Victorian Premier John Brumby says he still supports Christine Nixon, after it emerged that the head of the state’s bushfire recovery effort went out for dinner with friends as the state burned on Black Saturday.
Former Victoria Police chief commissioner Ms Nixon is facing growing calls for her resignation over her testimony to the Bushfire Royal Commission yesterday.
She says she was not trying to mislead the Commission when she told it she had “had a meal” during the bushfires, which killed 173 people on February 7 last year.
As chief commissioner at the time, Ms Nixon was responsible for the police response to what became Australia’s worst natural disaster.
“I said in the statement I gave the commission that I had a meal. I didn’t say obviously at the time that I had gone to a local hotel and had a meal with two friends,” she said.
“There were no celebrations, nothing else. I think this is just a way to attempt to undermine me to portray it in this fashion. I didn’t mislead the Royal Commission.”
Ms Nixon does not believe her decision to go to dinner had any impact on her ability to monitor the situation.
“I think technology these days is very capable of finding you wherever you are, and whenever anybody wanted me for whatever the situation might be,” she said.
“I clearly had my phone with me and was clearly able to be contacted. I think the way that one of the newspapers have interpreted this is over the top.”
Ms Nixon said she was not supposed to be on duty on Black Saturday.
“There were very experienced police officers who were [on duty]. But because I saw the situation deteriorating, I went into my office and got the briefing,” she said.
Ms Nixon is now the head of the Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority (VBRRA) and has rejected suggestions her position has been compromised.
“I intend to continue in this role until it’s finished. It’s done to help so many people get their lives back,” she said.
Today Mr Brumby said Ms Nixon still enjoyed his support in her role as head of the Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority (VBRRA).
“Christine has said that she should have done things differently on Black Saturday,” he said in a statement.
“It is important that we wait for the recommendations of the Royal Commission before passing judgement.
“Christine and the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority have been crucial to helping fire-affected communities rebuild.
“The Government supports Christine continuing in her role at VBRRA.
“Christine will continue to work with local communities to rebuild after the Black Saturday bushfires.”
Ms Nixon has also been supported by the Federal Government’s bushfire recovery spokesman Bill Shorten.
“Christine Nixon [has] acknowledged that mistakes were made at that level, on the day and the evening of the fire,” Mr Shorten said.
“I operate with Christine Nixon in terms of the reconstruction and I have every confidence that she is doing a good job there.”
But Police Association secretary Greg Davies has condemned Ms Nixon’s actions.
“To say that the person who was in charge of the response to Australia’s greatest ever natural disaster left after being told of potential loss of life, of 20 to 30 homes, and in her own evidence said that she believed we were facing a disaster. And she left, took her hand off the tiller, and went out to dinner with friends,” he said.
Fran Bailey, the retiring MP for McEwen, which covers many of the bushfire-affected areas, has told Fairfax Radio that Ms Nixon must resign.
“I am appalled, absolutely appalled,” she said.
“How anyone in her position could leave her post and go home and then blithely go out to dinner with friends, I just think is appalling.”
Victorian Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu says Ms Nixon has lost all credibility.
“Her position is untenable,” he said. “Under the Emergency Management Act, the minister and the chief commissioner of police have enormous responsibilities, and you would have imagined that she would have been there on the day.”
Family First Senator Steve Fielding echoed that call, saying Ms Nixon should be immediately stood down as head of VBRRA.
“You can’t go around saying you weren’t rostered to be on duty when you were the chief of police. It’s a 24-7 job,” he said.
“No wonder Christine Nixon wants to work on the reconstruction team. She probably feels somewhat responsible for walking away from her job at a critical moment.”