Australia — Emergency Services Minister Kim Wells has admitted he made an error spending last Friday evening at the Australian Open while dozens of bushfires burnt across the state.
3AW radio this morning revealed that while bushfires, including the large fire in the Grampians spread, the Minister was at the tennis rather than being at the State Control Centre.
Authorities had warned that fire danger would increase when the cool change arrived on Friday night.
“I would need to seriously consider how I do that in the future. I guess the optics of it is that something that I would need to consider,” Mr Wells told 3AW. Advertisement
Mr Wells told Neil Mitchell’s morning show that he was constantly “texting” Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley during the Australian Open.
“Had there been one issue while I was there, I would have been over to the State Control Centre in a flash,” Mr Wells said.
“We were texting so I could know an update on how things were travelling with the cool change and the wind direction.”
The Minister gave a lengthy briefing on the fire situation at the emergency services centreat 2.30pm that afternoon. He said that Mr Lapsley was ultimately in charge and the minister’s role was to liaise with the departments.
Mr Wells denied there was a comparison between this situation and former Police Commissioner Christine Nixon’s decision to go to dinner at a pub on Black Saturday.
United Firefighters Union national secretary Peter Marshall said firefighters had no confidence in Mr Wells remaining minister.
By legislation he has direct control over the MFB and CFA. Popping out for a media conference or the odd phone call simply isn’t enough,” Mr Marshall said.
He texted like a teenager while hundreds of volunteer and career firefighters were out in 40+ degrees, fighting to save homes and other assets in the Grampians and Halls Gap area. This is a government that doesn’t ‘get’ its responsibility to protect the community.”
Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said he and shadow emergency services minister Wade Noonan were at the control centre on Friday night being briefed on the fire situation.
A ministry reshuffle is expected to be announced soon.