From the HeraldSun
UPDATE 4.35pm: A COLLEAGUE of Russell Rees says he fears the CFA [Country Fire Authority] chief was pushed from office and that he had been happy to stay on in the role.
Mr Rees will leave his position a month before the final report of the bushfires Royal Commission is handed down, after he was heavily criticised in the interim report.
He said today the decision was one he made entirely on his own. He had 18 months left to run on his contract.
But Paul Hendrie, who was captain of Kinglake brigade on Black Saturday, suspects Mr Rees was pushed.
He said Mr Rees was positive about the job when he spoke to him three days before the February 7 first anniversary of the fires.
“I was actually talking to Russell out there and he said he was happy in the job and he was staying and all that sort of stuff,” Mr Hendrie said.
“It just surprises me today to hear that he’s resigned.
“He might have said ‘well the pressure is too much’ and he might have moved on but in the back of your mind you think that maybe someone, somehow, somewhere along the line, someone has pushed him.”
Premier John Brumby today said Mr Rees made the right decision to quit his post because new blood was needed in the CFA.
Mr Brumby said Mr Rees had been of great service to the state, but the timing was right for him to move on.
“We will have the final report of the Royal Commission coming up in July,” he said.
“He is making the right decision for the state, the right decision for the CFA, and the right decision for him and his family so that after we get the final report from the commission there can be new blood in place to build for the future.
Mr Brumby said the government had nothing to do with the timing of Mr Rees resignation and that Mr Rees had made the decision by himself.
He also defended the decision to give Mr Rees a two-year contract last year.
Mr Brumby said Mr Rees had played an invaluable role in rebuilding the CFA since Black Saturday.
Emergency Services Minister Bob Cameron said Mr Rees had told him on Wednesday that he would be resigning.
There will be an international search for a new chief officer of the CFA.
Mr Rees resignation comes just days after the CFA insisted to the Herald Sun that Mr Rees would not be resigning his position.
It also follows former police chief Christine Nixon’s two-day grilling by the Royal Commission where it was revealed left the Incident Control Centre before 6pm on Black Saturday to go out to dinner with friends.
Mr Rees insisted today the treatment of Christine Nixon and any criticism of his performance on Black Saturday did not affect the timing of his decision.
“Now is the period of time to change. Those things happening on the periphery have nothing to do with it,” he said.
Kinglake West resident Wally Spezza was thrilled when the Herald Sun informed him of Mr Rees resignation.
“The feeling was that all those fingers that were pointed at Christine Nixon should have been pointed at him.”
David McGahy, the CFA captain of Arthurs Creek/Strathewen, where 29 people were killed, welcomed Mr Rees’ decision to leave in June.
“Whatever is best for the man involved, Mr Rees, and for the organisation, if they can move forward, I think that can only be a positive,” he said.