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AS FIRES raged on Black Saturday, none of those who were in command showed any real leadership.
That's what the bushfires royal commission was told yesterday in a stinging attack that threatens the reputations of former police chief commissioner Christine Nixon, CFA chief Russell Rees and other senior officers.
Emergency services chiefs - including CFA deputy Steve Warrington, DSE chief fire officer Ewan Waller and Emergency Services Commissioner Bruce Esplin - were obsessed with co-ordination rather than command, the commission heard.
They focused on overseeing their troops rather than supervising the firefight and issuing warnings to people in the path of the inferno.
Jack Rush, QC, counsel assisting the commission, said proper and effective leadership was absent on Black Saturday.
"Ms Nixon's departure for home and subsequent dinner engagement at a time when she understood the state was facing disaster, is conduct that is entirely inconsistent with her role as chief commissioner of police, deputy co-ordinator in chief of emergency management, and state co-ordinator of the state's disaster planning," Mr Rush said.
"To leave without ensuring that a responsible person was in place, on location, to manage the inevitable consequences of the disaster unfolding, we say is an oversight of grave proportions."
Mr Rush said Ms Nixon misled the commission when she did not reveal she had gone out for a pub meal and was not constantly monitoring the unfolding disaster.
He said the lack of leadership "leaves a sense of bewilderment". There was "a lamentable lack of responsibility and leadership from the most senior personnel involved in fire and emergency response on the 7th of February".
The fires could not be stopped, Mr Rush said, but CFA chief Rees failed to ensure the only action open to the authorities - warnings to the public - were issued.
"We submit that leadership cannot be divorced from command," Mr Rush said.
"Command does not necesssarily involve the issuing of orders or directions, or swooping in to take over at an incident control centre.
"Command demands a presence: to inform, and if necessary, reassure and inspire. But also . . . to oversight and monitor to ensure that key objectives are being met by subordinates.
"Leadership and command is not exercised by retreat to so-called co-ordination or to broad oversight. Leadership and command is not exercised by being available if necessary at the end of a telephone."
...The commission will report to the State Government by July 31