State Labor says the NSW Emergency Services Minister is unfit to hold the role after he incorrectly claimed a coronial inquiry into the Tathra bushfire had already been held.
The NSW Opposition is also demanding to know why the Liberal government is delaying a coronial inquiry in the March 2018 bushfire.
More than 18 months since the devastating blaze destroyed or damaged more than 100 homes, a firm date for a coronial inquiry to determine the cause hasn't been set.
Yet in Question Time in the NSW Parliament on Tuesday, November 19, Emergency Services Minister David Elliott not only claimed the inquiry had already been held, but that the cause of the fire was already known.
"If you want to know the causes of the fire then look at the coroner's inquiry," Mr Elliott said in response to Labor leader Jodi McKay asking him to confirm the cause "so that residents can have the closure and compensation they need and deserve".
"His ignorance shows how unfit he is to be the Emergency Services Minister," Ms McKay said.
In the days after the fire, NSW Rural Fire Service investigators found electrical infrastructure on Reedy Swamp Rd as the likely cause.
Then in June 2018, former Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty conducted an independent review into the emergency response procedures, which made a range of recommendations.
However, Ms McKay said a coronial inquiry is needed to officially establish the cause and origin of the bushfire.
Ms McKay visited Tathra on Saturday and spoke to residents who lost everything "about their ongoing hurt and heartache in the wake of the devastating blaze".
Several of those fire victims had received a letter from their insurer informing them a coronial inquiry was not likely until "sometime after June 2020" - more than two years since the disaster.
"Why is it taking so long for this important process to get underway? There are so many lessons that could be learnt from Tathra that could be applied elsewhere, such as in the current fire emergency in northern NSW," she said.
"These delays are preventing the people of Tathra from getting on with their lives, rebuilding and recovering the cost of uninsured losses.
"During my visit it was clear to me that the Tathra community wants to be heard and they deserve to be. This is about ensuring they get adequate compensation and also some sort of closure.
"How can bushfire victims have any confidence in Mr Elliott as a Minister if he doesn't even know if a coronial inquiry has been held into a previous disaster?"
Be considerate of the human element here. We are learning from the experience, and it should be done in a bipartisan way.Bega MP Andrew Constance
In the "public interest debate" held later on Tuesday, Member for Bega Andrew Constance said he was "disappointed" to hear Tathra raised in parliament "in that way".
"Please change your tactic on this," he said to Ms McKay.
"We heard today that only six homes have been rebuilt since the March 2018 fire.
"But that's because people are so traumatised they don't rebuild, they don't go back - they move on."
Mr Constance said he would have preferred Ms McKay to visit fire evacuation centres, or speak to recovery coordinator Euan Ferguson to hear about the trauma being felt, "rather than visit the Tathra pub on a weekend for an Instagram opportunity with the former Labor candidate for Bega".
"Be considerate of the human element here. We are learning from the experience, and it should be done in a bipartisan way."
While confirming that a coronial inquiry was yet to start, he said he was not aware of a single instance where an insurance payment had not been paid out because of that fact.