BLACK Saturday survivors are divided over the resignation of Christine Nixon, the bushfire recovery chief who was criticised for eating at a pub as Victoria burned.
She received a standing ovation from the 200 bushfire survivors who were the first to hear her news at a leadership forum in the Yarra Valley yesterday.
“She could not have shared that news with a more sympathetic and friendly group of people, people who understand the enormous commitment that Christine Nixon has given to the bushfire recovery process,” said Warwick Leeson, of St Andrews.
But Greg Rogers, who is still living in the Kinglake temporary village waiting for his family home to be rebuilt, said Ms Nixon had done an inadequate job at the police helm on Black Saturday and her resignation showed some belated honour.
“I don’t think she did well on the day … I think she had to step down,” Mr Rogers said.
Marysville father-of-four Jason Budden, who lost his family home in the fires, was more glowing about Ms Nixon.
“Despite what happened with the dinner, I don’t think anyone has done any more or less than she has,” he said.
On the timing of the resignation, on the day the federal election was announced, he said: “It may have a whiff of the political.”
Ms Nixon said the timing was a coincidence and her departure would not be finalised until August 16, several weeks after the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission hands down its final report.
The former chief commissioner of Victoria Police is facing a savaging in the report for her decision to leave her post on Black Saturday, when she went to a pub for a meal and was out of contact for three hours.
She also had a haircut and met her biographer the day of Australia’s worst natural disaster, which killed 173 people.”The royal commission will hand their report down and I will have to deal with whatever those consequences are,” Ms Nixon said.
“I don’t know what will be put in the final report.”
Ms Nixon said she had been considering her future for sometime.
She would stay on as a volunteer advising the State Government on reconstruction, after resigning from her $345,000-a-year job.
Ms Nixon told yesterday’s bushfire survivors forum she had been advised not to “let the bastards” get to her, but said it was her decision to leave.
“I want to be with you for the long term,” she told the survivors. “I will be there for a much longer term (as a volunteer) than I would otherwise.”
Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu said Ms Nixon’s “leadership disasters” on Black Saturday had made her position untenable. He said Premier John Brumby had to explain what his office knew about the timing of her resignation.
“The timing is extraordinary on the day of the federal election being called and I’m sure Victorians will reach the same conclusion,” Mr Baillieu said.
“I think she’s going in two or three weeks’ time.
“The royal commission report will be in two or three weeks’ time.”
Barb Stevens, who is still living in Kinglake’s temporary village, said she had felt patronised when she approached Ms Nixon for help.
“A lot of people are at their wits end because it’s taking forever and we’re still in temporary accommodation,” Ms Stevens said.
Peter Olorenshaw, of the Calignee Community Recovery Committee, questioned who would be Ms Nixon’s replacement.
“We need continuity and a transition period as she hands over the job,” he said.
Her successor is not yet known.
Jack Rush, QC, counsel assisting the bushfires commission, had blasted Ms Nixon’s conduct on Black Saturday.
“To leave without ensuring that a responsible person was in place, on location, to manage the inevitable consequences of the disaster unfolding, we say is an oversight of grave proportions,” he said.
There was further controversy this year when it was revealed Ms Nixon took a $200,000 role as a Foster’s director.
Mr Brumby denied he had anything to do with the timing of the resignation announcement.
He said he had received a letter from Ms Nixon about her resignation intentions “late this week”.