THE Victorian bushfires Royal Commission began its formal proceedings this week amid raging criticism that residents of bushfire affected areas have been denied adequate representation.
After 26 community consultation sessions held in 14 locations affected by the Black Saturday bushfires, the Royal Commission sat for its first directions hearing in Melbourne's County Court on Monday.
Victorian Premier John Brumby has described the inquiry as a “people’s commission” but the Victorian Farmers Federation's president Simon Ramsay slammed the decision to exclude farmers and forestry industry giving evidence at the hearing, given the key role they play in land management and fire prevention.
"The Victorian farming community has been one of the worst affected groups in the wake of the Black Saturday bushfires," Mr Ramsay said.
Mr Ramsay said the decision to grant conditional leave to appear at the hearings to the Australian Workers Union and not the VFF was an “appalling decision”.
"The fires did not start in a union office, they started in rural Victoria and it is appalling that farmers who survived this tragedy will not have the opportunity to present their experience."
According to the VFF, 1500 of its members live in areas affected by the fires.
On the first day of the hearing the Commission heard mass evacuations of people bushfire prone areas might have to be considered on future days of extreme danger to try to avoid another Black Saturday.
Fire victims told the commission that they had no idea they were in extreme danger until the firestorm was upon them because Victoria’s warning system failed to cope.
“Fireballs seemingly of atomic force came before the fire,” said QC, counsel assisting the commission Jack Rush in his opening address.
Mr Rush said Australia’s “stay or go” policy, allowing people to make their own decision on days of extreme weather, was unique and would be a key focus of the commission.
The hearing determined who could give formal evidence when formal hearing began May 11.
Among those granted party leave to give evidence were the Police Association, Powercorp Australia, volunteer fire brigades, the ABC, Telstra, the Fire Fighters Union and the Insurance Council of Australia.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.