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Dinner date sparks furore -

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Victorian Premier John Brumby is standing by troubled former Police Commissioner Christine Nixon,
as the public furore continues over her admissions she went out for dinner at the height of the
Black Saturday bushfire crisis.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: The Victorian Government is standing by its beleaguered former police
commissioner Christine Nixon as the public furore continues over her admissions that she went out
for dinner at the height of the Black Saturday bushfire crisis.

Amid ongoing calls for her resignation as the chief of the bushfire reconstruction effort, Premier
John Brumby maintains Christine Nixon made an error of judgement by leaving the incident control
centre on Black Saturday to have a pub meal with friends, but still says she should not be sacked.

After two days of highly damaging headlines, Christine Nixon has gone to ground today, making no
public comment, but there have been mixed reactions about the job she's done in rebuilding the
communities devastated by the fires.

Heather Ewart reports from Melbourne.

INTERVIEWER: Churchill fire ignited at 13:33. No-one told you about that. No?

CHRISTINE NIXON, VICTORIAN BUSHFIRE RECONSTRUCTION AUTHORITY: There should have been a follow up
and I should have done it.

We were facing disaster.

I had faith in the people who had worked for me and that they would go about their work
appropriately and that others involved would continue to do that. And I made the decision to leave.

HEATHER EWART, REPORTER: It was bad enough that Christine Nixon admitted to the Bushfires Royal
Commission on Tuesday of this week she'd failed in her responsibility to oversee warnings on Black
Saturday and gone home.

Worse still, when it emerged in a major Victorian newspaper yesterday she'd left the control room
to go out for dinner at hotel with a few friends.

CHRISTINE NIXON: I simply had a meal. There was no celebration. There was no nothing else and 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.

HEATHER EWART: The former police commissioner hit the airwaves when it became clear a public furore
was erupting over her behaviour.

CHRISTINE NIXON: I was actually supposed to be not on duty. I wasn't rostered to be in any of the
centres involved and there were very experienced police officers who were.

HEATHER EWART: The damage to her reputation is enormous and she and the State Government know it
amid mounting calls throughout yesterday and today for her to resign as chief of the reconstruction
effort.

TED BAILLIEU, VICTORIAN OPPOSITION LEADER: Whether she goes of her own accord or whether she is
dismissed by the government, but her position is not tenable.

TONY ABBOTT, FEDERAL OPPOSITION LEADER: It's not a good look. Simple as that.

FRAN BAILEY, FEDERAL MP FOR McEWAN: I think it would be best for everyone concerned if Christine
resigned.

HEATHER MILLS, MARYSVILLE RESIDENT: Christine dined while Marysville burned, which is Nero fiddled
while Rome burned.

POLICE ASSOCIATION GREG DAVIES: The woman who was supposed to have her hands on the wheel had in
fact left her own members on the front line in harm's way for periods of up to and in excess of 20
hours without food or drink and went out to dinner while, eventually, 173 Victorians were
incinerated.

HEATHER EWART: Did Christine Nixon make a big mistake?

JOHN BRUMBY, VICTORIAN PREMIER: Well, I think she's admitted that, uh - she's said herself that she
made a mistake and in hindsight she would have done things differently. She made an error of
judgement, I think, and I've said that publicly.

HEATHER EWART: This morning, in an open letter to readers the Herald Sun newspaper, Christine Nixon
issued an apology, and after that she went to ground, declining any further media interviews and
leaving it to the Premier to speak in her defence.

JOHN BRUMBY: These things are never easy but I've expressed my confidence in her. I believe the job
she's done has been an excellent job for the state, in terms of rebuilding. She's put her heart and
soul into the rebuilding effort.

And nobody who is the chair of the authority is going to be universally loved or liked by
everybody, but I think on balance her performance has been a very strong one.

HEATHER EWART: Of course the Premier was going to stick up for Christine Nixon at all costs. To do
otherwise would be political dynamite and put other heads on the chopping block as a state election
looms later this year. But there's no doubt that this week's revelations have split the community,
especially in bushfire-ravaged areas, and served as a set back to the healing process - a factor
the state Opposition is keen to highlight.

TED BAILLIEU: I think there are a lot of people who are actually- who've been through the fires and
survived and are looking for leadership and comfort and they're now going to be very much polarised
and it's not a position you can have or hold and retain the confidence of people if the community
that you're dealing with is polarised.

HEATHER EWART: And polarised it is. Depending on where you go, and who you're listening to, it
seems everyone has a different view on Christine Nixon.

Take for example the King Lake community. It got a new school faster than many other burnt out
areas. Yesterday survivors gathered in the city for a series of thank you Melbourne and Victoria
concerts.

GLENN BARLOW, CONCERT ORGANISER: Christine stepped up to the plate and she's done the job that
she's done. I defy anybody else to do the job that she's done.

WALLY SPEZZA, CONCERT ORGANISER: We can't be focusing on what happened 14 months ago today. We need
to focus on what we're doing tomorrow, so Christine Nixon's Christine Nixon.

PERFORMER: It's Christine Nixon.

(Cheers)

PERFORMER: We just want to prove that we're behind you and everything that you've done for us.

CHRISTINE NIXON: You are just the most amazing people and for the job I've had for the last 11
months, it's been a most amazing experience for us all.

HEATHER EWART: But go to the town of Marysville, all but wiped out on Black Saturday, and it's
another story. There's frustration at the slow pace of rebuilding and how Christine Nixon and her
authority have been doing their jobs.

For many, that dinner is the final straw.

HEATHER MILLS: She was our chief commissioner in charge of emergency services - the top-top person
- and that makes me upset.

RICHARD UDEN, MARYSVILLE RESIDENT: One of Christine Nixon's comments that always sticks with me is
that she said, "We're letting people rebuild at their own pace".

Well, I think if I'd have been allowed to rebuild at my pace, I'd be in my in my own house by now.

HEATHER MILLS: We are still waiting for a post office. We are still waiting for more shops. We are
still waiting for better communications.

FRAN BAILEY: We are now more than 14 months on and, you know, if people watching this program drive
up to Marysville in particular, but to many of our other communities as well, their reaction is one
of shock, because they say, "Well, why hasn't the main street been rebuilt?"

JIM ROENNFELDT, MARYSVILLE RESIDENT: The community now feels it's been pushed away, paternalised,
not listened to, largely, and they are very, very ill.

HEATHER EWART: The state government maintains recovery is on track, just a bit slower in some
places than others. What is all too clear from the past few days is that there's still a lot of
fallout from the authorities' handling of Black Saturday and the aftermath, and there'll be even
more when the royal commission hands down its final report mid year.