Australia–– The West Australian government is facing a massive compensation bill after finally agreeing to total responsibility for the property lost when a prescribed burn got out of control in Margaret River last year.
40 properties were lost when the bushfire ripped through the south-west of Western Australia, after a burn being conducted by the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) went catastrophically wrong.
Originally, the state government had offered to pay up to $190,000 for any uninsured losses suffered by people who had lost property in the fires, despite acknowledging from the start DEC was responsible for starting the massive blaze.
But after a year of legal wrangling, Premier Colin Barnett announced that cap would be lifted – opening the government insurers RiskCover to claims likely to be more than $15 million.
‘There is no cap on this, and what the final figure is, that will only be known when the final amount is assessed,’ Mr Barnett said.
‘Clearly DEC as a government agency was responsible for this burn and it got out of control in freakish weather conditions. We have never said anything other than the government accepts responsibility.
‘This means that people will be able to a get a full settlement without having to pursue it through the courts.’
Former head of the Australian Federal Police Mick Keelty was hired to produce reports on the bushfires in WA last year and has recommended massive changes to the way blazes were tackled and prepared for in the state.
Some 160 insurance claims have been lodged for the damage caused by the fire, with 88 already settled, Mr Barnett said.
Lawyers Slater and Gordon said they would review announcement before making a decision on a possible class action against the DEC.
‘It’s a shame that it takes threatened legal action for a government to step up to its responsibilities to the people whose homes and possessions have been burned as a result of clear government negligence,’ James Higgins, general manager for the firm’s commercial and project litigation, said.