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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 2 Hansard (6 March) . . Page.. 647 ..

Bushfires-McLeod inquiry

MR CORNWELL: My question is to the Chief Minister. Yesterday in this Assembly you stated that the required outcome of the McLeod inquiry was-and I quote from page 17 of the uncorrected proof Hansard-"providing a thorough examination of the preparation for and response to the January bushfires in time for the lessons learnt to be incorporated into the planning and preparation for the next fire season".

Also yesterday Mr Corbell stated, as recorded at page 30 of Hansard, that the McLeod inquiry would be "conducted in a way which is complementary to but will not conflict with nor seek to duplicate the work of the coroner".

Chief Minister, how can Mr McLeod conduct a thorough examination of the preparation for, and response to, the Canberra bushfires without duplicating some of the work of the coroner?

MR STANHOPE: If the McLeod inquiry was constituted under the Inquiries Act, the chances of it conflicting would be exponentially greater, hundreds of time greater. That is what I have been saying from the outset. Why would you want two judicial inquiries running in tandem on the same issue? If you wanted to generate conflict, the way to do it would be to have two judicial inquiries running together. That is one of the reasons that we chose the administrative inquiry process. We wanted to avoid conflict. This is the best way of doing it, mindful of the fact that we did need a good, quick, cold, hard look at all aspects of the fire. We wanted to do it through an administrative process.

We are doubling up on that with the judicial process. We have an administrative process; we have a judicial process. They are not mutually exclusive. They are running together; they are running in tandem; they are running side by side.

The McLeod inquiry will be completed in four months. I do not believe the coronial process will be finished before Christmas next year. I do not believe we will be in a position to implement the recommendations of the coronial inquest before the bushfire season 2005. I think that is unacceptable. It is unacceptable to the people of the ACT that they should have to wait over two years for answers to some of the fundamental questions that have to be answered in relation to this disaster.

We will get the fastest and most comprehensive answers to a range of questions which are of real relevance to our capacity to protect ourselves before the next bushfire season through an administrative inquiry headed by a person of undoubted integrity, enormous capacity and experience, backed up by one of the most experienced firefighters in the country. That is what we have done. It is a good process.

The only danger faced by the inquiry now is the enormous damage which has been done to it by the Liberal Party impugning the integrity of McLeod by saying that he would engage in a whitewash; that he does not have any honour; that he is a man without honour; that he would engage in some tawdry whitewash. What an outrageous suggestion, what an outrageous slur on a leading Canberran-that he would engage in a whitewash.

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