Australia — When West Australian Premier Colin Barnett decided a review was needed into the devastating Perth Hills bushfires earlier in February, he called on one of Australia’s most experienced police officers to head it.
Former Australian Federal Police (AFP) commissioner Mick Keelty has been appointed to lead the independent review into the bushfire which tore through the Roleystone and Kelmscott area on February 5 and 6, destroying 71 homes and severely damaging another 39 homes and other structures.
During his eight-year tenure as AFP commissioner, Mr Keelty expanded the force after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and played a crucial role in the emergency response to the Bali bombings. Advertisement: Story continues below
Mr Barnett said Mr Keelty’s experience and knowledge in security, disaster and emergency situations made him a top candidate to lead the review.
“He’s a person of high standing, high reputation and, I think, that is important to show that this is truly an independent individual review,” the premier said.
“I think it is important for public confidence, for people to come forward and know they’re dealing with someone of the standing and knowledge in the area.”
The review’s five broad areas will examine the adequacy of prescribed burning in the area, the planning, environmental and building laws and practices, and the responsibility of home owners themselves.
It will also examine the adequacy and effectiveness of information and communications such as the alert system, and the co-ordination of emergency services.
Emergency Services Minister Rob Johnson said one key issue to be examined is whether enough prescribed burning or clearing of vegetation was undertaken by either local government or residents.
“Because I can tell you when I visited the fire site the day after with the premier, we were both astounded by the number of homes that had trees hanging over properties and bush almost coming up to their door.”
Mayor of Armidale, the region affected by the bushfire, Linton Reynolds, welcomed the review but defended the actions of the council in relation to land clearing.
“We are also confident that the land the council is responsible for has been appropriately managed in terms of its fuel loading and prescribed burns, and that we have carried out all legislative requirements set down by the Bushfires Act,” Cr Reynolds said.
Opposition Leader Eric Ripper said the review needed to be more wide-ranging and claimed it wasn’t independent enough.
Mr Barnett said that although the terms of reference were broad, the issue of evaporative air-conditioners, which have been blamed for the destruction of some of the houses, would also be examined.
“Airborne embers were drawn into evaporative cooling systems and they did contribute to fires,” he said.
Mr Keelty said the review would include public hearings and would seek to put on the table all views of people involved in the fire, including the government and residents.
“What we’re trying to do here, we’re trying to get a collective solution to what has been a continual problem and one problem that’s not going to go away. It’s not going to disappear,” he said.
The review, to run concurrently with the Fire and Emergency Services Authority’s, is due to finish on June 30.