Report urges payment for burned outback racers
Burns victims Kate Sanderson and Turia Pitt. Picture: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

Update: 1.15PM A parliamentary committee has recommended the State Government give “urgent consideration” to ex-gratia payments to four Kimberley Ultramarathon burns victims, while finding race organisers failed to address risks and safeguard competitors.

The report by the Economics and Industry Committee also found that Tourism WA, which sponsored the race, had “failed to meet their own standards” by signing the sponsorship agreement without citing Racing the Planet’s risk management plan or assessing its insurance.

Among 15 recommendations, the committee recommended TWA tighten its events sponsorship protocols, with any risk management plan approved no later than two months before an event is staged.

Ms Pitt, 25, and fellow runner Kate Sanderson, 36, suffered life-threatening burns when a fire swept through the race course on September 2 last year.

Competitors Michael Hull, 45, and Martin Van Der Merwe, 55, were also burnt.

The West Australian revealed today that lawyers acting for Ms Pitt are planning to sue the event organisers for "in excess of $10 million.

Tabling the 294-page report in Parliament this morning, committee chairman, Liberal MP Mike Nahan, said the committee had made no findings of legal liability or sought to apportion blame on any party for the injuries sustained by competitors.

However, he said it found RTP “did not take all reasonable steps” to identify and address risks and maintain the safety of the event’s 41 participants.

“The committee is of the view that Racing the Planet in its approach to planning for the 2011 Kimberley Ultramarathon did not involve people with appropriate knowledge in identifying risk,” the report said.

“The level of communication and consultation with relevant agencies and individuals regarding the event’s management and risk assessment plan was generally inadequate, both in terms of its timelines and its approach.”

The report found the most significant omission was a failure by RTP to consult with the Fire and Emergency Services Authority in Kununurra, with Dr Nahan saying its expertise and local fire knowledge could have improved the decision-making capacity of RTP.

He said both the local visitor centre and the Department of Environment and Conservation had advised RTP to contact FESA.

“RTP failed to heed that advice,” Dr Nahan said.

Dr Nahan said the committee also found shortcomings in the helicopter used by RTP on the day, which was not equipped to deal with a medical emergency, and also in communication equipment, including poor satellite equipment.

It said with the event largely run on pastoral lease land, RTP should also have sought permission from the Department of Environment and Conservation, which would have ensured more extensive contact with the department and local shire.

He said there was a “strong and moral” case for the Government to consider an ex-gratia payment to Ms Pitt, Ms Sanderson, Mr Hull and Van Der Merwe.

The committee recommended that future investigations into bushfires where no death occurred should be investigated by the State Coroner.

The State Government announced the five-month inquiry in February after lobbying from Ms Sanderson’s brother, Ian, and Labor MP Michelle Roberts, to investigate whether more could have been done to prevent the runners being burnt.

Mr Sanderson praised the work of the committee, saying it proved “that actually somebody cares, that people have taken notice and that our concerns were genuine”.

“But on the downside, there is no reason why Kate and Turia are the way they are now,” he said.

He called on race organisers Racing the Planet to do show “common sense and decency” and compensate his sister and Turia Pitt without the victims having to go to court.

“Hasn’t she (Kate) suffered enough,” Mr Sanderson said.

Mr Sanderson paid tribute to shadow tourism minister Michelle Roberts for pushing for the inquiry.

“Until she agreed to intervene on our behalf in February, we were being fobbed off time and time again by (Tourism Minister) Kim Hames,” he said.

“For three months he was telling me there were no grounds and no means by which the Government could conduct an inquiry.”

Mrs Roberts said Tourism WA and its events arm Eventscorp had provided misleading information to Dr Hames and Parliament, which could amount to a contempt of Parliament.

“Those two departments certainly need to be brought to account,” she said.

“There’s a big job for the Minister to do there, when he has a look through here and he compares what we have found here and compares it to the advice provided to him and to Government, there will be such great discrepancies that he’ll need to take action that those who were involved.

“Clearly it was never in Tourism WA’s interest for a report like this to see the light of day.

“Surely they must have known when they were providing answers to the Minister for Tourism to provide to the Parliament that they had only signed the contract the day before, that they had not even received but just sighted the risk management plan the day before.

“That they hadn’t done due diligence when it came to the insurance policies that they needed to have in place. They are just some of their failings that they didn’t want to see the light of day.”

The event was staged between El Questro Wilderness Park, the Gibb River Road and Kununurra.

Lawyers acting for Ms Pitt confirmed yesterday they were planning to sue the event’s organisers for “in excess of $10 million”.

Greg Walsh, who is representing competitors Ms Pitt, Mr Van Der Merwe and his son Shaun Van Der Merwe, Mr Hull and Hal Benson, said yesterday that the writ might be expanded if there were adverse findings against WA Government agencies.

“But the fact is the only organiser of this event was Racing the Planet and they’re a professional organiser which make huge profits out of organising these events around the world, ” Mr Walsh said.

The West Australian

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