Tag: State Government
An independent Inquiry into the structural issues of Bundaberg’s Paradise Dam has heard documents relating to its construction are missing, and appropriate core testing of its strength may not have occurred after it was built.
- A commission of inquiry is yet to locate a full construction report for Paradise Dam
- The inquiry was instigated after technical reports revealed faults originated in its initial construction
- The dam wall stability is at risk and major flooding is possible if 2013 flood conditions repeated
Commissioner John Byrne gave his opening statement in Brisbane and said the commission would examine the root cause of the structural issues of the dam through documents and reports, and more than a dozen potential witnesses.
In November 2019, the Queensland Government announced an inquiry into the structural issues of Paradise Dam after technical reports showed the faults originated with its initial construction.
Mr Byrne said since the commission began its investigation, it had collected, collated, and made progress in analysing more than 30,000 documents and photographs.
“Some documents are of considerable length, and many deal with complex geotechnical, hydrological and engineering matters,” he said.
He said Paradise Dam, which was built by the State Government between 2003 and 2005, was an important asset to the community.
“I recognise that the dam and its future are important to communities in the Wide Bay Burnett region, especially those who rely on the Bundaberg Irrigation Scheme,” Mr Bryne said.
Counsel assisting, Jonathan Horton, however, revealed the commission was yet to locate documents relating to the construction of Paradise Dam.
“We have, for example, attempted to locate a construction report which ought to exist, but a full version of it has not been able to be found,” he said.
Mr Horton said Paradise Dam was constructed with roller-compacted concrete, (RCC) and was one of the first of its kind in Australia, but no strength testing was carried out to determine if the layers had bonded.
“No shear strength testing was undertaken,” he said.
“We wish to look more closely at what occurred in late 2005 and early 2006 with respect to decisions about what could and should be the subject of shear testing.
“What were the decisions made during the course of design and construction about cement content, composition of the RCC mix generally, and the use of bedding mix between layers?”
Inquiry to report by April
Three out of the 13 days of hearings will be heard in Bundaberg and the rest will be in Brisbane, with recommendations to be provided to the Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and the Minister for Natural Resources and Mines by the end of April.
The commissioners are expected to consider SunWater’s technical reports from 2013 onwards that detail structural issues originated with its construction.
The terms of reference state they may seek information from individuals and government bodies involved in the design, construction, and commissioning of Paradise Dam.
A community wanting answers
Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey hoped the inquiry would determine how one of Australia’s youngest dams came to be so flawed, and who was responsible.
“It’s one of the largest infrastructure failures in history,” Councillor Dempsey said.
“Only six months ago we had a reputation for the second most secure water supply in Australia, and that has been affected.
“Council will be putting forward a submission, whether it be a written or verbal submission.
“We certainly want to ensure that all avenues are looked at, and this certainly goes to the structural investigation.”
Councillor Dempsey said the whole situation had caused friction in the Bundaberg community, with SunWater’s own technical reports stating if the dam failed more than 100 lives would be at risk downstream.
“People with concerns should know that the local disaster management group, and the district disaster management group are well prepared in terms of every contingency,” he said.
Questions over the future of Paradise Dam
SunWater is seeking a contractor to begin construction work to lower the dam’s spillway by 5 metres after legislation was rushed through State Parliament earlier this month.
Federal Minister for Water, Keith Pitt, said the State Government bypassed its own environmental laws by allowing the work to proceed without any other environmental or council approvals.
He said the focus should now be on the future of the dam and returning water security for the agriculture industry, which was estimating a $1 billion hit to the state’s economy.
“My view is very straightforward: we make safe, we repair, we restore, or we replace this critical piece of infrastructure for this region,” he said.
“I say to Premier Palaszczuk, safety has to be the first priority, but the second has to be how do we repair, restore, or retain that facility.”
“It will take more than a decade to build anything else or even to get the approvals could take 10 years.”
The long-term future of the dam will be determined by Building Queensland with a report due to be handed to the Government also at the end of April.
Gippsland children in out-of-home care are being left out of decisions about how often they see their families, where they live, and where they attend school because case workers are swamped with paperwork, a researcher has found.
- PhD candidate Lynda McRae says case workers are supposed to see children in care at least once a fortnight, but this is not happening
- Her study has found case workers in Gippsland are bogged down in paperwork, and sometimes live a long way from their clients
- The Victorian Government has appointed a new practice leader position, but Ms McRae says this is not enough to solve the problem
Federation University PhD candidate Lynda McRae interviewed 30 case managers from the child welfare sector in Latrobe City, South Gippsland, Baw Baw Shire, and Bass Coast as part of a research project.
Under both Victorian legislation and human rights law, children should be involved in making choices about their care.
However, case workers said meeting this legal obligation was simply not possible because paperwork took up the majority of their time.
“It’s a real irony, because they’re reporting in but they’re not seeing any of the young people anywhere near the amount they’re supposed to be,” Ms McRae said.
“There’s a big gap between what is there, enshrined in legislation and embedded in policy, and what is actually possible and practical on the ground.
“[Children in care] are supposed to be seen between every week to every two weeks, and certainly on the whole that’s not regularly happening at all, and there are anecdotal stories about kids just not being seen full stop before the major decisions are being made about them.”
Sale’s Heather Baird grew up as a ward of the state and runs A Better Life for Foster Kids in Gippsland, which provides clothing, toys, and support to foster families.
She liaises with foster carers on a daily basis.
“Kids very rarely, unless they’re playing up, see a child protection worker. It’s as simple as that,” Ms Baird said.
“I got a question from a carer today … they hadn’t seen any case workers since 2018.
“I’ve heard of kids who have gone for five years without seeing a case worker.”
‘It’s a crisis, there’s no mistaking that’
State Minister for Child Protection Luke Donnellan said the Government had appointed a new practice leader position to try to ensure young people in care had their views sought.
However, Ms McRae said one practice manager was not enough.
“My findings clearly indicate there is far more required in this space than the appointment of one practice leader,” Ms McRae said.
Her study found, while paperwork was a large contributor to the severe lack of face-to-face contact between case workers and kids in care, there were many other factors at play.
“It’s a crisis, there’s no mistaking that,” Ms McRae said.
“There are crisis levels of placement instability because of the shortage of carers coupled with the rise of kids coming into care and the shortage of beds in the region.”
Ms Baird said geographical distance between case workers and their assigned children could make visits very difficult.
“We’ve got kids in Sale originally from Wagga Wagga and their case worker is in Preston,” Ms Baird said.
“I’ve got a family in Rosedale and their caseworker is in Portland.”
Mr Donnellan drew on statewide figures and said the percentage of children allocated caseworkers had grown from 81 per cent to 90.4 per cent since 2014.
But Ms McRae said, while the rest of the state might have improved in allocations, inner Gippsland still had the highest number of child protection substantiations in the state.
“I am led to believe [inner Gippsland] has the highest numbers of kids coming into care nationally — hence it is extremely challenging to ensure such a high percentage of kids can be allocated to workers,” she said.
“It would be very helpful if these stats were broken down according to regions.”
A report by the Commission for Children and Young People published in November 2019 showed that in Victoria the number of children in out-of-home care grew from 3,767 in 2008/2009 to 7,863 in 2017/2018.
In that same period, the number of child protection reports received tripled from 42,851 to 115,600 despite a 73 per cent increase in State Government funding.
According to the Victorian Government, there were around 900 foster carers in the state.
Ms McRae said this meant children had limited options to choose from, in terms of their placements, they were also often placed a long distance from their case workers, or were not assigned case workers at all.
“Frontline workers are saying ‘we’re actually getting further away from [meeting legislative obligations]’,” Ms McRae said.
Case workers told Ms McRae paperwork, compliance and placement instability had spiralled in the past five years.
“They’re saying it is harder now to see young people than at any other time,” Ms McRae said.
Mr Donnellan said the Government was acting on problems addressed in the study.
“While we know there’s more to be done, since this study was conducted we’ve done an enormous amount of work to increase staff and lower caseloads for child protection practitioners,” Mr Donnellan said.
Ms McRae also noted education levels in staff also varied between Gippsland child protection workers and their metropolitan counterparts.
Despite Gippsland having the highest demand for workers, there was no university-level social work course on offer in the region.
One senior participant in the study said, while the State Government had funded new positions in the sector, there were not enough appropriately qualified people to fill the positions.
“Our teams are slowly starting to fill, but the system is forced to play catch-up and they are doing this with a very inexperienced base, mostly diploma-qualified,” they said.
“I don’t think the Minister and the policymakers truly know or understand that, and the impact it has on the work.”
The Cape York township of Coen is struggling to cope with an influx of people fleeing the threat of violence in nearby Aurukun, with a shortage of food, accommodation and basic necessities, and reports up to 20 people are sleeping on the verandas of homes and sharing a single toilet.
- More than 130 people have fled to Coen — usually home to around 360 people
- About 100 other refugees remain in a veteran-run bush camp outside Aurukun
- There are concerns time is running out to stock Coen with food before the wet season cuts roads
More than 250 residents fled Aurukun since a riot erupted in the community on New Year’s Day, with police and government departments trying to restore order in the Indigenous community.
Around 130 Aurukun residents have taken refuge in Coen, about 300 kilometres away by road, while more than 100 others remain in a veteran-run bush camp outside Aurukun.
During the unrest in Aurukun, six homes were burnt to the ground and another two were badly damaged when an angry mob of more than 200 people took to the streets armed with makeshift weapons.
The violence followed the fatal stabbing of a 37-year-old man, with two teenagers now charged with murder.
Police said 23 people in Aurukun have since been charged with 79 offences over the riot.
The charges related to the six houses being set on fire, two other houses that were extensively damaged, and other offences.
Twelve people have been charged with arson, police said.
‘There is just not enough accommodation’
Chair of the Coen Regional Aboriginal Corporation, Dion Creek, said the town had struggled to handle the influx of people.
“We’ve got 20 to 40 people living in one household sharing a single toilet facility and a single bathroom,” Mr Creek said.
“It’s going to have huge implications on people’s health and wellbeing if the housing situation or immediate accommodation for these people who have lost everything isn’t sorted out as soon as possible.”
Coen store owner and publican Barry Mulley said he had seen up to 20 people sleeping on the verandas of their relative’s homes.
“There’s just not enough accommodation there for them,” Mr Mulley said.
Mr Mulley said adding more than 130 people to the population of Coen — usually home to around 360 people — has had a huge impact on the town.
“Both the shops in town are getting thrashed with the extra mouths to feed so it’s putting a lot of pressure on them,” he said.
“It’s mainly meat, breakfast cereals, bread and all the essentials that are getting smashed, even toilet paper.”
Mr Mulley travelled more than 550 kilometres to Cairns with a six-metre-long trailer that he intended to fill and return to the town before monsoonal rains cut roads in the region, which would force the town to rely on air-dropped supplies.
He said it was a race against time to both stock the town with enough food for the wet season and to feed the swollen population.
“One truck came yesterday with a load of food for the town and another truck I believe is due to come into town next week, but as soon as the roads close that’ll be it,” he said.
Government departments working to help refugees
The Queensland Government has appointed former Aurukun Shire Council chief executive officer Gary Kleidon to coordinate a government response to the situation.
A spokesperson for the State Government said staff from Queensland Health and the Department of Housing and Public Works had been assisting in Coen.
The chief executive of the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service, Bev Hamerton, said Coen’s population growth posed the risk of overcrowding the town.
“Additional displaced people from Aurukun are expected to further swell those numbers in the coming days as the existing displaced persons’ camp at Aurukun gradually empties,” Ms Hamerton said.
“As a precaution, we have sent an additional senior clinical nurse to Coen to support our clinic staff there and have ensured the clinic is adequately stocked with medications and clinical supplies.”
Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said in a statement he was “deeply concerned by the ongoing situation in Aurukun”.
“The Queensland Government is leading the response and the Australian Government is supporting their efforts,” he said.
“We made $10,000 available to Kapani Warrior to assist with the immediate support required.
“Further practical support has included working with Services Australia to help affected individuals to apply for crisis payments where eligibility exists and liaising with local employers whose staff have been displaced.”
He said staff from the National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) have travelled to Aurukun to work with representatives from Queensland Government departments and agencies.