Police commissioner ate while Victoria burned


THE credibility of the former Victorian police chief Christine Nixon has been battered by admissions she had no contact with emergency services for almost three critical hours on Black Saturday, and that she misled the state’s bushfires royal commission.
Yesterday Ms Nixon was forced to deny repeatedly that she had deliberately failed to reveal she had gone out to dinner at a hotel on Black Saturday. Last week, Ms Nixon told the commission she had gone home, “had dinner, gone backward and forwards”. Media later revealed she had dined at a North Melbourne hotel with her husband and two friends.
Yesterday Ms Nixon strenuously denied that failing to mention the hotel was an attempt to avoid public embarrassment, saying she had thought the dinner irrelevant to the commission’s inquiries. She also denied that she had deliberately misled the commission on other issues over which she admitted she was inadvertently in error.
Phone records also contradicted that she kept in touch throughout the day with Assistant Commissioner Kieran Walshe, and that she spoke to the Police Minister, Bob Cameron, twice that day. She told the commission last week that she had not spoken to him.
There were no texts or calls sent or received on her phone from 6pm, when she went home, until 8.46 pm, a critical few hours in which police first learned that up to 40 people had been killed.
Under cross-examination from Rachel Doyle, SC, Ms Nixon said: “I didn’t intend to mislead anybody. I didn’t intend to misinform. That’s not a practice I have.
“I didn’t do a good enough job in preparing this statement and I have to say I have taken a very significant amount of heat since then for that. But that doesn’t mean that I was trying to be misleading. It doesn’t mean I was trying to undermine the commission or be inappropriate. It just means I should have paid more attention.”
Ms Nixon said the errors regarding Mr Walshe were because she just assumed she had spoken to him: “That had been my practice [in previous fires] to pick up the phone.”
Ms Nixon said it had been difficult to write her statement as she had never written an account of her movements that day, and she was trying to recall from memory matters now 14 months old.
Yesterday Ms Nixon admitted that she received no information at all about the fires between 6pm and 8.45pm.
Ms Doyle said: “It’s just that when you did a media interview on 3AW last week, you told Mr Mitchell that you had dinner for an hour and ‘people knew where I was’. Who knew where you were?”
Ms Nixon: “I certainly knew where I was and I didn’t see any point in telling anybody. What I mean by that was … they knew that they could contact me.”
Ms Nixon said she could have cancelled the dinner with no consequences. Ms Doyle asked why she had not. Ms Nixon said: “Because I was very confident … that we were dealing with things.”