Australia — The West Australian government is aiming to announce soon a package of “hardship payments” for underinsured Toodyay residents who lost homes and property in the 2009 bushfire.
The bushfire in the rural town of Toodyay started on December 29 last year, destroying 38 homes, injuring four local residents and burning nearly 3000 hectares of bushland.
Reports by the Fire and Emergency Services Authority and EnergySafety WA have concluded that a 34-year-old wooden power pole had caused the fire when it fell and the subsequent arcing lit nearby dried barley stubble.
Western Power, who owned the pole, have continued to deny any liability for the bushfire.
Premier Colin Barnett said negotiations between the government, Western Power and insurers have been underway for the past week and while nothing has been finalised, he was hoping to make an announcement on the outcome on Monday.
“That will be to create a fund to provide hardship payments for those who have lost their house or suffered serious damage to their house, their personal property, their vehicle or the like,” Mr Barnett said.
The premier was careful not to refer to the payments as compensation, which if sought by residents, would need to be done through the courts and negligence by Western Power would have to be proved.
“The government doesn’t dispute that the fire started from the Western Power poles and lines,” Mr Barnett said.
“But were they negligent? If someone was to pursue them through the courts to get compensation … they would need to establish negligence.”
Mr Barnett said the government would hope to make sure those residents who had already been paid out by insurers and those who had no insurance were treated fairly by the hardship fund.
He said he hoped the payments would be made sooner rather than later.