Monday, 4 April 2016
Last week the NSW Government released its response into the Wambelong Fire Inquiry held by the Upper House. The response also followed a Coronial Inquiry; handed down in September 2015, into the fire given its ferocity and the amount of devastating damage and loss of stock. It was nothing short of a miracle that there was no loss of human life.
The inquiry was not set up to establish liability but to highlight what went wrong and what can be done better in terms of managing Section 44 fires. Many of the recommendations from the inquiry have been enacted, giving the Rural Fire Service more authority and a clearer line of management of responsibility during such events. Additional resources in the area of fire prevention, hazard reduction and spotting are also welcome.
Of particular note, Recommendation 27 from the inquiry stated, “That the NSW Government take all reasonable steps to expedite the process of establishing any legal liability for the losses incurred by property owners as a result of the Wambelong fire, and in the event that it is found liable, expedite the process of paying compensation claims”.
Three claims for compensation have been lodged with the NSW Self Insurance Corporation, and the government’s response to this is, “The claims were referred to GIO as claims manager for the NSW Self Insurance Corporation, who have declined the claims and informed the affected parties after carefully considering all the facts and circumstances of the matter”.
I find this response disappointing to say the least. The response denies any liability that government agencies inclusive of National Parks and the Rural Fire Service responsible for fire management in the area at the time acted in a negligent manner. It is clear that prior and during the fire wrong decisions were made and clear protocols were not adhered to leading to a catastrophic situation.
A number of landholders neighbouring the National Park were tragically affected by the actions of government agencies and we have a responsibility to make good on this. Hiding behind the claims manager is not the Nationals way of doing things and I do not accept the response to date.
I will be discussing alternative action with the Coonabarabran Property Owners Alliance this week.
Media: Penelope Merriman (02) 6752 5002