10 Feb 2009

Royal commission into Victorian bushfires

3:36 pm on 10 February 2009

Victoria's premier, John Brumby, has announced the establishment of a royal commission into the state's bushfires.

Mr Brumby said he would give the commission the widest possible terms of reference to look at every aspect of the state's bushfire strategy. That would include government policy and people's own fire plans, he said.

Victoria's Police Commissioner Christine Nixon has defended the state's fire policy, which policy allows people to either stay and defend their properties or leave early.

Ms Nixon said many people were caught out by a sudden wind change and did not have enough time. But the policy is "well thought of and well based and has stood the test of time", she said.

Parliament mourns

Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard's voice cracked with emotion as she moved a condolence motion for the victims in the Australian parliament on Monday.

"The 7th of February 2009 will now be remembered as one of the darkest days in Australia's peacetime history," she said.

"A tragedy beyond belief, beyond precedent and really beyond words."

Treasurer Wayne Swan paid tribute to the courage of those people who fought the fires, especially when their own situations were dire.

Attorney-General Robert McClelland said anyone found to have deliberately lit the bushfires could be charged with murder.

Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull said the coalition fully supported action taken by the government to help those struck by the tragedy.

The fires are already Australia's worst natural disaster by far: worse than the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires, in which 75 people died in Victoria and South Australia, and the Black Friday bushfires of 1939, which killed 71.