SHE confessed that she went to the hairdresser in the morning. She confessed she was interviewed for her memoirs in the afternoon. But a defiant Christine Nixon yesterday refused to quit despite a fierce public debate about her actions on Black Saturday.
“I intend to honour my commitment to bushfire-affected communities and to continue as the chair [of the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority],” she said.
Revealing further embarrassing details of her activities that day, she told a hastily assembled press conference in the foyer of her Collins Street workplace: “I had a haircut on the morning of February 7. It was a recurring appointment that I could have cancelled. At 9.30 that morning, I felt that I was able to keep the appointment knowing I was contactable through the hour and a half at the location.
“In the afternoon, as stated to the royal commission, between 1.30pm and 3pm, I returned from the State Emergency Response Co-ordination Centre to my office, where I continued to work on both personal and police business, as well as monitor the radio and the internet.
“The personal matter was a recurring commitment with a person assisting me with a biography. This meeting was cut short to around 45 minutes.”
The person helping with her memoir was Age journalist Jo Chandler, who had taken leave from the newspaper to work on the project for Melbourne University Press.
Echoing her evidence to the commission, Ms Nixon insisted: “None of those matters were more important than the bushfires, and they had no impact on my willingness or ability to do the job, or to be contactable on the day.
“I’ve said before and I’ll say again that with hindsight I wish I’d stayed at the co-ordination centre that evening. However, I strongly believe that it would not have changed what happened on the day.”
Her revelations followed two days in which she took leave as controversy raged, and rumors yesterday that a media outlet planned to run a story detailing what she had done during two periods on Black Saturday when, she told the commission, she was dealing with personal matters.
Reporters for several outlets had privately speculated that she was at the hairdressers in the morning. In evidence she had said she went to a regular appointment in Ascot Vale, that it took an hour and a half, and that the radio was playing in the background but the station was not the official fire station, 774.
Ms Nixon had told the commission that she received no information about the fires during the 90 minutes she was in her office, and that she was not told during that time that the Pomborneit-Weerite fire and the Churchill fire had ignited.
Ms Nixon has been under intense pressure to quit her post heading the reconstruction effort since it was revealed that she left the emergency control centre at the height of the blazes to dine at a North Melbourne pub. She was recalled to the commission on Wednesday to explain gaps in her evidence about that and other issues.
Asked yesterday why she was revealing the details now but did not do so in her evidence, she said, “I did not believe that it was relevant . . . The royal Commission had the opportunity on the day to ask questions, to judge my behaviours, and they chose not.”
Ms Nixon also hit out at “wild” speculation over her movements on Black Saturday and media approaches to her elderly parents.
Blaming some of the criticisms on her “enemies” from her time as police commissioner, Ms Nixon said her sex had also played a role. “I have been around a long time. As a woman I have always been judged more harshly than some others, but I’ve understood that.”
“The royal commission will determine whether or not I made a mistake,” she said.