Margaret River bushfire manager stood aside

30 Nov, 2011 11:21 AM
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AN OFFICER involved in approving the prescribed burn that led to the Margaret River bushfire has been stood aside.

The Department of Environment and Conservation director general today moved Brad Commins from operational duties "for his own welfare and in the interests of the department".

Mr Commins was also involved in an incident during the Boorabbin National Park fire that led to the deaths of three truck drivers in 2007.

State Coroner Alan Hope criticised him and two other officers for failing to consider vital weather information when they decided to reopen the Great Western Highway.

Mr Commins moved into the spotlight after it was revealed on Friday that he had since been reinstated and then promoted on the recommendation of the DEC director general Kieran McNamara.

Mr McNamara said Mr Commins would be immediately moved into DEC's Sustainable Forest Management Division and would remain in that role pending the outcome of the independent investigation into the prescribed burn and resulting bushfire.

Premier Colin Barnett yesterday said he wanted the inquiry to examine Mr Commins' reappointment and promotion.

The removal of Mr Commins follows claims earlier today by the state Opposition that public servants would be made scapegoats in the fallout of the Margaret River fire to save the scalp of Environment Minister Bill Marmion.

"Every person likely to be held accountable is a public servant," Opposition leader Eric Ripper told ABC Radio this morning.

"You can see what the government's doing; they're setting up [Department of Environment and Conservation director-general] Kieran McNamara and other DEC employees to take the fall, just like they did with FESA [the Fire and Emergency Services Authority] and [former chief executive officer] Jo Harrison-Ward."

Ms Harrison-Ward was forced to resign in August immediately after the release of the Keelty Report into the Perth Hills bushfire that destroyed 78 homes in February.

The damning report found serious errors were made within FESA that led to poor management of the fire, believed to have been caused by sparks from an angle grinder.

Despite numerous calls for him to be sacked, Emergency Services Minister Rob Johnson remains in the role.

Mr Ripper said it was evident a similar outcome would prevail for Mr Marmion.

"If anyone loses their job, I think the way the government's behaving it seems that Mr McNamara is the one at risk," he said.

"[But] in our system, the minister is the one that has to take responsibility. Government is not just about policy, it's about delivery and it's about implementation."

Mr McNamara's job appeared to be on a knife's edge yesterday when Premier Colin Barnett refused to guarantee his future.

Mr Marmion also loosened his support for the DEC head. In the morning he declared he had full confidence in Mr McNamara but after a state cabinet meeting he was less supportive.

Mr Ripper said Mr Marmion's lack of understanding of the prescribed burning risks proved he was incompetent to be environment minister.

"We know enough now and we've seen enough of the minister's performance - his every interview worsens public confidence in him - ... to know that he has to go," he said.

Mr Marmion would not comment on his or Mr McNamara's future or whether anyone would lose their job over the fire.

"I don't want to pre-empt what will come out of the investigation," he said.

"Let's not jump to conclusions to blame people, let's have an investigation and find out what went wrong, if anything did go wrong."

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