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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 1 Hansard (19 February) . . Page.. 178 ..

MR PRATT (continuing):

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 organisational systemic failures occurred, 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. We are not talking about who in politics has the correct answers. We are talking about all of us looking back over a number of years across the political divide and having a damn good look at the way things were established and prepared for these types of events. The community interest and the future safety of citizens and property are of overriding and primary importance. The victims would demand this. A judicial inquiry is necessary. It is the best vehicle for dredging up all the lessons.

It is the opposition's duty of responsibility to examine current government policy, and even to look back at previous government policy, in regard to bushfire management. The government should not, therefore, become too defensive when we call, as we did on 20 January, for a full judicial inquiry.

It is the duty of the Legislative Assembly also to review the ACT emergency management plan governing how the ACT prepares and plans for bushfire emergencies. Have we done enough over the years with respect to bushland and forest management, in particular hazard reduction? Have we done enough over the years to prepare residents in fire-prone suburbs for bushfire contingencies? How can we improve on our emergency management plan, and can we improve on the allocation of resources and, if necessary, give that plan the legislative teeth to make the community a safer and better prepared community? These are the fundamental issues that must be addressed.

The horrific events of 18 January give rise to many questions as to the veracity and suitability of the emergency management plan. We will test the plan's ability to cope with such events only through the judicial inquiry we are calling for. A review of the emergency management plan will incorporate the fundamentals of planning which we consider are missing or which we think may have been underplayed in the planning and preparation time leading up to the recent disaster. An amended emergency management plan would incorporate the lessons learnt from the recent disaster.

It will certainly be my intention as shadow minister for emergency services to prepare suggested amendments to the emergency management plan. I would much prefer to do this through a judicial inquiry, to give a commissioner the opportunity to test our recommendations and our observations. In one way or another, for the community's sake we will push on to achieve a much improved emergency management plan, replete with the lessons learnt from the recent disaster.

Very serious questions are being raised by the ACT media. I do not always agree with or believe the media. A lot of experienced locals are also raising very serious questions as to whether the ACT authorities tackling the Namadgi forest fires for some weeks prior to 18 January understood the explosive combination of the following factors: prevailing drought conditions, pine forest and impending weather. Were the Namadgi blazes to break out towards Canberra, what was going to happen if these three factors combined?

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