Page 4796 - Week 15 - Wednesday, 14 December 2005

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wring every bit of political capital they can out of this issue. But, if this is a stunt, it is a stunt that perhaps the government brought on itself by not dealing with this issue sooner.

Let us pause for a moment and wonder what might have happened if the Liberals had been in power in January 2003. Would they have acted any differently? Would we have seen Brendan Smyth exercise extraordinary intuitive powers in the days leading up to the disaster by contradicting the advice of his most senior advisers and immediately declaring a state of emergency? Would this have been sufficient to save Canberra from the fire front? I do not know. The coroner’s report should shed some light on this matter. But I do not give much credence to the argument that the opposition would have acted very differently if they had been in power.

While the Chief Minister’s statements in the immediate aftermath of the fires accepting total responsibility for the carnage were laudable for their intent, they were perhaps a bit naive and certainly distracting. The doctrine of vicarious liability can only go so far, and I do not want to point fingers of blame for what happened back then. I am not qualified to do so and the events were too tragic for gratuitous grandstanding. But I do think that it is obvious that things could have been handled better and I await with interest the coroner’s report.

If there was inexcusable incompetence of negligence on the part of any public official or institution, that needs to be identified, not to heap blame on any particular person—the personal burden they must bear would be enough for any person to carry—but to ensure that such behaviour is identified and prevented from happening again. And, of course, a finding of gross negligence would open the way for personal injury compensation cases. If this is the finding of the coroner, I urge the government, whichever government is in power at the time, to ease the burden of those who suffered injuries in the fires by smoothing the path for them to receive just compensation. It is reassuring that the government does accept the need for this amendment.

As I said, I am not interested in playing the blame game, but I do want to do what I can to ensure that mistakes that were made will never happen again. For one thing, I will certainly fight hard to ensure that highly flammable rows of mature pine trees are not allowed to grow hard up against residential suburbs ever again. Indeed, as people know, I have fought hard to make sure that they do not grow up in large quantities anywhere in our territory again. By the way, I do believe that steps have been taken since the fires which will make it more unlikely that a similar situation will occur again. While we cannot stop bushfires, I do believe that we now have many of the mechanisms in place to reduce the amount of damage that they will inflict on our city. Even though this resolve and these measures spring from hindsight, that is what we should be seeking now. The wisdom of hindsight is no less valuable for having grown out of tragedy. In fact, the wisdom of hindsight is essential.

I will be supporting this amendment, and probably the government’s amendment, though I do want to register here my concern when amendments are lobbed on us less than an hour before we debate them. I, and I am sure the opposition, like to have a chance to have a really good look at things. I know it will go through, and I think in this case that is probably okay. But it is not always going to be okay. The issue of majority governments having the ability to put through any legislation without proper scrutiny from other

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