AUSTRALIA – The Canberra Liberals have expressed alarm about what is sees as apparent dysfunction in the ACT’s emergency services agency, after reports of a rift between its commissioner and the government’s expert bushfire advisory council.
Opposition emergency services spokesman Jeremy Hanson said he was also “very disturbed” about reports of “persistent shortcomings” in the territory’s bushfire preparedness, as he accused the Barr government of taking its eye of the ball in the wake of last summer’s fire season.
Ms Whelan has now said she does trust the council’s advice, but that she wanted its feedback to be communicated in a more “constructive” way.
Fronting reporters on Monday morning, Mr Hanson accused the ACT government of a “whole range of failures” in the aftermath of its worst bushfire season since 2003.
“I’m very disturbed about what we are seeing coming out of the whole issue of bushfire preparedness,” he said.
“After the fires of last year, you would think this would be an area of particular attention for the government.
“You would think that our house would be in order when it comes to bushfire preparedness, but we are seeing a whole range of failures.
“And what we are seeing, seemingly, is dysfunction in the ESA and squabbling between the council and the commissioner.
“I’m concerned. It doesn’t look like the ESA is functioning the way that it should be,” he said.
Mr Gentleman on Saturday expressed confidence in the ACT’s bushfire preparedness, based on briefings he had received from ACT authorities on the actions being taken to reduce fire risks.
Responding to questions on Monday about Ms Whelan’s letter, Mr Gentleman said he did trust the bushfire council’s advice, pointing out that the ACT government had accepted all of the recommendations from its previous report.
Asked if he was aware of the apparent tensions between the commissioner and council, Mr Gentleman said he had met with both parties, although he didn’t specify if that was before or after Ms Whelan sent the letter on September 22.
“I appreciate frank advice particularly with an all hazards approach,” he said.
“I recognise that while views on bushfire management may differ, both the ESA and the Bushfire Council are committed to keeping Canberrans safe.”
Mr Gentleman said he had no plans to expel any members from the council, as he has the power to do under the ACT’s Emergencies ACT.
The Canberra Times is still awaiting comment from the chair of the ACT Bushfire Council, Dr Sarah Ryan.
The council must get approval from the minister’s office to make media statements, according to its terms of reference.