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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 7909

Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) (3:05 PM) —On 9 December, Senator Chris Evans asked me a question relating to the HMAS Westralia fire tragedy. I have some further information in answer to that question. I seek leave to incorporate the answer in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The answer read as follows—

On 9 December 02 Senator Chris Evans asked a series of questions relating to the Westralia fire tragedy. I provide the following responses.

“Didn't the Western Australia Coroner also highlight a number of areas not investigated by the naval board of inquiry into the fire?

The Western Australia State Coroner's decision to hold a public inquest was based on a range of matters including some not required to be considered by the Naval Board of Inquiry. For example the Coronial hearing will include the views of the family members of the deceased, as they were not represented at the Board hearings and have issues they want to raise.

“Are you confident that the Navy inquiry covered all relevant issues and that there is no need for further investigation?”

The Naval Board of Inquiry comprised expert and experienced Navy and civilian members. It was conducted in public and persons appearing had the right to be represented by counsel. The families were equally entitled to appear in person or by legal representatives. That they did not, is not a point of criticism but it is appropriate to note that they had the opportunity. The Board heard from relevant experts including the Arson Squad of the Western Australia Police who advises the Western Australia State Coroner on forensic fire issues and whose view as to the cause of the fire was adopted by the Board. Similarly the Board accepted the opinion of the pathologist appointed by the State Coroner, as to cause of death.

The Board's findings have not been challenged by those who appeared before it.

“Are you confident that the matters that were uncovered post the naval board of inquiry being held do not warrant further investigation by the Navy?”

The recent allegations of an alternative cause of the fire have been closely examined by the Navy and its expert advisers. Navy has submitted to the State Coroner that the alternate cause allegations are unreliable as they are technically implausible. Navy does not consider that these matter warrant further investigation.