I think the point that I would make is that what has gone on there is a classic example of what needs to change, Mr Constance said.
I didnt want, god forbid, kilometres of traffic buildup when a wildfire might hit them and we lose hundreds of Australians.
Transport Minister Andrew Constance at a budget estimates meeting on Thursday.Credit:Steven Saphore
He earlier told the hearing the reason for Mr Staples was sacked was because he wanted a change in the direction of the agency.
Mr Constance, whose electorate of Bega was devastated by the 2019/20 bushfires, said he was sick to death of trees falling across highways during bushfires.
I am not going to, given what I went through personally, stand by – and I dont care who is in the way.
We clear underneath transmission lines extensively yet for whatever strange reason we seem incapable of getting it back off our main arterial highways in advance of these types of events happening again.
Northern Territory Fire and Rescue firefighter Luke Ezzy contains a blaze beside the Princes Highway near Nowra during the Black Summer bushfires.Credit:Kate Geraghty
Mr Staples replied to Mr Constance in late July 2020 saying that his department had removed high risk trees in fire affected areas, but had limited power to establish a 40 metre clearance zone under the Roads Act 1993.
Details of Mr Constances February 27 written request and Mr Staples subsequent reply were tabled to NSW Parliament on Thursday and seen by the Herald.
Mr Constance earlier this month indicated his desire to bring Mr Staples back into TfNSW to focus on the citys multi-billion dollar metro program.
Stay tuned, Mr Constance told parliament on February 9.
Andrew Constance a was personally caught up in the Black Summer bushfires. Credit:Kate Geraghty
While the circumstances of Mr Staples exit was scrutinised on Thursday, a government source speaking on the condition of anonymity said Metro chief executive Jon Lamonte had resigned.
The source said it was expected Mr Lamonte would leave his position in the coming weeks.
Opposition finance spokesman Daniel Mookhey said the correspondence proved Mr Constance had put his secretary in an extremely difficult position.
Transport did not have the legal power to comply with the ministers direction, it was wrong for the minister to effectively fire the secretary for refusing act beyond his powers, he said.
In a separate budget estimates hearing on Thursday, Department of Premier and Cabinet Tim Reardon said Mr Constance had met with him in the months before Mr Staples was sacked, outlining his desire for a new secretary.
It was a request from the minister to discuss the matter, he outlined his views on the need for renewal and the direction he wanted to take Transport and I took that into account and reached a conclusion to terminate, Mr Reardon said.
At the end of the day if a [senior] minister decides to take a new direction that is their prerogative.
It was revealed earlier this month that Mr Staples termination payment amounted to $837,584, which includes 38 weeks pay and his outstanding leave entitlements.
He was sacked under section 41 of the Government Sector Employment Act, which allows for executives to be terminated at any time, for any or no stated reason and without notice.
Mr Mookhey asked Mr Constance if the reason he requested Mr Staples to be moved on as secretary was because he resented the fact that he would provide you with impartial advice, which Mr Constance said was ridiculous.
Asked whether Mr Constance had asked for advice as to how many trees would need to be felled in order for 80 metres of land to be cleared around the Princes Highway, Mr Constance said: The point out of this was get the trees back at all cost.
Acting Transport for NSW secretary Peter Regan said he was aware that private landowners would be impacted by Mr Constances direction if it were carried out.
He said the department had been conducting work to reduce risk along highways in NSW, including the Princes Highway.
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