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Kieran Walshe and Julia Gillard join Insiders -

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Kieran Walshe and Julia Gillard join Insiders

Broadcast: 08/02/2009

Reporter: Barrie Cassidy

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe and Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard join
Insiders to discuss the actions being taken against the Victorian bushfires.

BARRIE CASSIDY, PRESENTER: Well Kieran Walshe, I mean really the country has to prepare itself for
some horror stories over the next 24, 48 hours as the true facts emerge.

KIERAN WALSHE, VICTORIAN POLICE DEPUTY COMMISSIONER: Certainly Barrie. We at this time have 25
confirmed deceased from the fires but look those numbers are going to change as we move forward
during today. We have concerns that those numbers are going to be quite substantial.

We have concerns about what's taken place in the Kinglake fire. Certainly out around Marysville,
Whittlesea, up around Kilmore.

So you know, we're only just getting into those fire zones now and you know we'll have a lot of
work, a very difficult task for our police and emergency services today to do the searches. And
obviously we're going to locate more deceased.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Now take us through where those confirmed deaths have occurred.

KIERAN WALSHE: We have some confirmed deaths in the St Andrews, Strathewen area, Kinglake, Kinglake
West, Bendigo and also around just, I'm just trying to recall now, there is another locality - oh,
Humevale, sorry.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And we're getting unconfirmed reports of deaths in Gippsland as well and other
reports of people just now being found in their cars.

KIERAN WALSHE: Look, we expect that to take place. One of the difficulties we've had as I said is
trying to get into these fire zones. We have to make sure that the environment is safe for the
investigators.

We have a number of disaster victim identification personnel who are being deployed this morning
along with some investigative teams to do this particular work for us. It's not going to be a
pleasant day for them.

I suppose the message I really want to continue to put out to the community is that there is a lot
of work to be done, a lot of very difficult work to be done. And I'm asking the community to
respect that work, respect those difficult tasks and if they don't go to those areas. Please stay
away.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And when you hear about these reports of people, six people in one case being burnt
to death in their cars and yet you see the devastation at Marysville, you don't stay surely when a
town is burning like that? But then what hope have you got when you try and outrun it?

KIERAN WALSHE: Well these fires have been very, very fast and very, very violent and ferocious I
suppose is the word. One of the difficulties is that you know our fire service is always saying to
residents, you know if you're going to leave, leave early. If you're going to stay and defend, well
you stay and defend.

We don't really know what the circumstances are of these people who have died in these vehicles. We
will have to wait 'til we get some investigators on scene just to see what has taken place. We
don't really know at this stage whether they've been involved in collisions or if they've run off
the road; whether the vehicles have broken down. We just don't know and we won't know for quite
some hours yet, maybe even some days, 'til we get to identify and validate what's taken place.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, a Victorian yourself of course, what's
your reaction this morning?

JULIA GILLARD, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: Well I of course lived through Ash Wednesday and many other
Melbournians would have and I think the emotions are the same. It's just the breadth of it, the
fact that so much is still unknown, the concern about family and friends; it's just an awful, awful
day.

And I would certainly echo what is being said that people I think have to prepare themselves for
continuing bad news and people have to respect the instructions of the police and our emergency
services workers at this time.

The Federal Government obviously is going to assist in any way we can. The Prime Minister spent a
section of last night, very late last night and into the early hours of this morning being briefed
by our emergency management experts and talking to the Premier John Brumby.

And the Prime Minister is coming here today. Indeed he'd be on the ground in Melbourne by now to
get on the spot reports and to work with Premier Brumby on the disaster relief arrangements. But
clearly that is going to unfold today and the days beyond as we continue to work through exactly
what has happened with these incredibly devastating fires.

BARRIE CASSIDY: In 1983 when the bushfires broke out in Victoria it was in the middle of an
election campaign and Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke called the campaign off for a few days.

You've got important work to do at the moment but it's going to be very difficult I'd imagine to
focus on the politics for a while.

JULIA GILLARD: Well the key focus here is going to be on you know getting these fires out
obviously. We're still in the midst of it actually, putting fires out and working out what has
happened and then rolling out the disaster relief arrangements. So that's the Prime Minister's
focus. It's what he was doing into the early hours of this morning and what he is doing here today.

Because the information is still patchy even with the best of the emergency services advice, we
don't know precisely what's going in each part of the State. Having the Prime Minister here I think
means he's going to be in the position to get the best possible information today.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And you talk about disaster relief and right now the Government is trying to spend
money and you're trying to spend it fast. Now it just seems to me there are going to be whole towns
that will need rebuilding in Victoria.

JULIA GILLARD: There are going to be whole towns that need rebuilding. There are going to be people
who need emergency income support. There may be a need for additional assistance and work at our
hospitals as they deal with people who have got injuries.

All of it obviously is in front of us to deal with as we work our way through this process. We're
going to do everything we can as quickly as we can. We're obviously in a situation now where people
are still on the ground fighting fires and trying to work out where everybody is and what has
happened to families and friends.

But we'll be here with the emergency relief arrangements. Already there was a request to the
Federal Government for example for emergency bedding that's been responded to. We have the ability
to move the defence forces as necessary to assist and then there will be the income relief and the
rebuilding work.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Kieran Walshe, at one stage I heard yesterday there was something like 400 fires
around the State. How many are now out of control and how do you coordinate an effort where there
are so many fronts?

KIERAN WALSHE: Yes, look I was about 350 incidents yesterday. There's still nine fires that are
still causing concern and that are not yet contained.

We have been able to set up an integrated emergency coordination centre of all the fire services
and emergency services. And that's been operating and all the activities are being coordinated
through there and it's a cooperative effort between all of the emergency services to ensure that we
are able to do the best we can for the people in the State of Victoria.

It hasn't been easy. It's not going to be easy into the future but you know, we're confident that
the arrangements we have in place will make sure that we can get the resources to where the
resources are needed.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And there's a situation at the Loy Yang power station as I understand it and if
things were to go terribly wrong there then that would deny power, wouldn't it, to Melbourne?

KIERAN WALSHE: Well there's always a risk. You know, Loy Yang is a considerable supplier of
electricity to Melbourne and we'll need to make sure that we keep that facility protected so that
we can maintain the power through to Melbourne.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And the property losses - what's your understanding on where the greater number of
houses were lost? As I understand it there were some 50 homes or so around Bendigo and that was in
the outer suburbs of Bendigo.

KIERAN WALSHE: Well that's right on the outer suburbs of Bendigo, yes, and I'm advised of 50 houses
there. Look, I think this morning the collective figure that's being put out is around about 100
houses.

Again, I would expect that to rise considerable as we move forward into these fire zones today. You
know, we'll have considerable housing losses around the Kilmore Whittlesea Kinglake fire. We know
we've had considerable losses out at Marysville. We've had losses down in the Bunyip State Forest
fire. We'll have losses out at Horsham and other parts of the State. And it will take a bit of time
for us to get the collation of all those losses together.

BARRIE CASSIDY: And I understand that now we're hearing reports that at least two children are
among those who have been killed and I guess that's no surprise.

At the hospitals two are right now at the Austin and Alfred Hospital in Melbourne. As I understand
it Julia Gillard there are some seven to 10 very seriously injured patients being treated. So it's,
these sorts of stories are going to come through as the day unfolds.

JULIA GILLARD: They absolutely are and I think there would have been people yesterday I mean
obviously in the city we saw the, felt the cool change and ironically people would have thought,
well that's going to make things better whereas really it's just made it more unpredictable and
difficult to know where these fire fronts are going to go.

And I think there would have been many people who went to bed last night not realising they were
going to wake up to news as bad as this.

And I would say to Kieran, to people who have got up this morning and seen the sort of footage that
we're seeing now, what should they do if they're absolutely frantic to try and find out what's
happened to a family member or friend in these circumstances?

KIERAN WALSHE: Look they can ring in to the Red Cross. There is a Red Cross hotline. And we've been
doing some work with Red Cross this morning to get some additional resources around that particular
line.

(On screen text: "RED CROSS INFORMATION LINE: 1800 727 077")

We know that there will be a lot of people in the State who are unable to contact family and
friends and they will be desperately trying to get some information. We're doing our best we can to
get that going for them this morning.

But I think the other part of the message is, and you did mention there, the temperatures are quite
cooler in Melbourne today but they're still extreme in the northern parts of the State. There is a
major fire going up at Beechworth.

And I'd just like to say to the community, look it's not over yet. You know, there's still a lot of
work to be done by the emergency services. It's certainly going to go right through today. It'll go
through the next couple of days and when you look at some of the enormity of some of these fires it
is going to take maybe a couple of weeks before they're totally blacked out.