there are issues about the disaster, our community's preparedness and the way that we all coped which starkly beg investigating. No nation, state, community or organisational entity in a democracy can weather a major incident, let alone a disaster, without commissioning a fully independent and wide-ranging inquiry, the purpose of which is to determine whether legislative, organisational or systemic failures have occurred and then to determine the lessons arising and how those lessons must be implemented to minimise a repeat of the loss of life and property. This can and should be done without playing the blame game and without necessarily looking for heads to roll, though it will be important to make sure that all of those questions are covered.

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