Alpine snowfields left at risk with low police presence: Bill Tilley

AVALANCHE: A 50-metre by 300-metre avalanche occurred at Mount Hotham on Tuesday morning, but police said no one was injured. Picture: HOTHAM MEDIA
AVALANCHE: A 50-metre by 300-metre avalanche occurred at Mount Hotham on Tuesday morning, but police said no one was injured. Picture: HOTHAM MEDIA

Bill Tilley has called for more police to be immediately stationed at the region’s snowfields before a tragedy occurs.

Speaking in Victorian Parliament this week, the Benambra MLA called for a “comprehensive review” of the Victoria Police policy for responding to emergencies on the mountains.

It comes as medical staff at Falls Creek last week cancelled a call for police driving from Wangaratta to respond to a domestic violence incident, because they could not wait before dealing with the situation themselves.

“In perfect conditions, and those that are familiar with the region know, it is about a two-hour drive away – at winter, at night and with icy mountain roads, it is much longer,” Mr Tilley said. 

“I cannot imagine another town in Victoria with 5000 beds and 42 licensed premises that covers a village about 2.5 hectares that would tolerate the situation where the nearest police are more than two hours away. Or, when the road is cut, completely isolated from police.”

But Police Minister Lisa Neville told Parliament she had been informed the lack of police coverage at the snowfields “was an issue last year that had been resolved”.

“I have inquired about the Falls Creek matter and have been assured by the (Victoria Police) chief commissioner’s office that there in fact was greater coverage,” she said.

“I think it would be useful for me to organise a briefing with the chief commissioner’s office and the member for Benambra to have a look at what that model is and for him to be able to raise those issues directly with the chief commissioner.”

The minister told The Border Mail “there is a 24-hour police response in the alpine region and that they can expand their response with specialist units, including search and rescue and the air wing, in the event of an emergency."

This week’s storm, dubbed the Blizzard of Oz, caused an avalanche at Mount Hotham, shut down roads to the snowfields, plus cut a powerline and resulted in a fallen tree blocking Bogong High Plains Road.

Victoria Police said it was constantly reviewing its response to incidents in alpine areas and reassured the community there was still a 24-hour police response.

Bill Tilley

Bill Tilley

Mr Tilley said Ms Neville could not claim the issue was out of her hands because “the buck stops with her”. 

“Fortunately there have been no tragedies from the storm that swept the mountains this week,” he said.

“But I do not want the situation where a tragedy is the catalyst to reviewing this out-of-touch policy.”