WA fire claims minister as inquiry launched

WA Emergency Services Minister Rob Johnson was sacked on Monday over the Margaret River bushfire, although most criticism has been levelled at Environment Minister Bill Marmion.


WA Premier Colin Barnett announced on Monday that former federal police commissioner Mick Keelty would conduct an inquiry into the blaze.

At the announcement, Mr Barnett defended Mr Marmion, while admitting Mr Johnson was “disappointed” at being dumped.

Housing and Transport Minister Troy Buswell will replace Mr Johnson, who will remain as police and road safety minister.

Mr Johnson told reporters that he found out the identity of his replacement only when he read it in the media.

Mr Keelty’s inquiry will have similar powers to a royal commission. This year he conducted an inquiry into February’s Perth Hills bushfire which destroyed 72 homes.

The Margaret River bushfire destroyed more than 40 properties and burnt almost 4000 hectares on November 23-24. It began when a Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) prescribed burn flared out of control in a nearby national park, about 280km south of Perth.

Mr Barnett denied Mr Johnson’s sacking was a result of his handling of the fire, even though he announced it at the same time as the inquiry.

“It’s not a reflection on Rob and indeed it has no connection to the Margaret River fire at all,” he told reporters.

“I have been considering this for some time.

“The Keelty recommendations [from last year’s Perth Hills bushfire] are being implemented, a new head of [Fire and Emergency Services] has just taken up his job . . . and I think it’s time to have a fresh minister oversee those changes.”


Mr Barnett later told AAP “it was not a choice of one or the other” as to who should take the blame between Mr Johnson and Mr Marmion for the Margaret River fire.

“Bill Marmion has, in my view, done nothing wrong in this case,” Mr Barnett said.

“He happened to be the minister when the fire got out of control.”

However, opposition leader Eric Ripper said Mr Marmion should be sacked, given the DEC’s slow response and mishandling of the blaze.

“The premier has only done half the job in removing Mr Johnson,” Mr Ripper said.

“How can the public have confidence with Bill Marmion still the minister for environment?

“Mr Marmion has to go as well.”

While Mr Ripper welcomed an independent investigation into the Margaret River bushfire, he saw no need for a royal commission-type inquiry.

“The government has only implemented one-third of Mr Keelty’s 55 recommendations [from the Perth Hills fire report],” he said.

“That’s the problem.”

Mr Barnett said Mr Keelty had the confidence of the wider community, and that all government agencies and officers would be required to co-operate with his inquiry.

A community meeting will be held in Margaret River on Sunday to allow local people to hear from, and speak to, Mr Keelty.

Mr Keelty will report to the Public Sector Commissioner by late January 2012.

Mr Barnett said the inquiry would not examine the practice of prescribed burns which had led to two major fires in WA in the past two weeks. The Augusta-Nannup fire last week resulted in the evacuation of more than 100 homes about 40km south of Margaret River.