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April 21, 2009

The Nationals Member for Gippsland Darren Chester says bushfire-affected residents will be angry and disappointed if they don’t have the opportunity to provide evidence to the Royal Commission.

Mr Chester said many bushfire survivors had a great deal of practical knowledge and experience which would be critical in helping to prevent future tragedies.

“The current plan for the Royal Commission to hear from seven organisations and not include evidence from individual survivors is not what was expected in the broader community when the Premier promised an open and transparent inquiry,” Mr Chester said.

“There are many people who will want to give evidence to the Royal Commission and they should be accommodated as much as possible. There is obviously going to be a focus on issues such as the adequacy of the early warning systems and I believe that individual residents in fire-hit areas are best placed to make comments on those concerns.

“Similarly, when we are assessing the current messages of ‘leave early, or defend a well-prepared property’, it would be informative to hear from residents about their response to the Total Fire Ban on Black Saturday and whether they realised that the fire risk was off the scale.

“When I spoke on the issue in Federal Parliament and again at the community consultation sessions, I raised my concern that we may have under-estimated the fire threat on severe days and over-estimated our capacity to deal with such extreme events.

“In future, there needs to be a publicly available ‘scale’ of likely fire severity which gives residents a better indication of the conditions they are likely to encounter if a fire occurs in their region on any given day.”

Mr Chester said the Royal Commission would benefit from hearing evidence from a wide range of people from communities across Victoria.

“The community consultation sessions were very positive and gave residents a chance to tell their stories. I understand the time constraints but there should be an opportunity for a representative sample of bushfire survivors to appear before the Royal Commission,” Mr Chester said.

“There will be differences between each region in terms of issues like fire behaviour, emergency response and the level of community preparedness for such an event.

“If the public is expected to respect the findings of the Royal Commission and become engaged in the implementation of any recommendations, it is reasonable for the public to expect for its voice to be heard in the formal part of the inquiry.”

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