Friday, February 03, 2012

Wivenhoe Dam report 'a fiction' as engineer grilled

The plain fact is that if the flood compartment had been kept empty as long as possible, as it should have been, Brisbane would not have had a flood. Once the State Labor government decided to use it to store drinking water, very careful management of the dam became needed. And bureaucrats are not careful

WIVENHOE Dam engineers have been accused of concocting a fictitious and self-interested report of their conduct in the lead-up to last year's flooding of Brisbane, as it emerged that the document was written with the assistance of a top public relations firm.

In a series of heated exchanges at Queensland's recalled floods inquiry yesterday, SEQWater's principal engineer of dam safety, John Tibaldi, was grilled over a report he penned in the weeks following the January floods, which accounted for the actions he and his fellow engineers took.

At one point, Mr Tibaldi choked up in tears under the questioning.

Commissioner Cate Holmes, a Supreme Court judge, reconvened the inquiry after The Australian revealed evidence that appeared to show the dam was employing less severe flood mitigation strategies than those detailed in Mr Tibaldi's report.

As well as SEQWater officials and engineers being called to testify, Premier Anna Bligh has been asked to submit a written statement to the inquiry. Ms Bligh said she would provide a comprehensive statement by Monday and would submit a copy of her diary and relevant documents relating to the meetings and briefings she attended at the time of the floods.

Mr Tibaldi told the inquiry the report used raw data collected during the flood -- including lake levels and outflows -- and he then matched the data to the release strategies prescribed in the dam manual, known as W1, W2, W3 and W4. He said he had no recollection of asking the three other dam engineers which strategies they were using at various times during the disaster, but prepared the report based on the raw data and subsequently sought their approval.

"I tried to match the strategy transitions against the data that was available to me (and) just made conclusions based on that data as to when strategy transitions had occurred," he said.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Peter Callaghan SC, suggested the manual was therefore used to analyse and justify the decisions taken by the four engineers -- Mr Tibaldi, Robert Ayre, Terry Malone and John Ruffini -- rather than dictating the decisions they took at the time.

"But (the report) is a fiction," Mr Callaghan said. "It is something that you created at the end of January. It doesn't represent a single thing that actually happened during the event, does it? "I suggest to you that you and the others have shown a disregard for the manual in this event, and in the preparation of the report, you have simply shown a disregard for the truth."

Mr Tibaldi rejected both suggestions, saying the engineers did not decide which flood-mitigation strategy they employed. Rather, he argued, it was automatically dictated by the data received at the time.

Justice Holmes then asked: "In other words, you seem to be saying that once you hit 68.5 (metres height in Lake Wivenhoe), it's black and white, you're in W3, there's nothing transitional in that?" Mr Tibaldi replied: "No."

Under strategy W3, the primary concern is to release a larger volume of water immediately to protect Brisbane from flooding. The Australian last month uncovered evidence in logs and other documents -- some of which had not been publicised -- that indicated that while the lake reached 68.5m at 8am on Saturday, January 8, the dam operators remained in strategy W1 and did not employ strategy W3 until late on Sunday or early on Monday.

Under strategy W1, the primary consideration is rural communities and infrastructure such as bridges.

Mr Tibaldi told the inquiry the report was written with the assistance of a firm called Rowland, which "helped me with the grammar". He said he was unaware of the company's status as a leading public relations firm.

Mr Tibaldi maintained he and the other three Wivenhoe engineers used appropriate strategies during the flood and he was "not particularly concerned" about technical breaches of the manual because the actions they took "unquestionably" reduced the flood peak.

He agreed with a statement put to him from Mr Ayre's new statement to the inquiry in which he said "strategy labels were generally only attributed after the event as part of the reporting process".

Mr Ayre's statement noted there was an aversion to using the W-terminology, since documents were being circulated to those outside the dam operations.

Yesterday's evidence has boosted the hopes of southeast Queensland communities intent on seeking compensation from the government, if it is demonstrated the flood was exacerbated by poor management at Wivenhoe Dam. SEQWater confirmed it was privately insured.

In a statement to the inquiry, dated yesterday, Mr Ayre denied misleading the inquiry: "At no time have I been imposed upon to create any false or misleading aspect of the Flood Event Report."


New Leftist labour laws turn firms off hiring workers: survey

LABOR'S federal workplace laws have led to increased labour costs, a rise in employee absenteeism and declining or flatlining productivity, according to a national survey of senior managers charged with implementing the new rules in their workplaces.

The annual survey of the nation's human resource managers found that 47 per cent believed operating under the Fair Work Act would decrease the willingness of their organisation to employ people over the next three years. Only 6 per cent said it made them more willing to hire people.

An estimated 690 human resource professionals participated in the Australian Human Resources Institute survey, with 30 per cent of those surveyed engaged by companies employing more than 1000 workers and one-third engaging between 100 and 499 workers.

The institute previously surveyed members about the legislation in 2010 and the latest results show managers are increasingly negative about the impact of the laws.

Peter Wilson, the institute's national president, said while many managers had expressed optimism and goodwill about the Fair Work Act in 2010, the "prevailing impression a year later is that the legislation needs fixing".

The Gillard government is undertaking a review of the act, with many employers pushing for substantial changes.

"The findings demonstrate that the people in the workforce with responsibility for implementing its provisions are experiencing difficulties that are costly, and negatively affect the capacity of businesses to operate productively for the benefit of all stakeholders," Mr Wilson said.

"At a time when the global outlook is very uncertain and international competition is extremely tough, the current act is not serving the Australian workplaces very well at all."

Professionals participating in the survey were asked whether their organisations had experienced an increase or decrease in a series of outcomes that they believed were directly due to the introduction of the legislation.

An estimated 58 per cent said their labour costs had increased, while 26 per cent said the level of absenteeism had risen, compared with 13 per cent who expressed that concern in 2010.

Just 5.6 per cent believed productivity had increased as a result of the laws, compared with 29.3 per cent who said it had decreased and 61 per cent who said there had been no change.

Forty-one per cent said union visits to work sites had increased compared with 29 per cent in 2010, while more than one-third complained that Labor's unfair dismissal laws made it harder to make employees redundant.

Almost two-thirds of those surveyed provided commentary with their responses, with much of the negative comments focused on increases in vexatious unfair dismissal claims and how the laws had reduced employer flexibility to hire casuals, vary hours, negotiate contracts and manage underperforming employees.

There were also complaints about the time required to be spent on workplace bargaining and the increased need for legal advice and record keeping.

"The unions have become bullish . . . Bully-boy tactics abound," one respondent said. Another said: "You can't terminate underperforming employees and they know it. "Management and other employees look at it and say, 'HR does not have the balls to do anything.' However, we are unable to."


Century of ocean warming good for corals, research shows

Another nasty one for Hoagy and all the other Warmists. Hoagy has been very quiet in recent years

A GOVERNMENT-run research body has found that the past 110 years of ocean warming has been good for the growth of corals spanning more than 1000km of Australia's coastline.

The findings undermine predictions that global warming will devastate coral reefs, and add to a growing body of evidence showing corals are more resilient than previously thought - up to a certain point.

The study by the Australian Institute of Marine Science, peer-reviewed findings of which were published today in the leading journal Science, examined 27 samples from six locations from the West Australian coast off Geraldton to offshore from Darwin.

At each site, scientists took cores from massive porites corals - similar to a biopsy in humans - and counted back to record their age in much the same way tree rings are counted.

Although some cores extended to the 18th century, they focused on the period from 1900 to 2010.

The researchers found that, contrary to their expectations, warmer waters had not negatively affected coral growth. In fact, for their southern samples, where ocean temperatures are the coolest but have warmed the most, coral growth increased most significantly over the past 110 years. For their northern samples, where waters are the warmest and have changed the least, coral growth still increased, but not by as much.

"Those reefs have actually been able to take advantage of the warmer conditions," said Janice Lough, a senior AIMS research scientist and one of the study's authors.

The key question is how warm the water can get before the positive effects are reversed. [Why should they be reversed? That is just ideology speaking. Warmth is generally good for all life] Lab studies have typically measured the effect of short-term, rapid changes in temperature and water chemistry; these mimic, for example, coral-bleaching events that are known to be devastating.

Much harder to measure are the long-term effects of gradual warming, such as those caused by climate change.


Debate rages after call for smacking children to be made illegal

READERS have overwhelmingly rejected a call for an outright ban on parents smacking their own children. At 1.15pm, more than 91% of 6500 votes cast said the practice should not be outlawed as debate raged among commenters.

The debate was sparked by this morning's Herald Sun report of comments by Dr Gervase Chaney, the head of Australia's peak paediatric body, who called for mums and dads to be banned from disciplining their children with physical force. He said it was no longer OK for parents to argue "it never did us any harm" - and called on colleagues to stand up for children's rights.

Speaking today, World Vision Australia head Tim Costello admitted smacking his own children but backed calls for an outright ban. Rev Costello admits he smacked his own children and sympathises with parents who have, but said it is not the right way to discipline. “I think smacking should not be allowed, it should be banned to prevent abuse,” he said.

He has been echoed by Dr Joe Tucci, CEO of the Australian Childhood Foundation, who said his organisation had been campaigning for a ban for the past 15 years. "We think children should be afforded the same level of protection under law as an adult," he said.

"I don't believe parents necessarily set out to hit their kids, but if they are frustrated, angry or upset with the child it can inadvertently lead to them hitting too hard or in places where it does leave an injury and I don't think parents want that."

Ban 'too interventionist'

But former Australian of the Year and CEO of Child Wise Bernadette McMenamin rejected calls for a ban and said it would leave parents thinking they lived in a nanny state.

Ms McMenamin, whose brother was the victim of abuse as a child, said smacking needed to be stopped – but through education, not the law. "I think it would make parents feel like the Government is going too far, taking over the parental role,” she said. "Setting a law for no smacking, I know where the professor is coming from, but parents would find that far too interventionist and a nanny state."

Ms McMenamin has a child of her own whom she has never smacked and said parents who do smack their children did so for the wrong reasons – and risked escalating smacking into child abuse. "I do not believe that smacking is a useful disciplinary tool, it's about the parent taking out their frustration on a child,” Ms McMenamin said. "If you smack a child, how can you tell what is a smack and what is a punch? "It may start with an odd smack, but it can escalate.”

Political reaction

A spokesperson for Premier Ted Baillieu said this morning there were "no plans to change the law as it relates to the smacking of children".

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews also said he did not support a change in the law. "A parent's first duty is to care and protect their child, and Victoria already has strong child protection laws in place," he said. "Parenting is hard and it's not made any easier by unenforceable and intrusive proposals like this."

Federal political figures have also opposed a ban on smacking kids, saying criminal law should not be applied to parents. Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey told Sunrise that parents had the responsibility to protect their children. “There are some things that the criminal law shouldn't be involved with,” he said. “In raising children, parents have a responsibility.”

His thoughts were echoed by Minister for Population and Communities, Tony Burke, who also appeared on the program. “These experts, there are helpful ideas they come up with, the naughty corner and these different ideas for raising kids,” he said. “I’ve found a lot of that really helpful with my own kids, but to start saying the criminal law and legal penalties is the way to deal with this - parents do it tough enough already."

Australia 'lagging behind'

Dr Chaney says Australia is lagging behind other countries in outlawing smacking, describing some cases as tantamount to child abuse. He is pushing for the Royal Australasian College of Physicians paediatric and child health division to officially support a ban as the body reviews its policy on smacking.

His comments come after The Royal College of Paediatrics in Britain this week called for a ban on smacking, saying too often "today's smack becomes tomorrow's punch".

In Victoria, parents can smack their children as long as the punishment is not "unreasonable" or "excessive".

The issue has polarised opinion in Australia - the Presbyterian Church last year backed the right of parents to smack their child within existing common-law parameters. The church's submission to a state government inquiry said there was "a significant body of research confirming its utility in raising children well".

Victorian Child Safety Commissioner Bernie Geary said he did not support smacking, but he was worried a ban could be misused and unfairly punish some parents. "The way children are disciplined should be thoughtful and respectful," he said.


Flag maker gets lots of free publicity

A DEFIANT flag-maker says Nazi flags flying outside his home will not be removed.

Angry members of the Jewish community have demanded the swastika and SS flags flying outside the Carrum property be removed, according to Mordialloc Chelsea Leader.

Flag-maker Rob Boot said he would not remove the flags from his front yard along the Nepean Highway because of the complaints. "I’m just a flag salesman and it's just merchandise to me," Mr Boot said. "I’m at liberty to display what I want on my own property. "There’s no political message behind it at all."

Mr Boot said he did not believe the flags were offensive. "It would only be in really poor taste if I flew them with the Israeli flag," he said.

Earlier today, Chaiyim Ben Ariel spotted the swastika, which is flying with another flag bearing the SS logo, while driving along Nepean Highway. "Everyone in Australia and all over the world knows what this represents," he said. "It is so in your face. According to the law he is allowed to sell this crap."

Mr Ben Ariel and his friend, Yeshayah Halevi, have decided to demonstrate outside the home business in protest against the Nazi symbols.

They are not the only people to take offfence at the flags. Chelsea RSL president John Morris told Leader he thought flying the flags was "very unpleasant." "It’s in very poor and it offends the memory of our fallen soldiers and I feel for the Jewish community too," he said.


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