By Alex Druce – April 5, 2016
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FAR-West NSW Nationals MP Kevin Humphries has broken ranks to roast his government’s response to the two Coonabarabran bushfire inquiries.
He has called for government to review its stance on who was liable for the massive 2013 blaze and who should compensate affected landholders.
The member for Barwon – who was dumped as Minister for Lands, Water and Natural Resources in April last year – said he would not “hide behind the claims manager” and would meet with affected landholders this week to pursue compensation for property lost during the bushfire.
“Hiding behind the claims manager is not the Nationals way of doing things and I do not accept the response to date” – Kevin Humphries
Last week Emergency Services Minister David Elliott handed down the government’s dual response to the coronial and parliamentary inquiries that examined the fires that burned 56,000 hectares, 53 homes, 113 sheds and countless animals in and around the Warrumbungle National Park.
In particular, Mr Humphries took aim at the government’s response which said it would not be liable to compensate landholders who lost property and stock, as per information from its insurer.
Recommendation 27 from the parliamentary inquiry recommended government to quickly get to the bottom of the issue and find who is responsible for paying compensation.
“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,” it said.
Three claims for compensation have been lodged with the NSW Self Insurance Corporation, with the government responding that “…(They) were referred to GIO as claims manager… who have declined the claims and informed the affected parties after carefully considering all the facts and circumstances of the matter”.
Mr Humphries announced he would help affected property owners continue their fight for compensation and would use parliamentary privilege to raise concerns over the handling of the blaze.
He said the matter needed to go back to Premier Mike Baird’s office.
“I find this response disappointing to say the least,” Mr Humphries said.
“It 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.”
Mr Humphries said while legal action was an option, he would prefer to negotiate the issue with his coalition colleagues and save already-affected landowners from paying more fees.
“I wouldn’t like to see a class action (suit), so I will be trying to sort it out through parliament,” he said.