Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Minister Robertson defies calls for his resignation

Queensland water minister says confusion over dam levels was understandable

Stephen Robertson

Water Utilities Minister Stephen Robertson has defended his handling of Queensland's summer floods crisis. Picture: Sarah Marshall Source: The Courier-Mail

Confusion over an investigation into lowering a Brisbane dam's levels ahead of January's floods was "understandable", Queensland Water Minister Stephen Robertson argued today.

His defence came as Anna Bligh said she would create a committee within her department to implement the recommendations of the Holmes flood inquiry's interim report, released yesterday, before the next wet season.

The Premier told parliament a full meeting of the State Disaster Management Group would convene tomorrow to determine the government's response to the inquiry's 175 recommendations.

The inquiry report did not apportion blame but listed practical items to increase community resilience and government preparedness in the event of a future disaster.

Ms Bligh also defended Mr Robertson, criticised for confusion and delays over whether to release water from Wivenhoe Dam, west of Brisbane, following warnings of heavy rain.

By that time, southeast Queensland was already experiencing heavy rain, and on January 13, after huge water releases from Wivenhoe, 14,000 Brisbane properties were flooded.

Mr Robertson said today he would have acted differently now with hindsight, but that there was little more he could have done at the time.

He said he accepted the report's criticism, and that authorities did not respond to his request for information fast enough.

“The report has exposed some weaknesses regarding confusion of the roles and responsibilities of our water agencies,” the minister told parliament on Tuesday.

“To some extent this was understandable given that my request to consider lowering dam levels in the lead up to the 2010/11 wet season was without precedence.”

Questioned by the opposition on why he should keep his job, Mr Robertson said his decision-making process had to be understood in “real time”.

“About 80 per cent of the full supply level of Wivenhoe Dam was flowing into that dam in the last two weeks of December, at the very time that I was receiving advice about whether or not to reduce the levels of Wivenhoe Dam,” he said.

“Arguably it would have been virtually impossible to have actually performed a major reduction in those levels at the same time as 860,000 megalitres of water was flowing into the dam.”

He said communities downstream would have been isolated for weeks had authorities tried to draw the dam down at that time.

“That is the simple reality of what happened in December,” he said.

Mr Robertson earlier said he was confident he had done his job as minister, simply by seeking advice. Ms Bligh also took a swipe at Liberal National Party leader Campbell Newman, who yesterday claimed he would have lowered dam levels to protect residents had he been premier.

Ms Bligh said the former lord mayor of Brisbane made no such calls for that to happen at the time. She said Mr Newman's “woulda, shoulda, coulda” helped no one and he was merely trying to score cheap political points.

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