Australia — The Victorian Opposition is calling on the Bushfires Royal Commission to overturn a decision banning the media from community consultations in fire-affected towns.
The first of 23 informal consultations begins in Myrtleford on Wednesday before moving to other towns.
But Shadow Attorney-General Robert Clark wants the media allowed.
“We can understand that some people in individual cases might want to give evidence privately for good reason,” he said.
“But we also believe there may be likely to be many members of the public who would want to give their stories in public and also their views about what needs to be done to prevent similar future tragedies.
“We believe the media to date has done a good job in providing the opportunity for people to tell their stories.”
Victorian Premier John Brumby says he will not intervene to ease restrictions on media access.
Mr Brumby says the commission is independent, but he has been assured restrictions on the media are not too severe.
“There is a bit of give and take in this, there will be some access for the media,” he said.
“But the commissioner is trying to make sure that for those two hours in the morning, there will be a closed session where individuals can put all of their deeply personal information on the table.”
Senior counsel assisting the Bushfires Royal Commission, Jack Rush QC, says the media is banned to protect those attending.
“The royal commission has taken a deliberate step to keep these community consultations closed,” he said.
“We anticipate that the material and the statements that we receive in these consultations will be extremely emotional and sensitive and involve a great many personal matters.”
He says some residents will be reliving the trauma of Black Saturday.
“We are more likely to get a response from the communities that is full and frank if these matters are kept closed to the media,” he said.
The informal sessions will be held in 13 towns.
The royal commission’s interim report is due by 17 August 2009, with the final report due by 31 July 2010.
The Government appointed retired Supreme Court Justice Bernard Teague as the chairman of the royal commission, assisted by former Commonwealth ombudsman Ron McLeod and State Services Authority commissioner Susan Pascoe.
We Will Rebuild
A centralised website has been established where survivors of the bushfires can access recovery and reconstruction services.