Inquiry: Fire cost blame game continues

As the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry came to a close yesterday, final words by State Government and GDF SUEZ legal representation continued to argue who should foot the bill for the $32 million firefight.

Representing GDF Suez was Rachel Doyle SC, who concluded although risk prevention was the company’s responsibility, it was not its obligation to take advice from external consultants in risk management.

Ms Doyle told the Board of Inquiry the company regretted leaving communications with the community to the incident control centre as the consequential public perception was that the company did not care for their welfare. “The unexpected outcome of this was that it became to be perceived that the mine was absent in terms of public communications,” Ms Doyle said.

Ms Doyle also defended the health and safety handling of employees by the company, and said upon the Country Fire Authority’s arrival at the site, it was the company which was proactive with carbon monoxide monitoring.

“It was the mine that had a carbon monoxide policy when the fire started and the CFA that were caught flat-footed,” Ms Doyle said.

“From the first moment, mine staff went out with their monitors in place, it was the CFA who arrived without monitors or procedures.”

Ms Doyle referred to the witness statement by GDF SUEZ asset manager George Graham on 13 June who promised he would “personally” ensure all safety policies were reviewed for future reference and provided a report detailing proposals for improvements.

Following this, Board of Inquiry member Sonia Petering asked for clarification from Ms Doyle of whether Mr Graham was speaking for himself or on behalf of the company, to which Ms Doyle assured the inquiry he was speaking on behalf of the company.

State Government Queen’s Counsel Dr Josh Wilson criticised Mr Graham’s report, stating it was regrettable the document was prepared in “haste”, without consultation.

“In light of the fire it’s important GDF SUEZ takes a comprehensive risk assessment,” Dr Wilson said.

“The proposals table for improvement do not give any such comprehensive or rigorous risk assessment.”