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ACT and NSW governments to be sued over 2003 fires

Thumper 1 March 2010 44

As we all know, the 2003 fires happened a long, long time ago, in fact for me it now seems to be a lifetime ago. And yet we see that more than 600 plaintiffs, including victims and insurance companies, will take a case to the ACT Supreme Court on Monday for compensation regarding the fires.

Whereas I agree that much more could have been done, and that our ACT government appeared quite incompetent during the fires, one must ask, is it not time to move on?

[Ed] Housebound also submitted but is seeing the other side of the coin, see below.

No matter how much the ACT Government tries to move on from the 2003 bushfires, another day of reckononing has finally arrived.

The government must have thought it was over after the Doogan inquiry, the appeal against it (which the government effectively lost apart from one or two minor points); and then the NRMA withdrew from the action. The ACT and NSW Governments have vigorously opposed the actions in an attempt to keep them out of court, but all to no avail. Now, seven years on, the matter still has as much life as ever.

The judge has put years of jursidictional dodging to rest with this gem: “It was a fire. It did damage. It does not matter if it started in NSW or New Zealand. I do not see why there needs to be ownership of the fire,” he said. “The real question is who had the responsibility to avoid the damage.”

So, today is the first day of the court hearings. All respect is due to those who haven’t given up.


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44 Responses to ACT and NSW governments to be sued over 2003 fires
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peterh peterh 1:42 pm 15 Mar 10

Clown Killer said :

With insurance you get what you pay for. hunt around for the cheapest quote and you’ll get the biggest kick up the ar$e when it comes to making a claim. Regular assessments of your property by quanity surveyors and experienced builders in consultation with your insurer will generall see you properly insured. If you buy your insurance over the phone or over the internet then you get what you deserve.

Uninsured and under-insured so-called victims of the 2003 fires should just go and take a cold shower … wait … can you hear that? … it’s the worlds smallest violin and it’s playing just for you!

we moved on and tried to forget the fires, there were periods where we were reminded – driving around to my father’s house in the first few months was a bit confronting, especially when I remembered in my mind’s eye what his house looked like before, and the ash strewn tatters that were left.

Regardless of whether people were underinsured or not insured at all, The ACT government was responsible for the safety of its citizenry, and they let us all down badly. There are a lot of what ifs – but the simple fact is that they refused assistance from other quarters, including the airport water tankers, and South Canberra burned.

I wrote on my experience in my own blog, those of you who know me have either read it or have heard about it from me, but I am not linking it here. CK, you and I were very lucky. I was living in Kambah at the time, and my house remained after the fires had passed.

Many of my friends and family weren’t so fortunate, and regardless of the levels of insurance, they either moved closer in to the city, or re-built their houses with a couple of modifications – no trees, for one. large areas of decomp granite, very little shrubs. They wanted to feel safe in their homes.

Nothing can replace my grandfather’s mementos, the antique jewellery of my grandmother’s or my father’s prized staff ring that he bought from a jeweller – it was a very large military college ring that was worn by one of General Macarthur’s aides. These are all lost forever. The clothes, the furniture, the memories are now gone to ash and dust.

If these people want to blame someone, and they feel that there is a case for them, let them. You want them to get over it and move on, let them do it in their own way.

Holden Caulfield Holden Caulfield 10:47 am 11 Mar 10

@#38 Ouch! It would appear that that statement is based on fact, and, if so, you can see precisely why there are some people not prepared to “get over it”.

sloppery sloppery 10:27 am 11 Mar 10

s-s-a said :

Holy cr*p I just read the link. That is appalling.

I also read the link. Pretty amazing.

s-s-a s-s-a 11:23 pm 10 Mar 10

Holy cr*p I just read the link. That is appalling.

cranky cranky 8:24 pm 10 Mar 10

Wow, That is some link – thank you CraigT.

Very evident that no appreciation of the long term buildup of undergrowth/lack of backburning impacted on the NSW authorities decision making. These jokers were living in a vaccuum – absolutely no urgency shown, even though fuel loads were patently through the roof. And of course, saving the dollar was essential.

Some of those named should be very publicly shamed.

ricci ricci 3:56 pm 10 Mar 10

Thanks for the link CraigT. It was most informative. I know from chatting with Wayne West and wife Leslie what was happening at the time and then learnt much more from others at the party/BBQ at Wayne’s on the anniversay last year.

I also note that a number of people commentingt on people under insuring deliberately. I am sure this happens. However, you should also remember that if you over-insure the insurance company can, and does, reduce your claim by the appropriate percentage. So don’t get too smart.

In my case, if you had read my post closely, I was not the one who determined the value of the house for insurance; it was the bank and the insurance company itself. Presumably neither of them would deliberately underinsure.

CraigT CraigT 11:31 pm 09 Mar 10

I’ve got to say – when I heard Canberra was on fire (I was out of town), I crossed my fingers hoping as hard as I could that my house would cop it.

Sadly, it didn’t. All these years of over-insuring my house and my best chance to hit the jackpot was a fizzer.

Anyway, I see a lot of comments such as Jess’s, to the effect that “nobody could be blamed…circumstances beyond anybody’s control…blahblah blah”. This is precisely the mentality I rely on at work when I take risks and luck out – I make excuses such as “circumstances beyond my control, unforeseen problems, etc…” and people are mostly gullible enough to buy it.
Here’s a clue, Jess – when somebody’s taken a gamble and lost, been incompetent, or have been engaged in downright dereliction of duty, they will try to pull the wool over your eyes.

Ricci #14 and Cranky #16 are telling you something you should know before making any further comment on this issue. What’s more, the reality is actually even worse than they are telling – read here and prepare to be appalled:

http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/bushfires/inquiry/subs/sub146.pdf

My favourite bit:

“Friday 10 January 2003
I visited the face of the fire twice…the fire was now approximately 300m from the lightning strike. It was still burning at a very slow rate with the height of the flames no more than 400mm”

ricci ricci 4:03 pm 04 Mar 10

Thanks “toriness”. My point is that not everything seems as it looks. If you read my original post carefully you will note that most people did the same as you and I, ie we paid the increase in premiums to cover the increase in house value, every year. However, as it turned out, the increase in valuations for the ACT were based upon a national figure, not an ACT alone figure. As a result the valuations index were discounted by lower values in Tasmania and South Australia at that time.

Also, you do not seemed to have grasped the point that re-building costs will be much higher if suddenly 500 houses have to be rebuilt in a relatively short space of time. I don’t know how much your house was insured for in 2003, but if it had burnt down I am pretty sure that the cost of rebuilding it would have been much, much more than what it was insured for. This was the problem most fire-affected people faced and it was proven so with insurance statistics after the fire.

Solution: now go for replacement value insurance which was not available for me in 2003, but which I have now.

Ray Polglaze Ray Polglaze 11:43 am 04 Mar 10

Many of the comments in this thread refer to whether people had home and contents insurance.
It has been reported, though, that some of the claims before the court relate to personal injuries.

It would be interesting to know how many people also have some sort of general personal injury cover sufficient to cover the major loss of income, medical and rehabilitation costs that may result from serious personal injuries.

New Zealand has a general government no fault insurance scheme for both work and non-work accident injuries. People in New Zealand are covered for loss of income, medical and rehabilitation costs without needing to go to court to establish fault.

In Australia there are lots of gaps between various specific insurance covers and what governments cover through medicare and Centrelink.

As a consequence, in the absence of a general accident insurance scheme, people who suffer serious injuries may have to go to court and argue fault to get compensation. Otherwise, they are left to live very difficult lives without the funds necessary recover.

The New Zealand model is an alternative to court proceedings while still supporting people who have suffered injuries in accidents. If there is concern about the costs of legal proceedings, perhaps it would be reasonable to look at the New Zealand scheme.

Clown Killer Clown Killer 1:14 am 04 Mar 10

With insurance you get what you pay for. hunt around for the cheapest quote and you’ll get the biggest kick up the ar$e when it comes to making a claim. Regular assessments of your property by quanity surveyors and experienced builders in consultation with your insurer will generall see you properly insured. If you buy your insurance over the phone or over the internet then you get what you deserve.

Uninsured and under-insured so-called victims of the 2003 fires should just go and take a cold shower … wait … can you hear that? … it’s the worlds smallest violin and it’s playing just for you!

Pandy Pandy 11:31 pm 03 Mar 10

Ricci princess, one insurance company LOL! I have been overinsuring for years. Read the fine print and do the math, you did not.

toriness toriness 10:56 pm 03 Mar 10

ricci, appreciate your addressing me personally, so i may reply to your point personally. i have insurance for contents and building both. always have, always will. i know it’s my individual responsibility to protect my primary asset that i pay a significant amount of my salary to make mortgage repayments every fortnight. my insurance is revised every year to account for annual rises in labour, supplies and construction costs. next point?

ricci ricci 4:49 pm 03 Mar 10

Perhaps if toriness’ house had burnt down she might have a different take on insurance. People make comments with no real knowledge about what they are talking about. Prior to 2003 most insurance companies determined a value for the house on which to base their premiums.

The bank (who held my mortgage) and the insurance company (CGU) determined the value of my home and the increase in premiums each year which I paid. The value ascribed to my home at the time of the fires was $312,000. However, after the fires the insurance company asked me to provide two quotes from builders to rebuild my original house and the insurance company itself provided the third. All quotes were around $550,000 because of the lack of builders, tradesmen and materials when 500 houses had to be rebuilt. Perhaps mine could have been rebuilt for $312,000 if all these others had not burnt down. And the government refused to waive GST on rebuilding costs even though the original house was exempt from GST.

Some people I know actually insured their houses for more than the amount determined by the insurance company (again CGU). CGU refused to pay the higher insured amount that these people had been paying higher premiums on for years. This was an issue taken up by the insurance advocate who was installed in the Recovery Centre after insurance companies started to mess people about.

So toriness and others, be a bit more careful about what you say when you were not actually involved or affected.

toriness toriness 12:42 pm 03 Mar 10

Grapes of Sloth said :

Umm, should this thread be published – this matter is before the courts, guys. Some of things that have been said here are pretty damn close to contempt of court.

Hmmm, getting the organisers of riotACT hauled before the Chief Justice on a contempt charge – sweeeeet!

the average person’s opinion about a public event aired in a public discussion forum (no different to having a chat about it in the pub) amounts to contempt of court?? pleeeeeeeeease.

p1 p1 12:36 pm 03 Mar 10

…+30 windy hazy days are pretty tense for me still though. Did someone say PTSD?

It is when the sky starts to go black from the smoke that my heart rate goes up.

amarooresident2 amarooresident2 11:46 am 03 Mar 10

Does anyone know if governments have been sued for bushfire damages in other parts of the country? I have a vague memory of a case in Victoria that was unsuccesful. I can’t believe that this is the first action of it’s type in Australia.

smpc smpc 9:58 am 03 Mar 10

Clown Killer said :

A court that entertains the idea of spending our money compensating people for the uncompensatable deserves nothing but our contempt.

Blaming the Court is pointless. They have jurisdiction, and there is a meritous negligence claim. They can’t refuse to hear a case just because you or anyone else thinks that compensation is pointless; the court is bound to apply the law of negligence as it stands in Australia, modified by the Civil Law Wrongs Act.

Danman Danman 9:10 am 03 Mar 10

Seven years on, the only meaningful thing I’d want changed is for the smell of eucalyptus smoke to bring back pleasant memories rather than the feeling of dread seeing the fire coming

I was in Lyons, and by no means in the worst area, but I watched 3 houses in our street burn minutes after forcefully evacuuating the residents.

It has taken me years to not stress about the smell of eucalypt smoke, now it reminds me of good times camping, but I will always have that niggling fear in the back of my head asociated with the smells on that day.. +30 windy hazy days are pretty tense for me still though. Did someone say PTSD?

Clown Killer Clown Killer 8:23 am 03 Mar 10

A court that entertains the idea of spending our money compensating people for the uncompensatable deserves nothing but our contempt.

housebound housebound 8:23 am 03 Mar 10

RA will be up there with the CT, the ABC, the SMH and numerous other media outlets in that case.

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