Margaret River bushfires: Opposition turns up heat

Margaret Quirk
Margaret Quirk

THE State Opposition is calling for residents who made written submissions to the Keelty special inquiry into the Margaret River bushfire to send its emergency services spokesperson copies.

Margaret Quirk, the Opposition Emergency Services spokeswoman, has advertised on Page 5 in the Mail this week calling for people to send her copies of their submissions, which were not formally considered and have not been made public.

Ms Quirk said she had applied under the Freedom of Information Act for copies of the submissions, but there was a 60-day wait with no guarantee that access will be granted.

She said she feared FOI access would be barred due to an ongoing investigation by the Department of Environ­ment and Conservation and the Fire and Emergency Services Authority into the Ellensbrook and Nannup fires.

In his report Mick Keelty acknowledged: “While there was no call for public submissions, the Special Inquiry received a total of around 80 pieces of correspondence by letter or email. Much of the correspondence received was outside the Terms of Reference and as such, was not fully considered and will be referred to the relevant agencies to address.”

The correspondence was not tabled with the report in Parliament.

“I have taken this step (calling for copies of submissions) because the levels of frustration in the local community are mounting,” Ms Quirk said.

“We need that information so that we can ensure that questions are asked in Parliament and we can ensure a level of accountability, that to date, has been absent.

“At the public meeting in Margaret River on February 23, at which I was present, Mick Keelty was asked why the submissions were not included in his report. He did not answer the question.

“I asked the Premier in Parliament why the submissions weren’t included. He was unable to proffer a satisfactory explanation.

“All in all, many months will expire before we are any closer to having a complete picture on how the fires were managed,” she said. “It is unsatisfactory that contemporaneous accounts from people at or near the fire ground have been kept secret.”

In Parliament on February 28, Premier Colin Barnett said he was not sure why Mr Keelty chose not to include all the submissions.

“Sometimes, particularly in a case such as this involving a lot of accusations being made against individuals working within the Department of Environment and Conservation, people may well have made submissions without wanting them to be made public,” he said. “I think that may need to be respected if that is the case.

“I will inquire of the Public Sector Commissioner what will happen to those submissions and whether they will be made public. They would certainly be available to the independent reviewer if requested.”

If you wish to send a copy of your submission to Ms Quirk, email girra@mp.wa.gov.au, phone 9247 2477, or by post PO Box 6085, Girrawheen WA 6064.

She said she would treat any potentially defamatory content in submissions “with caution”.