The focus of the interim report is on matters relating to flood preparedness for the 2011/2012 wet season. The report is extensive, making 175 recommendations across issues of dam management, disaster planning, forecasts and warnings, emergency responses and essential services. A recommendation attracting considerable media interest is that the major Brisbane catchment, Wivenhoe Dam, be reduced to 75 per cent of capacity if weather forecasts for the wet season in 2011/2012 are similar to those in 2010/2011. The report also recommends a streamlining of the regulatory regime for managing temporary alterations to water supplies, with the responsible minister, acting on advice from specified sources, primarily responsible for any decision. The responsible minister during the 2010/2011 events, Stephen Robertson, has rejected claims that he failed to vigorously pursue advice on whether dam levels should have been lowered. Robertson has already stated that he will not be contesting his seat at the next state election, due in 2012.
A potentially important finding by the Commission is that engineers responsible for managing the Wivenhoe Dam breached the official manual on water releases. The Premier, Anna Bligh, has argued that the breach was technical only and did not of itself lead to any adverse consequences. However, she has acknowledged that the issue may be tested in the courts (Hedley Thomas and Roseanne Barrett, ‘Damages to flow from Wivenhoe dam breach’, The Australian, 2 August 2011). The Courier-Mail has reported that up to 120 flood victims are considering launching a class action, while Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, representing 78 individuals or families at the flood commission, is examining the interim report findings before deciding on what course of action to take on behalf of their clients (‘Brisbane flood victims eye class action’, The Courier-Mail, 2 August 2011).
The focus of the Commission’s continuing work will be insurance and land planning issues. These issues will be explored in the next round of public hearings, to be conducted in September and October 2011. These hearings will also go back to consider some of the issues and recommendations arising from the Interim Report. A final report is expected to be published on 24 February 2012.
STEVEN WHITE teaches law at Griffith University.