THE BOARD’S APPROACH

The Board recognised that effectively undertaking its role depended on genuine engagement with the local community. From the first day the Inquiry was operational, the Board and the secretariat sought advice from the local community in the Latrobe Valley about everything from the area and its history, to where to hold community consultations. The Board emphasised to the local community that it wanted the Inquiry to be as open and accessible as possible.

The Board has endeavoured to hear and understand the experiences of the people who were affected by the mine fire, in order to determine what went well and what did not go well in the response to the fire, and what could be done differently in the future to mitigate against a similar incident happening again.

In his opening remarks on the first day of the Board of Inquiry’s hearings, Chairperson Bernard Teague said:

The past six weeks have seen us listen to over 250 participants at 10 community consultations in Morwell, Moe, Churchill and Traralgon. Those consultations provided us with invaluable information. We have also received and read hundreds of written submissions, many of which provide extremely helpful guidance. We place great emphasis on openness. Our website reflects that.

We encourage all to go to our website to look at three things:

1 the reports on the community consultations;

2 the submissions in which the media has already located several news stories;

3 …the statements of witnesses and a transcript of their testimony.

During these hearings we will hear evidence from firefighters, from mine workers, from experts in many fields, from community members. We plan to listen to all of them with open minds.1

The Board, Counsel, members of the Secretariat and independent experts at their request, were also guided around the Hazelwood mine.

Communications

Within two weeks of the Inquiry’s establishment, and while the Hazelwood mine fire was still burning, an Inquiry phone number and website with details of the Board and the Inquiry’s Terms of Reference, was set up. Shortly after, a twitter account (@minefireinquiry) was established to provide the community with information about key dates and events relating to the Inquiry. Social media monitoring indicated that content about the Inquiry was widely shared.

The Inquiry publicised community consultations through its website, newspaper advertisements, and flyers in community meeting places and at the Community Information and Recovery Centre. Over 6,000 flyers were delivered to individual mailboxes around Morwell inviting community members to participate in the consultations. The website was kept updated with summaries of the community consultations, copies of written submissions, and hearing transcripts and evidence.

During the course of the Inquiry, 12 media releases were sent out to local and state based journalists. The Inquiry received considerable coverage in local and state media and was also widely reported nationally and internationally. A number of journalists covered the public hearings and media outlets supplied a ‘pool camera’, which provided footage of the hearings to various television networks.

The Inquiry thanks the media for their coverage of the Hazelwood mine fire and the Inquiry.

Community consultations

Consultation with the affected community played a very important role in this Inquiry. As part of the Inquiry process, it was a priority of the Board to first meet with and hear from the Latrobe Valley community.

Within the first week of the Inquiry being established, the Board announced that it would be conducting community consultations. The sessions were open to all members of the local community including individuals, business owners and non-governmental organisations from across the Latrobe Valley.

Ten community consultation sessions were held between 10 April 2014 and 8 May 2014 (See Figure 1.1).

Figure 1.1 Community consultations

Location

Date

Time

Number attended

Kernot Hall, Morwell Thursday 10 April 2014 12.30 pm – 3 pm 52
Kernot Hall, Morwell Thursday 10 April 2014 6 pm – 8.30 pm 29
Moe Town Hall, Moe Friday 11 April 2014 9.30 am – 12 pm 22
Federation University
Auditorium, Churchill
Friday 11 April 2014 1.30 pm – 4 pm 14
Kernot Hall, Morwell Tuesday 15 April 2014 7 pm – 9 pm 60
Morwell Bowling Club, Morwell Wednesday 16 April 2014 7 am – 9 am 18
Latrobe Performing Arts Centre, Traralgon Wednesday 16 April 2014 11 am – 1.30 pm 20
Koori community – Nindedana Quarenook – Ramahyuck District Aboriginal Corporation, Morwell Tuesday 7 May 2014 1 pm – 3.30 pm 11
Culturally and Linguistically Diverse community – 20 Hazelwood Road, Morwell Tuesday 7 May 2014 4 pm – 6 pm 24
Community service providers – Morwell Club, Morwell Wednesday 8 May 2014 7 am – 9 am 14

Total attendees

264

The community consultation model used by the Inquiry was adapted from the model used by the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. The consultation process encouraged community members to discuss their experiences, stories, views and opinions amongst themselves, with Board members listening to these discussions. An independent facilitator led each session.

At the community consultations participants were asked to work together and consider three questions:

  1. What worked well?
  2. What did not work well?
  3. What could be done differently in the future?

Scribes were appointed from each table to take notes of the conversations on behalf of the Inquiry. They were drawn from the Inquiry’s Secretariat staff and alumni of the Gippsland Community Leadership Program, who assisted on a voluntary basis.

At the conclusion of each session there was a plenary discussion followed by an open discussion to allow participants to share any further points of concern or interest they felt had not been covered by the three questions. Filming the sessions allowed the Board to further reflect on what was said by participants. The media was invited to attend the community consultations with a view to making the sessions as open and transparent as possible. Summary notes of each session, drawing from the individual scribe notes, the plenary feedback notes, and the filmed footage of the plenary session, captured the key themes and issues raised during the respective discussions. The summary notes were uploaded onto the Inquiry website, and copies were also sent (by post or email) to each of the participants.

An important addition to the model previously used by the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission was to compare community consultation registration data from the first seven sessions with Australian Bureau of Statistics demographic data published on the Latrobe City Council website. The purpose of this was to identify and address any gaps in community consultation.

In addition to the initial seven community consultation sessions, further sessions were arranged with Koori and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse communities, and local community service providers representing people with disabilities, young people, people in aged care and other groups within the community.

In the consultation session with the Koori community, an acknowledgement to Country was given and a yarning circle model was applied, where all participants sat together and worked through all three questions as a single group.

The community consultations enabled the Board to focus on providing answers to the questions community members were asking, relevant to its Terms of Reference.

Some of the key questions and issues for the community that emerged from the community
consultations were:

  • ownership of the Hazelwood mine
  • the cause of the mine fire
  • fire prevention measures adopted by the mine owner
  • responsibility for monitoring the mine owner’s compliance with regulations
  • delivery and content of advice given by government authorities to the community,
    especially in relation to relocation
  • safety standards for carbon monoxide and particulate matter in the air
  • the decision not to evacuate the township of Morwell
  • the application of financial and clean up assistance
  • the health and environmental implications of the mine fire, now and into the future
  • future prevention of similar disasters
  • the long-term vision for Morwell and the Latrobe Valley.

The community consultations also helped Counsel identify community witnesses who could provide evidence in the formal hearings.

Professor John Catford of the Board, with the assistance of Gippsland Medicare Local, held a roundtable with Latrobe Valley General Practitioners on 7 May 2014.

Public submissions

Public submissions were one of the ways individuals and organisations were able to contribute to the Inquiry. Written submissions were submitted to the Inquiry from 31 March 2014 to 12 May 2014. Those who needed help to complete a submission were offered assistance by the Secretariat which made staff available to answer questions.

Over 160 submissions were received by the Board directly and a further 600 submissions were received through Environment Victoria’s website. Voices of the Valley presented a health survey completed by 650 community members to the Board. Each member of the Board read and considered all written submissions.

Independent experts

Taking into account the complexity of the issues to be assessed by the Inquiry, the Board engaged a number of independent experts:

  • Professor David Cliff – Professor of Occupational Health and Safety in Mining and Director, Minerals Industry Safety and Health Centre, Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University of Queensland
  • Mr Roderic Incoll AFSM – Bushfire Risk Consultant
  • Professor Donald Campbell – Professor of Medicine, Southern Clinical School, Monash University
    and Program Director, General Medicine Program, Monash Health
  • Ms Claire Richardson – Managing Director and Principal Consultant, Air Noise Environment Pty Ltd
  • Professor James Macnamara – Professor of Public Communication, University of Technology, Sydney
  • Mr Lachlan Drummond – Consultant, Research and Strategy Lead, Redhanded Communications.

The Board thanks these independent experts for sharing their expertise and for meeting tight timelines in the provision of reports.

Public hearings

The Inquiry involved over three weeks of public hearings in Morwell from 26 May 2014. During that time the Board heard from the six independent experts and 13 community witnesses, and received 100 exhibits.

Counsel Assisting, Ms Melinda Richards SC and Mr Peter Rozen, led evidence and made final submissions to the Board.

Leave to appear before the Inquiry was granted to the State, GDF Suez and Latrobe City Council, and limited leave to appear was granted to Environment Victoria and the United Firefighters Union.

The Board heard evidence from a community witness on most days of the public hearings. The Board also heard evidence from GDF Suez personnel, including the Asset Manager (Chief Executive Officer) of the Hazelwood mine, senior government officials from a wide range of government departments and agencies, the Fire Services Commissioner (now the Emergency Management Commissioner), fire services personnel, the former Chief Executive Officer of the Environment Protection Authority, the Chief Health Officer, and the Acting Chief Executive Officer of Latrobe City Council.

The three weeks of public hearings were divided into themes. Evidence in the first week focused on the origin and circumstances of the fire, including how the fire started, why it became so fierce, the initial response of mine personnel and fire services, and what worked and did not work in suppressing the fire. A day of the hearings was devoted to evidence about firefighter health. The second week focused on evidence about environmental and health effects, relief and recovery, and communications. In the third week the Board heard evidence on measures to control risk and whether they were implemented, including rehabilitation of the worked out areas of the mine, and mine regulation. On the last day of hearings, the Board heard about new emergency management reforms to come into effect on 1 July 2014. Two days of oral submissions by each of Counsel Assisting, the State, GDF Suez, Environment Victoria and the United Firefighters Union, finalised the hearing.