Mysterious and wide-ranging Crikey contributor JF Smith reports on the devastating fires in South Australia:

The news that victims of the Eyre Peninsula fires are to sue the CFS (Country Fire Service) in South Australia is good news.

Previous articles appearing in these pages, and elsewhere, have decried
the attitude of rural fire services management in their approach to
aspects of fire suppression. Now, with the potential for this suit to
go ahead, we might see certain minds being focused on relevant issues.

This group is not the only one looking to take legal action against the
fire services. People involved in the ACT, Sydney and Victorian fires
are also moving, or have moved, to a legal footing, in spite of the
various shenanigans at the Coronial inquiry in Canberra and in spite of
all the “rationalisation” from ministerial and command quarters. Advice
from QCs across Australia has been sought, with a view to suing the
public liability insurers, the fire services and governments. Issues of
due care, failures of diligence and malfeasance have been raised.

Now we can watch the ducking and weaving begin.

It will also be interesting to see how Alexander Downer and the Cabinet
plays this. Previously Downer was approached by a group concerned with
specific issues of fire response in Australia and South Australia. He
assisted by writing to the prime minister, requesting additional funds
be allocated for very specific fire fighting resources. Those funds
were provided. He has also been in discussion on the same issue
following the Eyre Peninsula fires and his support on provisioning of
resources has continued.

But he needs some prodding. And, despite his
supportive words, and the concerns of Wilson Tuckey at the time he was
the relevant minister (surely he must have voiced those concerns to the
PM), the real stumbling block to moves in the right direction is the
government’s apparent inability to sack those in the fire services and
AFAC (Australasian Fire Authorities Council) apparently intent on
blocking necessary change at all costs. There’s also the perennial
buck passing of responsibility between the federal and state governments.

Read the full story on the site here.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey