Bushfire hearings halted for anniversary ( admin posted on January 15th, 2019 )

Bernard Teague, head of the commission, said witnesses would not be called this week and hearings would not be held on Thursday or Friday as a mark of respect.

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He said the commissioners’ thoughts were with victims and the emergency services workers who toiled to help them during the fires, which killed 173 people.

“The anniversary will be a difficult time for all those affected by the events of the 7th of February,” Mr Teague said on Monday.

He said the schedule had been changed to limit distress to victims of the fires.

Brumby calls for sensitivity

Victorian Premier John Brumby thanked the royal commission for suspending the hearings.

Mr Brumby wrote to the commissioners last week urging sensitivity in the week preceding the anniversary.

He said it was painful for people to relive the experience of the fires through the commission’s inquiries, and it would be better to have as much time as possible between the hearings and the anniversary.

“I was very concerned that the commission had been proposing to have hearings into each fire right through the week,” Mr Brumby told reporters on Monday.

“The reality is that in many of these communities we’ve still got families and communities that are feeling deep pain, deep hurt and for many that 12-month anniversary will be a traumatic experience.

‘Deep pain’ of communities

“I just thought it would be very hurtful to those communities, quite destructive, to have those hearings running right up to the… anniversary of February 7.”

From next week, the commission will start examining planning issues in relation to the fires, Mr Teague said.

It will then investigate the contentious issue of fuel reduction and return to the ‘stay or go’ policy.

In April, organisational structures of fire authorities will be looked at.

The hearings will conclude in May.

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