The secrecy surrounding problems at Paradise Dam needs to end.
The secrecy surrounding problems at Paradise Dam needs to end.

Right to know: Paradise Dam flaws shrouded in secrecy

IT'S been slugged the biggest infrastructure fail in Queensland's history and is set to have a huge impact on the Bundaberg region's future.

But even now we still don't have the full picture of what's going on at Paradise Dam.

The cause of the problems that are likely to cost hundreds of millions to resolve is shrouded in secrecy.

The NewsMail has been trying to get answers. There have been rumours, doublespeak and political spin.

Today the NewsMail joins with media around the country to call on the Federal and State governments to set the example for other governments, courts and authorities and commit to put the public's right to know ahead of the right to keep secrets.

The future of Paradise Dam affects everyone in our region, whether you are a farmer during drought, downstream on the Burnett River or a taxpayer.

From the outset there were problems, such as the original builder going into liquidation and early strike action. The dam opened in 2006 and cost more than $200 million to be built.

Then there were subsequent problems after the floods of 2011 and 2013.

But the true scale of just how bad things are only started to dawn after Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham came into the NewsMail office on Monday, September 23 with Sunwater's chairman Leith Bouly and said the dam needed to be lowered 5m for safety reasons.

Dr Lynham said 80,000ML of free water would be released to the drought-affected community for the dam to drop to 42 per cent for the safety works.

What followed was public and political outrage.

Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington rescheduled her diary and was quickly in the region to visit the dam and to demand answers.

People had questions: What was wrong with the dam? Why would it be lowered to 42 per cent? Who bears the cost for works on a dam that was built only 13 years ago? What is the nature of the concreting issue?

Attendees at a recent Sunwater community consultation meeting also blasted the nature of the meeting, saying that the dam owner was not answering their questions. A grazier reportedly stormed out, frustrated by the process.

We do not get straight answers from Dr Lynham's office or Sunwater. Answers don't provide the detail we want.

There's a history going back to the dam's construction, of flaws and reports of leakages, even before the 2013 flood. Whenever these past concerns are referenced, the government says this is a new issue.

This almost disregards the fact there were past issues, and yet mentioning those are relevant, because it tells us one thing consistently - Paradise Dam has been a failure. And someone needs to be held accountable.

But nobody is.

A political parliamentary debate about whether there should be an inquiry into Paradise Dam last Wednesday night showed the position of both major parties.

It was clear that local MPs David Batt, Colin Boyce, and Stephen Bennett were aware of the effect that bureaucratic policy is having on the communities they speak for.

And yet I'm not convinced that the Labor speakers, who voted against having an inquiry, knew what they were talking about, with the exception of Dr Lynham. It appeared they simply took their government's position.

Labor debaters countered in parliament that the opposition had no interest in public safety, and that it was only a time-delaying tactic.

There was already a report on Paradise Dam, they said.

That's just spin.

Mr Batt said a parliamentary inquiry would allow people to speak up without fear.

The wall needs to be fixed. It's too late to stop the reduction of the spillway. But we need that inquiry. We need to know who stuffed up, why, and how much more needs to be spent.

The wall of government bureaucracy, it seems, is stronger than the dam itself.

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