Australia — SOME Toodyay fire victims will “shortly” share in $599,000 as part of a $10 million State Government assistance package.
Premier Colin Barnett told State Parliament that he had signed off on the first six payments from a fund he established in October for people who lost homes in the blaze, which incinerated 38 homes, damaged another 200 and burnt 2900ha on December 29, 2009.
“These payments range from $29,000 to the maximum of $190,000,” the Premier said this morning.
“I am pleased to inform the House that the loss adjustor has completed some of the assessments and I have signed off on $599,000 for the first six payments, which should be received by property owners shortly.
“Since I announced the package, RiskCover has begun the process of registering and assessing claims from those who suffered losses. RiskCover has a direct phone line – (08) 9264 3879 – for residents to register details of their claims. RiskCover has placed advertisements in the West Australian and community newspapers outlining the scheme and providing contact details to register claims.”
He said “a number of property owners or their representatives” had contacted RiskCover and about 90 registrations had been received so far.
But he gave no hope of compensation to Tina Guan, a 24-year-old student, who suffered second and third-degree burns to her body in the fire.
This is even though both EnergySafety and the Fire and Emergency Services Authority have recently backed the view that Western Power equipment was the most likely cause of the blaze and Mr Barnett has previously said he accepted those agencies’ findings.
“I know that there have been media reports about injuries sustained in the fire by a visiting Chinese student,” Mr Barnett told Parliament. “I reiterate that the State funded her medical treatment despite her non-resident status.”
But Laurie Biggs, who lost his home in the fire and lived between a sea container and a caravan for months since, said it was “immoral” of the Government not to compensate Ms Guan for her terrible injuries, given she had been burned in a fire that was caused by a Government instrumentality.
“The State caused the fire, she was permanently scarred and she should be grateful that they paid for her medical expenses?” Mr Biggs said. “The Premier is immoral in the way he has stated this … to dismiss her as a so-called foreigner. But it is welcome that some people affected by the fire will shortly be receiving payments.”
Mr Barnett also said that “given the differing reports and investigations into the cause of the fire”, questions of negligence and liability could “only be resolved in a court of law”.
“Claiming assistance through the Governments package will not impact on any persons legal right to take action in relation to the fire,” he said. “People receiving payments will not to have to sign any deed waiving their rights to future legal action.
“While the payments are not intended to cover the full extent of peoples losses, I believe the offer of financial support is fair. The strong response to RiskCover since the package was announced gives support to the governments approach.
“RiskCover has appointed a loss adjusting company to provide a fair and independent assessment of claims,” he said.
“Claims will be assessed and resolved as quickly as reasonably possible. I understand the loss adjustor has spent a considerable amount of time in Toodyay and has already met with many residents.”
He said the package, which was jointly funded by Western Power and the Government, would provide ex gratia payments of up to $190,000 for losses suffered in the fire, including up to $150,000 for homes and $30,000 for contents.
“It compares very favourably to support provided to victims of the Victorian bushfires, which provide up to $85,000 for homes and $15,000 for contents,” he said.
But he warned that WA was again entering the bushfire season and there had already been fires.
“On behalf of the Government, I would like to acknowledge once again the invaluable contribution made by both the professional and volunteer fire-fighters of Western Australia,” he said.
“(But) all residents of our fire prone bush regions need to support the fire-fighters by heeding their advice, and the advice and requirements of local governments, as regards preparation.
“It is vital that people play their part by preparing their own properties and their own bushfire plans. It is also timely to remind people to review their own insurance cover.”