News WA government finally responds to coroner’s recommendations after deadly Esperance bushfires

WA government finally responds to coroner’s recommendations after deadly Esperance bushfires

Firefighters and farm response units battle to control a bushfire at Grass Patch in November 2015. Photo: Department Of Fire And Emergency Services
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The WA government has agreed to support 10 of the 12 recommendations made almost a year ago by the coroner investigating some of the worst fires in the state’s recent history.

Coroner Sarah Linton handed down a series of recommendations designed to prevent similar deaths after bushfires killed four people near Esperance in November 2015.

Emergency Services Minister Francis Logan tabled the state government’s response in Parliament today, noting that many improvements had already been made.

“The state government supports the majority of the coroner’s recommendations, which in many cases were either put in place before the inquest was held or have been done since the inquest concluded,” he said.

But four of the recommendations it supported – including to base a water bomber in the Wheatbelt, upgrade additional airstrips within the Esperance region, provide extra equipment to Esperance firefighters and hire extra Esperance-based DFES staff – was ‘in principle’ only.

Mr Logan did not say when the government was likely to fund these changes, but indicated they could lead to an increase in the Emergency Services Levy (ESL).

“It takes a longer period of time to be able to implement those types of recommendations,” he said.

“Any further expenditure in emergency service means a lift in the Emergency Services Levy for all of us.”

The four victims of the 2015 Esperance bushfires died in two separate cars, 300 metres apart.

The government ruled out funding new machinery and a machinery operator for the Esperance District Regional Office to use for fire mitigation, saying the Department of Biodiversity Conservation and Attractions already had the resources to do this work.

While the coroner recommended funding a career fire station to service the Esperance and Ravensthorpe community, this was ruled out by the government almost a year ago.

But among the recommendations it supported was an update to the official Esperance bushfire season “to reflect the reality of the impact of climate change”.

It said it would do a review to determine when this new official season should be.

The government also supported improving communication in the north-west of the region, noting it had already installed new radio repeaters at Peak Charles, and was looking into adding another linked repeater station to further improve communications.

“The state government recognises that current technology is limited in its capacity to service growing demand and will seek to undertake a review of communications capabilities in the Esperance region and investigate flexible and mobile solutions that provide digital radio communications and enhanced wi-fi and phone coverage,” the state government said in its response.

Mr Logan said the response took almost a year to come back because the government was simultaneously consulting with the Esperance community and making changes, investing in better firefighting equipment, providing extra mitigation funding, and working with the local shire on their planning.

“All those things do take time, they do take time, but we’ve delivered on them and they’re all underway,” he said.

ABC