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The Honourable
 Phil Koperberg
 AO, AFSM, BEM


In office
1 September 1997 – 24 March 2007
Preceded by New title
Succeeded by Shane Fitzsimmons

Member of the NSW Parliament
for Blue Mountains
Incumbent
Assumed office 
24 March 2007
Preceded by Bob Debus

Political party Australian Labor Party

Philip Christian Koperberg AO, AFSM, BEM, is the former New South Wales Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Water, and the former Commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) in Australia. "An expert in risk and crisis management, Phil Koperberg was the overall emergency controller during the 2001 Christmas/New Year fires, when Australia faced its longest and most intense bush firefighting campaign. In 1994 Phil Koperberg was also the overall emergency controller, as firefighters battled to control over 800 New South Wales fires covering in excess of 800,000 hectares. In 1999, his expertise was again called upon during the severe hail storms which damaged more than 30,000 properties."[1]In September 1997 he was appointed the RFS Commissioner when the Service was formed under the Rural Fires Act. Before this he had been Director-General of the New South Wales Bush Fire Service from May 1990. In March 2007 he was elected to State parliament and appointed to the ministry however in December he was forced to stand aside due to a police investigation regarding domestic violence allegations from 1987. The State Department of Public Prosecutions declined to press charges and Koperberg was reinstated to the ministry. He resigned on 22 February, 2008.

Contents

Background

Dutch-born Koperberg arrived in Australia in 1953 from Indonesia. Prior to his involvement in emergency management, Phil worked in various fields including the finance industry. [1]

Koperberg fought his first bushfire as a teenager on the New South Wales South Coast in 1959 [2]. He joined the North Springwood Bush Fire Brigade (now Winmalee) as a volunteer in 1967, working his way up to become captain of that brigade. Prior to becoming chief of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service in 1997, he held positions as the inaugural chair of the Fire Control Officer's Association, chairman of the Bush Fire Council of New South Wales and executive officer of the then Bush Fires Branch of the Office of the Minister for Police and Emergency Services.

Appointment as Commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service

Koperberg was Commissioner at the time of the RFS occupying new headquarters in Carter Street, Lidcombe.

In 1985 Koperberg was appointed Chairman of the Bush Fire Council of New South Wales and Executive Officer of the Bushfires Branch of the Office of the Minister for Police and Emergency Services. In 1993 he became of Commissioner of Bush Fire Services. On 1 September 1997, following the proclamation of the Rural Fires Act 1997, Phil Koperberg was appointed to the position of Commissioner of the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.

In April 1999 when severe hail storms battered eastern Sydney causing damage to more than 30,000 properties Koperberg was appointed to operationally coordinate the emergency control / initial recovery effort.[3] He continues to chair the Rural Fire Service Advisory Council, the Bush Fire Co-ordinating Committee and the State Rescue Board. He is a member and director of the Australasian Fire Authorities Council and a member of the Institute of Emergency Services.

Honours and awards

  • On 30 December 1978 Koperberg was awarded the British Empire Medal.[4]
  • On 19 November 1990 he was awarded the National Medal which is awarded for diligent long service to the community.[5]
  • On 10 June 1994, he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for service to the community through co-ordinating and controlling the firefighting effort during the New South Wales bushfires of January 1994.[6]
  • On 26 January 1995, he was awarded the Australian Fire Service Medal (AFSM).[7]
  • On 9 June 2003 he was promoted to Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for outstanding service to the community through the development of an internationally recognised firefighting service, ensuring that training and equipment are of a high standard, and providing informed comment on hazard reduction and educating the community on bushfire safety. Koperberg has also received the Pingat Ketua Pengarah Bomba from the Malaysian Fire Service.[1][8]

Political career

On 2 November 2006 Phil Koperberg announced his intention to seek Australian Labor Party preselection for the state seat of Blue Mountains in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly at the 2007 State election[9] after Attorney-General and Environment Minister Bob Debus announced he would not recontest his safe Labor seat at the March 24 state election. [10]

"The move comes despite denials as late as this week by Mr Koperberg that he had no plans to seek preselection in the seat which Labor holds by a 14.8 per cent margin. Mr Koperberg's years of high profile work fighting fires would make him a popular choice for the bushland electorate."[1].

Almost immediately, it was revealed that Koperberg had been issed with an Apprehended Violence Order in 1987 after a domestic violence incident involving his wife of the time, Katherine Specking. On 6 November, Sydney radio personality Alan Jones made comment on air in response to these revelations:

"Look, can we end all this nonsense about Phil Koperberg. There's talk that there's an AVO taken out against him by his ex-wife and that someone's going to release that and put a dirt file together about Koperberg, et cetera et cetera. Politics has got to get rid of all of this stuff. And Morris Iemma and Peter Debnam have got to move heavily against anyone who tries it. Mr Koperberg's private life is just that, private. Any person who offers themselves to serve in public life deserves the support of the community. Mr Koperberg has done nothing illegal, he's broken no laws, he's confronted no court about anything that's happened in any of his marriages, I believe he's been married a couple of times. Who cares. Morris Iemma, to his credit, has backed Mr Koperberg. Look, no one's had more arguments with Phil Koperberg than I have. But it is absolutely sickening the way in which people's private lives are dragged through the sewers for the sake of some kind of public benefit. Mr Koperberg has ability. The electorate will decide whether it is enough to entitle him to a seat in the State Parliament. All the rest based on jealousy and hearsay ought to be left where it belongs, at the bottom of the garbage can." [2]

On 12 January 2007, Koperberg stood down from his role as RFS Commissioner in order to begin his campaign for political office.[11] Official notification was sent (via e-mail) to RFS staff the following day announcing that Assistant Commissioner Robin Rogers AFSM had assumed the role of Acting Commissioner.

In the 24 March 2007 New South Wales state election, he was elected to the seat of Blue Mountains. On 30 March, New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma announced Koperberg would be the Minister for Climate Change, Environment and Water in the State parliament. In the aftermath of the election, it was revealed that Koperberg's ex-wife Specking had been involved in an affair with Paul Gibson, the Member for Blacktown and as a result the two men were bitter rivals. Koperberg had in fact earlier suggested Gibson was behind the domestic violence allegations, accusing him of running a smear campaign "bordering on evil"[12]. However, Gibson was dumped from Cabinet almost immediately when he was accused of assault against an ex-lover, former Minister for Sport Sandra Nori, in 1991. Police later found Gibson had no case to answer[13].

On 2 December 2007, the claims regarding Koperberg's violence toward Specking re-emerged, this time with the additional implication that he had also assaulted his stepdaughter Paula Coad "with such force that one of her fillings was knocked out"[14]. Further claims were laid that the NSW Labor Party knew of the allegations before Koperberg's nomination for election and attempts were made to cover them up.

While Koperberg continues to deny any wrongdoing, he was stood down from the front bench of Parliament the following day while a police inquiry was instigated into the allegations.[15], primarily due to pressure on Iemma to take action in light of the allegations against Gibson in March. On 9 January 2008, the police handed the results of their investigation into Koperberg to the NSW Department of Public Prosecutions. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that there was speculation Specking and Coad were not prepared to make statements to the police, making it likely Koperberg would be cleared[16]. On 17 January the prospect of any charges being laid was dismissed.

Koperberg resigned from The Ministry on 22 February 2008 [17] citing ill health. But an unnamed source close to Mr Koperberg, cited in SMH [18] and The Age [19], said that the real reason for his resignation from the ministry was that he was fed up with continuing unsubstantiated allegations being promulgated by his party colleague, Blacktown MP, Paul Gibson. He will remain on the backbench as member for the Blue Mountains. Verity Firth took over as Minister for Environment and Climate Change and Nathan Rees as Minister for Water.

References

  1. ^ a b c Biography at Celebrity Speakers Australia , accessed 8 June, 2008.
  2. ^ "An Hour With Commissioner Phil Koperberg", Wade, Cameron and Landry, Belinda, Bushfire Bulletin, April 2007
  3. ^ Research - Commissioner Phil Koperberg, Bushfire CRC. Accessed 8 June 2008.
  4. ^ It's an Honour - British Empire Medal
  5. ^ It's an Honour - National Medal
  6. ^ It's an Honour - Member of the Order of Australia
  7. ^ It's an Honour - Australian Fire Service Medal
  8. ^ It's an Honour - Officer of the Order of Australia
  9. ^ "Koperberg to run in NSW election", ABC News Online
  10. ^ "Fire Chief Seeks Labor Seat", The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 November 2006. Accessed 8 June 2008.
  11. ^ "Koperberg starts political career" ABC News Online
  12. ^ Distressed Koperberg will sit next to old foe Sydney Morning Herald 31 March 2007
  13. ^ http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23029060-2,00.html Koperberg file sent to DPP], Daily Telegraph 10 January 2008
  14. ^ http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23029060-2,00.html Koperberg file sent to DPP], Daily Telegraph 10 January 2008
  15. ^ Minister steps aside after violence claims
  16. ^ Koperberg awaits decision by DPP Sydney Morning Herald 10 January 2008
  17. ^ 'Sick' Phil Koperberg resigns from NSW Cabinet, Daily Telegraph 22 February 2008
  18. ^ Government implodes as minister jumps ship, SMH, 21 February 2008
  19. ^ Government implodes as minister jumps ship, The Age, 21 February 2008

External links

Fire appointments
New title Commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service
1997 – 2007
Succeeded by
Shane Fitzsimmons
Parliament of New South Wales
Preceded by
Bob Debus
Member for Blue Mountains
2007 – present
Incumbent
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