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July 06th 2009 print

John Izzard

Taking responsibility

Responsibility seems to be what the Royal Commission into Victoria’s 2009 bushfire disaster is trying to establish, and responsibility is what the Brumby Labor government is desperately trying to avoid.

Yes, it’s about time people started taking some responsibility for their actions. 

Those 228 people killed aboard the Air France flight 447 that crashed into the Atlantic should have known about those suspect pitot air-speed indicators, and their “icing-up problems” or at least known that the Airbus A330 models were having difficulties with their tail-fin. Or that there would be severe storms over the Atlantic Ocean. Don’t passengers check the pilot’s flight plans any more? They had the choice of “stay or go” — didn’t they? 

Again, the 153 victims of the Airbus A310-300 of Yemeni Airlines that crashed off the Coromos Islands — surely they had a responsibility to check and discover that they would be flicked onto a dodgy aircraft during a change over in Yemen and that the French civil aviation authorities had banned this A310 because of safety concerns. And surely those passengers did a weather-check to find out what the landing conditions would be at their destination? Gosh! Show some personal responsibility! They had a choice of “stay or go” — didn’t they? 

Responsibility seems to be what the Royal Commission into Victoria’s 2009 bushfire disaster is trying to establish, and responsibility is what the Brumby Labor government is desperately trying to avoid. 

I remember the day after the fire disaster seeing the Chief Officer of the CFA, Russell Rees, telling a stunned nation that the disaster was caused by “global warming” – and we all know who’s responsible for that, don’t we? 

But instead of allowing the Royal Commission proceed with it’s investigations and the finalisation of it report, we had Premier Brumby interfere with the process by suggesting that no blame should placed at the feet of the CFA. 

The government legal representative at the Commission, Alan Myers QC urged that no findings be made that indicated that there were failures within the CFA or by its Chief Officer, Russell Rees over “fire predictions, warnings and the protection of lives.” Mr Myers went on “It may simply be better not to make findings and not to pursue those rabbits …”. Well “those rabbits” have certainly been in the spotlight” as more is revealed.  

After weeks of hearing that people should “take responsibility” (and make a decision as to whether “to stay or go”) we find the Victorian Government desperately trying to avoid any responsibility. Responsibility for adequate fire prevention measures in forests, adequate fire warning sirens and systems in rural towns, adequate chain-of-command, adequate “use-your-initiative” protocols for mid-level managers, utilisation of proven fire observation techniques, and the use of radios, telephones and the internet to provide real-time information. 

On February the 14th, a week after the Victorian bushfire disaster The Weekend Australian published a two-page article that reproduced an hour-by-hour run down of the events taking place in the CFA control centre. What was revealed was a situation whereby staff and management sat about not knowing what was going on in the disaster zone. Hour-by-hour they sat there waiting for information that just didn’t eventuate. Were there no aircraft that could have been sent up to see where the fires were? Were there no TV news helicopters that could have been asked to help and observe? 

An example of how bureaucratic procedure can stifle initiative occurred at our local Tasmanian volunteer fire unit. The members were ordered to attend a spare wheel changing course”. As all the members were farmers who change the trucks and tractor spare wheels as a regular activity (and really didn’t have the time to waste) told the fire brigade bureaucrats to “get lost”. The Tasmanian Fire Brigade then sent out an officer to remove the spare tyre from the fire-fighting truck and take it away.  

It would be very serious if those volunteers who spend their time and risk their lives on the front line were to be associated with the debacle that the CFA now finds itself in because of senior management. Surely it is time for the Victorian Government and the upper echelons of the CFA, stopped blaming the victims of the February 7th disaster and took responsibility for their actions— or lack there of.