The State Government will pay out all reasonable claims for losses related to last November’s Margaret River and Nannup fires after legal advice that suggested the Department of Environment and Conservation was likely to be found liable for the fires.
Premier Colin Barnett used the final day of sitting in the Legislative Assembly before the March state election to reveal the Government had accepted full responsibility for the fires that destroyed 32 homes, nine chalets and damaged 16 homes when prescribed DEC burns got out of control.
The Government had previously pledged $5 million to damage payouts, with a maximum individual payout of $190,000 to each individual home owner.
The Government has now effectively lifted that cap, and businesses will also be able to apply for payouts to cover property damage.
Victims of the fires will be required to submit written notification and evidence of losses to the Government’s self-insurance arm RiskCover.
Mr Barnett defended the time taken to arrive at today’s decision, saying it was necessary for the Government to consider the complex issue properly.
“It’s a little under a year since the fire. That is a long period of time but I would again make the point we put in place that
$5 million emergency package and there was a flow of relief,” he said.
Eighty-eight of 160 claims under the orginial $5 million scheme have already been settled. Mr Barnett said today’s decision meant the remaining claims could now be settled.
He said claimants who had settled would be able to reapply if their actual losses exceeded the $190,000 maximum figure.
The Premier could not put a figure on the size of the likely total payout liability for RiskCover, but said it had the capacity to pay up to $15 million with reinsurance arrangements available over and above that amount.
Mr Barnett urged RiskCover to deal with the claims quickly.
Law firm Slater & Gordon, which had begun to sign up fire victims to a planned class action against the Government, said it would now reconsider the necessity of the legal action.
“It’s a shame that it takes threatened legal action for a government to step up to its responsibilities to the people whose homes and possessions have been burned as a result of clear government negligence,” the firm’s general manager for commercial and project litigation James Higgins said.
Accompanying today’s announcement, the Government tabled a pair of post incident analysis reports into the Margaret River and Nannup fires, prepared by consultant Noetic, and the State Emergency Management Committee’s response to those reports.
The Government also tabled the SEMC’s inaugural Emergency Preparedness Report, a document that sets out the state of play for WA’s preparedness for a range of emergency scenarios.
Emergency Services Minister Troy Buswell said while the State faced a range of challenges and could always improve, he believed WA was better prepared for the upcoming fire season than it was a year ago.
He said good progress had been made on the implementation of the 65 recommendations from the Keelty reports into the Kelmscott-Roleystone and Margaret River fires.
He said the State was facing very challenging fire conditions for the upcoming summer due to high fuel loads, a dry winter and the failure to meet prescribed burn targets.