Australia — Victoria must face up to the prospect that it has a higher risk of suffering bushfire fatalities than anywhere in the world, royal commission chairman Bernard Teague has said.
Mr Teague said Victorians could be grateful for being ”untroubled” by cyclones, but he warned against complacency in the face of the state’s bushfire threat.
”There’s no escaping Victoria’s geography and climate,” he said. ”I believe that we will always run a greater risk of fatalities from bushfires than anywhere else in the world.”
During the commission, he had been most struck by the ”randomness” of the fires, he said.
”Why is there such randomness to the losses? That randomness is evidenced in so many photos, it comes through in so many stories. It was the most most striking and troubling impression that I formed when I first visited the sites of the fires.”
Speaking at a Law Institute of Victoria lunch, Mr Teague said questions about the terminology used by government and fire services continued to concern him.
He criticised the term ”neighbourhood safer places”, a key aspect of policy proposed by the State Government that will designate certain areas as possible refuge points for people to use as a last resort during a fire.
”It isn’t the sort of terminology which I think is likely to resonate with people but ‘safer’ is so much better than ‘safe’,” he said, ”because we don’t want to have people have the notion that it is safe.”
Mr Teague said the new six-stage coding system for bushfire threat was welcome, but he said there still needed to be an ”acceptable noun” for major fires that could also be applied in planning and regulation, as well as used in warnings.
He emphasised that fires should be named according to their point of origin – the commission heard that inconsistent naming added to the confusion on Black Saturday.
”To residents of Steeles Creek and even Kinglake, the Kilmore East fire seemed far too distant to be a concern.”