Australia — After 155 days of hearings, including evidence from more than 400 witnesses, the Royal Commission has handed down its final report with 67 recommendations.
The commissioners have called for a “comprehensive approach to evacuation” including the potential for “emergency evacuations” when doing so would provide a greater level of protection.
The report has also called for designated community refuges in areas of high bushfire risk and for the appointment of an independent fire commissioner.
The Commission wants the Government to roughly quadruple the amount of controlled burning it undertakes.
It has also recommended parts of Victoria’s ageing electricity infrastructure be upgraded to reduce the risk of fires.
The report has also flagged a program of voluntary acquisition for homes in high-risk areas.
A total of 173 people were killed and thousands were left homeless when bushfires swept across Victoria on February 7, 2009.
The Commission also examined the bushfire that destroyed 30 homes in Gippsland the week before Black Saturday.
The report concludes former Victorian Police chief commissioner Christine Nixon took a “hands off” approach on Black Saturday.
It says her performance on the day “left much to be desired”.
Ms Nixon has admitted going to dinner at a Melbourne hotel as the fires raged.
The Commission found Ms Nixon, former Country Fire Authority chief Russel Rees and the head of the Department of Sustainability and Environment, Ewan Waller, “did not demonstrate effective leadership in crucial areas” by ensuring that “prompt and accurate warnings were issued to communities in the path of the fires”.
The Government will not respond to the Commission’s recommendations for several weeks after consulting with the community.
Victorian Premier John Brumby will meet bushfire survivors today.
He will also receive a briefing about the report’s recommendations.
Mr Brumby says the release of the report will be difficult for survivors and those who lost loved ones in the fires.
He has called on the wider community to throw its support behind fire-affected communities.
“I think it’s important for all Victorians, indeed all Australians, to recognise, to acknowledge, to understand the trauma, the hurt, the pain that all of those families, their friends and their extended families will be feeling today,” he said.
Mr Brumby says it is important for the Government to consider its response to the report carefully.
“As Premier I feel the full weight of responsibility to make sure that we get our response to the Commission’s report right to make sure we make our state as safe as possible,” he said.
“The people of our state want the opportunity to have some input.”
‘Gaps’ in report
Communities affected by the bushfires are beginning to examine the final report.
Copies were delivered to fire-affected communities and community hubs have been set up in some areas to give survivors the chance to read the findings in a supportive environment.
Lyn Gunter, the mayor of Murrindindi when the Black Saturday fires swept through the shire, says there are some “gaps” in the final report.
“I’m encouraged but I don’t think it’s enough,” she said.
“The major gaps are going to be the communications, the safer places and the identification of those.
“And it’s about knowing these are going to be implemented.
“People want the confidence to know these recommendations and the recommendations for their safety are going to be implemented.”