Fire blame game as Opposition calls for Bill Marmion’s head

Fire blame game as Opposition calls for Bill Marmion’s head

27 November 2011

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Australia — The State Opposition has called on West Australian Premier Colin Barnett to sack Environment Minister Bill Marmion over the bungled prescribed burning that led to the Margaret River bushfire.

The fire spread out of control on Wednesday from a prescribed burn started by the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) in the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park on September 6 and reignited last Monday.

Premier Colin Barnett said the fire spread was an accident and it should not be a case of laying blame on anyone.
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But the State Opposition has called for Mr Barnett to dismiss Mr Marmion if he did not stand down over the mistake.

Opposition environment spokeswoman Sally Talbot called for Mr Marmion’s resignation or dismissal because of his responsibility for the mistake and his ‘‘woeful response’’ to the fire.

‘‘The buck stops with the minister and it’s time for him to go,’’ she said.

Ms Talbot criticised Mr Marmion for failing to reform his department after previous fire mistakes and his statement that he would ‘‘apologise if people wanted him to.’’

Mr Marmion said on Friday he had no reason to resign and a review of the fire would determine what happened and if improvements in procedures were needed.

Meanwhile, the State’s environment department chief has defended a manager involved in approving the prescribed burn, after it was revealed the state coroner criticised the staffer over three bushfire fatalities in 2007.

Keiran McNamara, the director-general of the DEC, said he last year reinstated Brad Commins, now the district manager overseeing the Margaret River region, after he voluntarily stepped aside when WA Coroner Alastair Hope criticised him over three bushfire deaths in 2007.

Mr Hope found Mr Commins and two other DEC officers failed to consider key weather information when they approved the reopening of a road when a bushfire was burning in the Boorabbin National Park in WA’s Goldfields region in December 2007.

‘‘This constituted extreme incompetence,’’ Mr Hope found.

Truck drivers Robert Taylor, Trevor Murley and Lewis Bedford died when they drove into the fire when the road through the national park was reopened.

Mr McNamara said an independent investigation later found that Mr Commins was not careless in exercising his roles at Boorabbin.

‘‘I have full confidence in Mr Commins as a competent and professional officer,’’ he said.

Mr Commins was one of a number of senior staff who approved the Margaret River burn, Mr McNamara said.

Mr McNamara expressed his apologies and sympathies to the Margaret River community and particularly those families who lost homes.

Mr McNamara said unseasonal wet weather in the south-west meant the prescribed burn which caused the devastation in Margaret River could not be completed in the time expected and it had to be relit a number of times.

‘‘Once a burn has been initiated, it is necessary to complete that burn to make it safe,” he said.

“There was every chance the fire might have spread without any reignitions.”

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