Bushfire counsel attacks report

Bushfire counsel attacks report

15 August 2010

published by www.theage.com.au

Australia — The lawyer who led the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission believes its final report could have been more ”significant” and that it leaves out ”very important evidence”.

Jack Rush, QC, played a crucial role in the commission as counsel assisting but was not involved in writing the four-volume report, which was delivered to government last month.

Some inquiries involve their team of lawyers in the report writing, but in this case the commissioners chose not to.

In an interview with ABC news, Mr Rush made it clear that he was not criticising commissioners Bernard Teague, Susan Pascoe and Ron McLeod, but said he would have liked ”a more thorough record and analysis of the evidence”.

”The first thing I couldn’t get over was the size of [the report] in connection with the real issues,” he said.

”It was a pretty slim couple of volumes.

”I have to say, to be frank, that from one perspective that the report could have been more significant in the sense of identifying some very important evidence that doesn’t make its way into it.”

He did not say what important evidence was omitted.

Mr Rush said the commissioners were free to choose how they presented the report, but he would have preferred ”a full disclosure and discussion of evidence on all the topics” so that people had a better picture of the evidence put to the commission.

Mr Rush said the report’s recommendations had captured many important concepts and he reminded governments and emergency services of the opportunity to establish a legacy by acting on the report.

”A legacy for governments or a legacy for a fire leader I think will be to introduce these recommendations over time to avoid, as best we can, these sort of events that occurred on the seventh of February,” he said.

The stay or go policy remained flawed, Mr Rush said, because of people’s reluctance to leave their homes early. He also remains convinced that an American-style evacuation could work in Victoria as a primary response to bushfires.

”I think the evidence was overwhelming that it can apply in Victoria. The theories that were put up against it that roads would be congested and clogged and trees would fall over roads and the like, I think that was pretty much put to rest,” he said.

Mr Rush and fellow counsel assisting Rachel Doyle, SC, declined to speak to The Sunday Age yesterday.

The Victorian Parliament held a special session last Tuesday to discuss the findings of the royal commission on the Black Saturday bushfires on February 7, 2009. Premier John Brumby has said his government will support in principle 59 of the 67 recommendations.

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