Sydney, Australia — In a preselection coup for NSW Premier Morris Iemma, thestate’s senior fireman has agreed to stand for Labor in the safe seat of BlueMountains.
Rural Fire Service chief Phil Koperberg, 61, will succeed retiringAttorney-General Bob Debus, who is likely to switch to federal politics.
Mr Koperberg should be virtually unbeatable in the seat, given itsvulnerability to bushfire and his own heroic status since the devastatingChristmas fires of 2001.
Announcing his retirement on Monday, Mr Debus cited the boosting of the RFS,which now numbers nearly 70,000 volunteers, as a highlight of his 18-yearparliamentary career.
In hindsight, this may not have been a coincidence.
Mr Debus, a leading member of the party’s Left faction, approached MrKoperberg to succeed him earlier this week, after doubts surfaced about thejudgment of frontrunner Naomi Parry. Enemies of Ms Parry on the party’s Rightrevealed she had described Mr Iemma as a “wet cat” on a website lastyear.
Dutch-born Mr Koperberg came to Australia from Indonesia in 1953 and joinedthe Bush Fire Brigade in 1967.
The inaugural Commissioner of the RFS since 1997, he has not been without hiscritics, with farmers claiming their expertise on local conditions is overlooked.
Mr Koperberg has also been accused of bowing to pressure from green groupsand the Government by limiting the RFS’s prescribed burn-offs.
Mr Koperberg was not available for comment last night.