Brumby slammed over fires

Victorian Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu has used parliamentary privilege to accuse the government of lying and incompetence over the Black Saturday disaster.

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In a special debate of the bushfire royal commission’s findings, Mr Baillieu accused the government of years of negligence and failures that put Victorians at risk.

Mr Baillieu said the government had ignored countless bushfire warnings and recommendations in the years before Black Saturday, imploring it to stop “making excuses” and implement all 67 of the commission’s final recommendations.

“Are we to continue to be fed a diet of lies, spin, exaggerations and fear by the government, to consider a culture of

incompetence, failure and inaction?” he asked in Parliament on Tuesday.

“Or are we to reject the conduct of this government, which has been so irresponsible and reprehensible that its leadership has failed us all?”

In his most scathing attack yet on the government over Black Saturday, Mr Baillieu said the commission’s recommendations were “modest and commonsense”.

The government is holding out on supporting eight of the more contentious recommendations, including voluntary buy-outs of homes in high-risk fire areas and making overhead power lines in bushfire zones safer.

But Mr Baillieu said there was no reason these recommendations could not be implemented.

He called on the government to use the remaining 12 parliamentary sitting days before the election to introduce legislation to enact the commission’s findings.

Victoria owed it to the 173 people who died, he said.

“It’s time to act, we cannot have a repeat of what happened last year.”

Attorney-General Rob Hulls hit back, saying it saddened him that the opposition was seeking to use the events of February 7 last year for political advantage.

“The opposition should try and find the energy to stick to the higher ground,” he said.

Earlier, Premier John Brumby admitted in question time that the $60 million price tag touted by Energy and Resources Minister Peter Batchelor to replace overhead power lines was inflated.

Mr Brumby said the figure applied to the cost of putting all power lines across Victoria underground, not just making those in bushfire areas safer.

The premier said legislative changes would be introduced in parliament this week to put a greater regulatory burden on electricity companies to maintain power lines.

On voluntary land acquisitions, Mr Brumby said the state buying “one property here and one property there” was not realistic.

During the debate, he told parliament he would have liked the bushfire recovery process to be faster, but said the government had invested $1.6 billion in firefighting services and recovery packages since the fires.

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