Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Wivenhoe Dam | Brisbane flood inquiry exposes a potential coverup

Queensland minister Stephen Robertson called before floods inquiry
Queensland cabinet minister Stephen Robertson has been called before the floods inquiry, where he will be exposed to searching examination about his knowledge of the operation of Brisbane's Wivenhoe Dam in the lead up to the flooding of the city last January.
Mr Robertson, the Minister for Energy and Water Utilities, says he has been asked to be available to attend the inquiry any time from tomorrow until Friday.

He has already provided the inquiry with a written statement, as has Premier Anna Bligh. “I will continue to provide the commission with my full cooperation,” Mr Robertson said in a statement.

The inquiry today released Ms Bligh's sworn statement, in which she insisted she had no direct involvement in the operation of Wivenhoe Dam before last year's floods. In a sworn statement to the inquiry she set up to look into the floods, the Queensland Premier said the “choices or timing” of mitigation strategies for the dam which acts as Brisbane's flood shield happened at arm's length from her. “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 area,” she said in her statement, released today by the inquiry.

Ms Bligh provided to the commission voluminous documentation covering all discussions, correspondence or briefings she participated in concerning the dam's operation between January 7 and January 12 last year. Thousands of homes were inundated in the flood, and the inquiry was dramatically recalled to examine inconsistencies, exposed by The Australian, in earlier evidence about water releases from the brimming dam into Brisbane River.

Ms Bligh answered a series of questions put in writing to her by inquiry head Justice Cate Holmes. Asked whether her understanding of flood operation strategies for the dam had changed since the day of the flood on January 12, Ms Bligh said: “My understanding of the flood operations strategies that were used in the operation of the Wivenhoe Dam has been further informed by the interim report of the commission delivered in August 2011.”

She confirmed she had, on January 11 last, asked the then director-general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Ken Smith, to seek an independent review of the impact of planned water releases from the dam into Brisbane River.“I formed the view that further advice should be sought, by way of a second opinion, on whether or not the proposed releases were appropriate,” Ms Bligh said in her statement.” She forwarded a copy of the subsequent report by consultant Brian Cooper to the inquiry.

Separately, Ms Bligh clarified comments she had made this morning backing the decision of two of the senior dam engineers under scrutiny by the inquiry to take special leave. She had been asked at a press conference whether there was any reason to hire special protection for the men and other SEQWater flood engineers involved in the inquiry. Ms Bligh said at the press conference she was not aware “of anything like that”.

Clarifying this, she said this afternoon: “I have subsequently been advised that SEQWater approached the Director General of DERM (Department of Environment and Resource Management) who in turn contacted police on Saturday in response to claims from a media outlet that death threats had been made against these engineers.“Police were unable to verify the threat but recommended that security be provided for the employees as a precaution. “Queensland Government Security (QGS) was then approached by SEQWater with a request for the provision of security services at a number of properties. “QGS staff were only rostered on to meet known commitments over the weekend therefore, due to the short notice of SEQWater's request, QGS did not have the required in-house capacity to service all properties immediately. “To ensure SEQWater's requirements were met, some private security guards were engaged for a short period of time to make up the shortfall until more QGS personnel became available. QGS regularly outsources security services to manage peaks and troughs.”

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My Opinion.

What I can't understand with all this, is why wasn't all this information revealed when the inquiry proper was in train. Is someone to blame here for shoddy inquiry investigation or are we about to witness the uncovering of a 'Watergate style' coverup that goes right to the top of the Queensland Government. If it wasn't for the Courier Mail's diggings or the State election then would this matter have been revived? This is not very smart for a Smart Government.

Ross Parisi

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