Despite the undoubted legal expertise of the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry, the final findings have implicated three of the four engineers who managed Wivenhoe Dam through the disaster in misleading reports and testimony about the flood event.
The exposure of the alleged cover-up reported by investigative journalist Hedley Thomas resulted in the Commission of Inquiry being extended to examine contradictory evidence, and has now given some Brisbane property owners hope of recourse to compensation for their material losses.
Sadly, the families of the Lockyer Valley who lost husbands, wives, children and friends were handed a report last week that leaves them without recourse to compensation and without answers to what happened or why their families, houses and businesses were taken without warning.
Irish business Gerry Keogh, who donated the use of heavy earth-moving equipment to search waterways for dozens of people listed as missing after the floods in the Lockyer Valley, has slammed the inquiry’s final report and called for a second, more thorough inquiry.
Keogh says the aftermath of the disaster had been a heavily politicised “arse-covering competition from the start”. He says the inquiry’s exoneration of a 380-metre long earthen wall up to 5.5 metres high on the floodplain upstream of the town of Grantham was an error.
“Water was diverted from the watercourse, causing the wall of water to change course and hit the town of Grantham. For a hydrologist to have made the assumption and for the QFCI to accept the assumption that the wall of earth mitigated the flood is absolute rubbish,” he said. “You don’t need to be a hydrologist to work out what happened.”
Phillip Jordan’s first report has obvious errors, such as stating that the flood was flowing west when in fact it was flowing east, towards the coast. His report said: “Flood flows would have flowed down Lockyer Creek in a roughly westerly direction. Debris lines and sediment marks on aerial photography demonstrate that at the peak, the flood was travelling outside of the normal watercourse, along the floodplain, before it reached Wagners Quarry.”
Keogh has called for a second inquiry — one that listens to people who saw what happened, rather than relying on representatives of organisations who were not in the disaster zone.
“It needs to be full inquiry into the areas where there was loss of life in Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley with all the powers of a Royal Commission,” he said.
Leaving grieving families with only the avenue of civil litigation was unacceptable because it would be too risky unless liability could be established, he said. “For these people to get on with their lives they need the truth to be told.”
And local Grantham residents agree, saying the commission’s final report gives explanations for the timing of the devastating flood that are not borne out by dozens of witnesses on the ground. Community recovery centre co-ordinator Julie Johnson says people “just want answers”.
Some survivors who narrowly escaped with their lives now say the past 15 months since the flood has been more harrowing than when they confronted death on January 10 last year.
“There are discrepancies and inconsistencies about Grantham all the way through the report. The people are upset because no one listened to what they had to say,” Johnson said.
The commission has accepted evidence that an SES crew that set out at 2.50pm to warn the townspeople of Grantham (a five-minute drive) could not get into Grantham.
Yet police records from triple zero calls show the succession of floodwater surges hit the town shortly before 4pm.
Grantham businesswoman Lisa Spierling, who has moved to a new farm in the hills south of Grantham, says the “missing hour” makes all the difference because there was time for authorities to give warning to enable people to escape.
“They don’t have a big enough broom to sweep all this under the carpet. They’re laying another carpet on top,” she said.
The findings of the final report do not account for what dozens of witnesses saw — it was not the height of the flood but the rapid and dangerous onset of a raging torrent at least a kilometre from the creek bed, which killed 12 people in a small area of the town but left houses close to the creek relatively unscathed, she said. Spierling has challenged the commission to deliver its findings directly to the community of Grantham.
“If you want us to believe these timings come here and explain it to us,” she said. “Don’t expect us to swallow this report. Everyone in town will tell you the water hit after 4pm and the Operation Galaxy report by police agrees.”