Inquiry terms announced

Global expertise will be lent to the independent inquiry into the Hazelwood mine fire, after Deputy Premier Peter Ryan announced the terms of reference for the inquiry on Friday.

Bernard Teague, who oversaw the royal commission into the Black Saturday bushfires, will be joined by Professor John Charles Catford and Sonia Anne Petering on the board of inquiry.

Mr Ryan said Professor Catford would bring global and Victorian expertise to the board from his past role as chief health officer in Victoria from 1998 to 2002 and his current role as a director of Epworth Medical Health.

Ms Petering would lend her governance and regulatory control experience as a practising lawyer based in Geelong and a board member of Transport Accident Commission.

The Deputy Premier said the terms were broad and similar to those of a royal commission and had been applied to the board of inquiry.

Mr Ryan said the terms of reference accommodate issues around the origin and circumstances of the fire and how it spread into the mine.

However, Wallace Street resident Howard Williams said the first term – the origin of circumstances of the fire, including how it spread into the Hazelwood Coal Mine – could have been better worded to find the cause of the fire and not just indicate the fire definitely spread into the mine from another source.

“It seems to be prejudging the first part of the sentence,” Mr Williams said.

“To me there seems to be three possibilities, either in a very bad weather condition the Driffield or Hearnes Oak fire spotted into the mine, or an existing fire hole in the mine got away.”

While not specifically stated in the terms, Mr Howard hoped the community would push for compensation for residents.

“It’s not written in the terms of reference per say, but compensation is something the community is looking for,” Mr Williams said.

“The door is open, Justice Teague and his colleagues have got an open slab and it’s up to the community to raise any matters they can.”

Environment Victoria safe climate campaign manager Nicholas Aberle welcomed to terms of reference for judicial inquiry into the Hazelwood mine fire.

“The terms of reference for the Judicial Inquiry are reasonably comprehensive. However we have three reservations regarding the Terms of Reference, on which we would like clarification from Premier Denis Napthine,” Dr Aberle said.

He said all Victorians must be able to make submissions to the inquiry, the role of GDF Suez in this event must be investigated as well as the government’s in setting the conditions under which the mine operates, and the full findings of the inquiry be made public within a week of the completion of the inquiry.

The inquiry is expected to begin by the end of March and to report to government by the end of August.