Page 2704 - Week 09 - Tuesday, 16 August 2005

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Instead, the Chief Minister has tried to prevent these questions from being frankly and fearlessly answered by attempting unsuccessfully to have the coroner disqualified. It appears his fear is that blame may be apportioned to him, or his officers, for some aspect of the failings surrounding the disaster. This flies in the face of the Chief Minister’s plea to the community, after the disaster, to blame him if they were going to blame anyone at all. Now that he suspects he may be blamed he is seeking to have the Doogan inquiry thwarted.

In summary, the ACT community relied on the Doogan inquiry as the only reliable, neutral, and searching inquiry to find out why the fires started, why they spread so quickly and became unstoppable, and why the community got precious little warning to evacuate its vulnerable suburbs. The community was relying on the first law officer and Chief Minister to defend and uphold the Doogan inquiry, particularly after his toothless tiger, the McLeod inquiry, failed to answer all of those critical questions.

To illustrate how serious the Chief Minister’s failure in upholding Doogan is, I remind members what the fundamental disappointments of the Chief Minister’s handpicked McLeod inquiry were. While the McLeod inquiry was generally useful, it did not follow through on a number of vital questions. They were: why did the government hesitate on 18 January 2003 to call a state of emergency, resulting in the official warning coming a short time before the first houses in Duffy were destroyed by fire? What were the strategic decisions taken on that day—and fundamentally this is extremely important—and in the three days prior to that? What were the strategic decisions that were not taken in the three days prior to that? These were the issues fundamental to the outcome of the disaster. We need to learn from those outcomes because this community needs to minimise risk for future fire seasons. We are now approaching the third fire season since the January 2003 disaster and these questions have not been answered.

We needed Doogan to answer these questions, and the Chief Minister has moved to choke her off. It is appalling judgment and appalling self-interest. There was also ample evidence that the McLeod inquiry was far less independent than it could or should have been. First, there were some very strong indications, and this continued to be very disturbing, that the final McLeod report had significant departmental input. Was that independent? Was that an inquiry standing back from this government’s departments? Second, why did this inquiry not undertake public hearings? Public hearings did not occur with McLeod. Again, we now need to depend on Doogan to bring that independence that McLeod did not. Why? Because it did not suit the first law officer of the ACT to have a McLeod inquiry that was open and accountable. The control freak in him had to ensure that this inquiry’s outcome was influenced by him. This failure to ensure that an expensive inquiry served the community well is yet another reason why the Chief Minister deserves to be sanctioned. In any case, he is a serial offender in obstructing justice. McLeod did not see justice done. The Benton Auditor-General’s report into the failings and the dysfunctional nature of the Emergency Services Bureau was swept aside by this Attorney-General. Finally, this Attorney-General has obstructed Doogan. Therefore, he deserves censure, and I call upon him to stand aside as Attorney.

MR QUINLAN (Molonglo—Treasurer, Minister for Economic Development and Business, Minister for Tourism, Minister for Sport and Recreation, and Minister for Racing and Gaming) (11.33): I would like to bring a little perspective to this debate. First

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