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Christine Nixon discusses bushfire catastroph -

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Reporter: Leigh Sales

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: And to discuss the situation in Victoria, I was joined a short time ago by
the State's Police Commissioner Christine Nixon.

Commissioner Nixon thanks very much for coming in at such a busy and difficult time.


LEIGH SALES: Can I start first with a few questions about practical matters?

How soon can we expect to see authorities release bodies back to families for funerals?

CHRISTINE NIXON: I think that we've got a distance to go on that. We're at the phase of starting to
collect information from families and particularly samples, or forensic samples that can then be
matched to the bodies that we have.

And the Coroner is responsible for that process, and so we're starting that in the next few days.

And then it's a matter of working with the families through the Coroner's office and getting to a
stage where once we can identify people then hoping that we'll be able to start to release the

But I think Judge Jennifer Coate said the other day that she thought that would be a week or two
yet, and then it's a long and slow process as we work our way through the so many people who've

LEIGH SALES: The death toll is constantly rising. How many bodies is the Victorian Coroner
preparing for?

CHRISTINE NIXON: The Coroner has the facilities put in place for 300 bodies. That's part of their

But the toll at the moment is 181 people, but we do expect, as I've said all along, that would rise
as we are working our way through a number of communities that we are going house by house and
street by street to search for bodies.

And we have some cause to believe there are clearly more people who have died in this fire.

LEIGH SALES: In terms of the continuing emergency at the moment do you have enough resources?

Is there anything that other States or the Federal Government can do for Victoria?

CHRISTINE NIXON: Look, I've travelled certainly to Traralgon, which is one of our main sites and up
to the Marysville and also to Kinglake in the last few days and I've seen many, many people who are
there and part of the resource.

So, in terms of Victoria Police we've certainly pulled many of our officers... there was 150 police
officers at Kinglake today, that I met many of them.

So we do have enough capacity, and it's a long investigation and it's a long incident. But I think
the CFA and others are bringing resources from all over the country, as are we.

We couldn't have been better assisted; I have to say, by our colleagues in other States in all of
the disciplines, the emergency services.

LEIGH SALES: Commissioner, arsonists still seem to be creating havoc for emergency workers. Is
there anything that police can do to prevent arson, given the difficulty of anticipating who might
strike or where?

CHRISTINE NIXON: Look, it's a very difficult offence. It's one that's often in isolation, obviously
in forests or away from the main road and that's part of the problem of even preventing it

But then it is obviously the subject of investigation. But many of our local criminal investigation
areas are aware of perhaps local arsonists in their area, and obviously are very keen and
investigating them.

In this case, what we believe is the fire that was the Churchill fire, we believe it was
deliberately lit and we've got a very strong investigation now been in place for some time on that.

And our Taskforce Phoenix has actually now picked that up as part of the investigation. But there
are a number of the other fires that fire investigators and the CFA and others believe have been
suspicious because of the way the fire behaved.

And so even as late as today a suggestion that perhaps the Marysville fire was deliberately lit. So
it's a matter for us so investigate.

On the day, as anybody knows who was in Victoria, at 46 degree temperatures there are a range of
causes for fires but we have to look at those and that's part of the investigation.

LEIGH SALES: Commissioner, what is it that leads you to believe the Marysville fire was
deliberately lit?

CHRISTINE NIXON: Part of that is is as we've gone to Marysville to investigate, we've... along with
fire experts become suspicious about how the fire actually came into Marysville.

The direction it came from, the pace it came with, all of those things are a part of the way we
investigate a fire and working with fire authorities like the CFA.

Part of what we watched on that day was just some fires that some of the fire authorities said
can't have occurred in the way they did.

And so, along with obviously what was the main fire front we found fire in other locations. And so
part of the concerns about Marysville is that it was just unexplained, and exactly how that fire
got started, so that's part of the of the process for us.

LEIGH SALES: Can you tell me if we're anywhere near close to seeing anybody charged in relation to
any of these fires?

CHRISTINE NIXON: Look, we believe the team is working very hard. They do have a photo fit that has
been released on a person we would like to talk to, a person of interest.

But the team is confident that they will have a successful outcome in the not too distant future.
But it's a matter of time; it's also a matter of information.

And I've continually asked the community if they're aware or concerned about anybody or suspicious
or saw anything that they report that to Victoria Police and through Crime stoppers on 1800 333
000, and any information they might have will add to our investigation.

LEIGH SALES: The South Australian Premier, Mike Rann, has said that on high fire risk days putting
convicted of suspected arsonists under surveillance has helped reduce the number of fires being lit
in the Adelaide Hills. Is that something that you think could work in Victoria?

CHRISTINE NIXON: Well look, it's a reasonable strategy. I hadn't actually heard of that before, but
we have obviously arrested arsonists before and they're certainly subject to investigation.

In some cases they might have been suggest to surveillance in local criminal investigation units.
That's part of a strategy in many cases.

We've certainly had a set of fires over time on the Hume Highway and we've certainly put people
under surveillance who we believed may have been setting those.

And so some of those we've been able to bring to justice. But it's a difficult offence to pursue
and a difficult one to prevent.

LEIGH SALES: Commissioner, you will be heading the reconstruction body charged with re building
those devastated communities.


LEIGH SALES: People often ask, metaphorically, when we see tragedies of this scale, where do you
start? But can I ask, quite literally, where and how and when will you be starting that process?

CHRISTINE NIXON: Today I have been out talking to the heads of Government departments in Victoria
about their processes.

The night before I was talking to the Victorian Emergency Management council about the current
stage that the response and recovery is at.

So it is, in effect, started. We started to bring on board staff today to be able to be part of
this whole process, so it is under way.

LEIGH SALES: I think Commissioner what people would want me to ask me you, is just very
practically, when will they be allowed to go back to their homes and salvage what they can and
start cleaning up?

CHRISTINE NIXON: That certainly has started, particularly at Kinglake where we had a number of
families were very concerned that they wanted to get back.

Today I was there; we've developed a process of tagging people. Those who were at actually in
Kinglake have been given particular colours.

Those who were down in Whittlesea have been other colours and so there was a lot of traffic up and
down today.

But we're also very keen to protect that environment. We're still investigating and we still
haven't been through all of the houses.

So we were letting people in; we're letting people come back to see their property but also
advising them they were still under investigation... the house and the site was still under
investigation in some says cases.

That's been important. I met many of the people who had got back into their houses. Some were just
devastated. They just did not understand or expect what it would be like.

So the community services are working with those people to help them through. But there are still
some towns that we're trying to finish our investigation. Marysville for instance is one of them.

It will be about three or four days yet before we can allow people into back into that community.
That is a sad thing, I understand it.

But the devastation is such that we need to continue to work there uninterrupted and until we can
get to a point where we can allow the community back.

LEIGH SALES: Commissioner Nixon, I am sure everyone wishes you well for the work that lies ahead.
Thank you very much for joining us tonight.

CHRISTINE NIXON: Thank you very much.