Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Former Department of Premier and Cabinet chief Ken Smith not called by flood inquiry


Michael Madigan reports from the Brisbane Magistrates Court at the state of the continuing flood inquiry.
Ken Smith

NOT NEEDED: Former top public servant Ken Smith  did not attract the interest of the flood inquiry. Source: The Courier-Mail

THE man at the heart of Queensland's flood emergency was not called to give evidence at the flood inquiry, despite repeatedly offering to do whatever it needed of him.

As director-general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Ken Smith was involved at the very highest level in handling the flooding that swamped Queensland last year.

Mr Smith was Premier Anna Bligh's right-hand man during the emergency, receiving regular updates on rainfall, dam and flood heights. But it still wasn't enough to attract the interest of the inquiry, despite offering to help.
Confusion rules at flood crisis meeting. Listen to audio
In a letter to commissioner Justice Catherine Holmes on January 29 this year, Mr Smith, now the state's agent-general in London, says he writes "to reiterate my availability to the Commission of Inquiry".

Speaking from London last night, Mr Smith confirmed he had not been contacted personally until the inquiry was extended following revelations made in The Courier-Mail and The Australian newspapers.

He said he could not comment on why he had not been called, but had not been contacted since he submitted his statement on February 1. The commission yesterday posted Ms Bligh's 312-page statement to the flood inquiry online, which includes emails, her diary, and even the running sheet for the live telethon organised to raise money for flood victims.

In her statement, originally dated February 5 but signed on February 6, only hours before it was due at the flood commission at 9am, Ms Bligh repeats she had no detailed involvement in the running of the dams holding back the floodwaters above Ipswich and Brisbane. "I had no involvement in the choice or timing of the dam operations strategies used in the operation of Wivenhoe Dam between January 7, 2011, and January 12, 2011," she says in the statement handed to the flood commission. "The documents that I have attached to this statement show that the choices and timing of dam operations were being taken by the operators of the dams, in consultation with Bureau of Meteorology and each of the Local Government Authorities in the catchment areas."

But on Page 342 of the 471-page statement that Mr Smith has subsequently been asked to provide since the commission was shamed into extending its inquiry, is an email from Seqwater detailing its plan to change from protecting rural roads to preserving Ipswich and Brisbane.

The email, received by Mr Smith at 11pm on January 9, was forwarded to Premier Bligh's email address the next morning at 5.44am. LNP leader Campbell Newman said yesterday there were accusations Wivenhoe Dam was mismanaged in the lead-up to the Brisbane and Ipswich floods lapping at Premier Bligh's door. Mr Newman said Ms Bligh told the media only two weeks ago that she knew nothing about the operations of the dam during the floods.
"Clearly that has now been blown out of the water," Mr Newman said yesterday. "We know now that she has been involved, in fact a year ago, in detailed discussions about the operation of the dam. "All I can say is it is a murky issue, that is this whole commission it seems, that is now lapping at the door of the Premier's office.

Adding to the confusion is the meeting notes of the State Disaster Management Committee attached to Ms Bligh's commission statement, which show Mr Newman was inside the meetings.

Ms Bligh's statement gives a blow by blow account of the floods, from concerns the devastated regional towns were being forgotten to emergency powers being used to evacuate a 60-year-old man armed with a rifle who was refusing to leave his home. Most chillingly, the John Tonge centre had the capacity to hold 50 bodies, the disaster committee was told.

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