Resources Minister Anthony Lynham announces there will be an inquiry into Paradise Dam, with Sunwater chairwoman Leith Boully.
Resources Minister Anthony Lynham announces there will be an inquiry into Paradise Dam, with Sunwater chairwoman Leith Boully.

Big read: What you need to know about Paradise Dam

IT HAS been less than a week since commissioners were appointed to examine the notorious past of Paradise Dam.

They are still in the transition of consolidating staff, working space, and necessary resources, and are new to the speculation which has been echoed through the Bundaberg area for more than 14 years.

These rumours will hopefully be heard in the public submissions and the hearings; the details of which have yet to be confirmed.

The logistics are still ambiguous in part because of the space needed which independence from the State Government requires.

Resources Minister Anthony Lynham has been taking much of the heat when it comes to the decision making behind Paradise Dam as the relevant government spokesman willing to put his name to the decision.

Dr Lynham responds quickly when a decision needs to be made, drawing the ire of local community representatives who feel undermined when they learn the information in the media.

The other problem is that Dr Lynham's response, with limited further knowledge, impacts the ability of community representatives, or journalists, from gaining any further detail about what the consequences will be.

In September after receiving advice from Sunwater about an engineering fault in the dam, he rushed an announcement to lower the dam wall by five metres and to release 105,000 megalitres of water.

The main points he has repeated; the State Government will not apologise for making decisions to keep the public safe.

The second and almost contradictory point is that he assures that the dam is entirely safe in the meantime, unless a devastating cyclone or flooding event hits it.

Less than two weeks ago Dr Lynham made another announcement. He said the dam's owner, government entity Sunwater, had released five technical reports investigating the dam's faults.

There would also be an inquiry into the dam.

 

The then Premier Peter Beattie visits Paradise Dam early into his election campaign in 2006.
The then Premier Peter Beattie visits Paradise Dam early into his election campaign in 2006.

What will the inquiry examine?

The inquiry orders which were commissioned last Friday are listed on a two page document.

It names two commissioners; former Judge John Byrne as chairman, as well as engineering academic, Professor John Carter.

They were appointed by the Governor of Queensland, Paul de Jersey, to conduct a transparent inquiry into the "root cause" of the dam's structural problems.

They will have four months to give key cabinet ministers and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk their findings, and may put to task individuals, organisations, and government departments and entities that were involved in the dam's construction.

Commissioners will examine published reports about the dam's faults since the 2013 flood event.

They can make any recommendations from the evidence that they receive to guarantee future Queensland dams are commissioned, designed, and constructed to an acceptable standard.

"The commissioners in making their inquiry … may conduct interviews with any person who has information relevant to the terms of reference either with the person's consent or pursuant to a requirement under section 5 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act 1950," the terms state.

The commission does not commit to any improvement or decision on future upgrades, or the removal, of the dam.

 

The lowered Paradise Dam on November 20.
The lowered Paradise Dam on November 20.

What will Building Queensland examine?

The State Government has been consulting with its independent infrastructure advisor, Building Queensland, which has also been involved in the case for a proposed new Level 5 Bundaberg Hospital.

Its role with Paradise Dam is to investigate what options there are to make sure there is guaranteed local water supply.

Sunwater has already advised that the dam will be lowered by five metres next year.

The options that Building Queensland is to consider involves either upgrading the dam to full supply, or to lower the dam's spillway even further.

Technical reports released by Sunwater said decommissioning the dam is also an option, in theory.

Building Queensland's amount of involvement in projects is dependent on how much they are predicted to cost.

It leads detailed business cases if the projects are expected to cost more than $100 million.

Dr Lynham has advocated the Building Queensland case since September and two months before an inquiry into Paradise Dam was decided on.

The Minister expects to receive Building Queensland's report in February.

 

What do farmers want?

In general, farmers do not want to focus on blame.

What they want is guaranteed water supply as soon as possible.

It is not just about long-term supply, but the water necessary for crops in the new few years, especially if there is no significant rainfall in the wet season.

Rumours of the dam's construction which have lasted since the previous decade needed to be addressed so that speculation could be dismissed.

Strawberry farmer Tina McPherson describes the local mindset as "apprehensive, bordering on anxious".

"As a grower currently in the region, you can't plan your crops or expansion without knowing you're going to have water."

Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers' managing director Bree Grima said the inquiry needed to make sure that these issues never happen again.

She said the terms needed to investigate who was responsible and who had approved the planning material, construction material, and safety criteria.

Childers cane farmer John Russo said the inquiry needed to fact-check and to get rid of the rumours, but he also wanted to know how the dam's spillway would be lowered. "Then they're talking about 10 metres, then they're talking about 17," he said.

"Get to the real story; this is only stage 1."

 

Tina McPherson described the local farming community’s mindset as “apprehensive, bordering on anxious”.
Tina McPherson described the local farming community’s mindset as “apprehensive, bordering on anxious”.

What about investment?

Concerns are consistently aired by the local business and political community that at least two potential major investors have been spooked away from the area, due to fears that it means no guaranteed water supply for a growing local economy in the following decades.

These concerns are repeated by farmers, and in press conferences with LNP politicians.

Bundaberg developer John Santalucia acknowledged the "anecdotal evidence" of spooked investors in an opinion piece last week, saying despite extensive media coverage there has been little discussion on the local economic impact.

"The eye of the investment world is watching keenly to see how the Australian and Queensland governments will respond to this crisis," he said.

"Business confidence is deteriorating, population growth has flattened, new home construction activity is languishing and the region continues to hold the unenviable prize as a town with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation."



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