Monday, February 21, 2011

Brisbane flood was the work of a negligent bureaucracy

Had Brisbane's big flood-mitigation dam been operated with any semblance of thought, the flood would not have happened. And they ignored those who were thinking

A pioneer of the Brisbane Valley was asked to "call back tomorrow" when he made an urgent Sunday morning call to the Wivenhoe Dam's operator, SEQWater, to seek immediate action to mitigate a large flood he warned would soon occur from rainfall across the catchment.

Chris McConnel - whose family's history in recording and forecasting local flooding and rainfall goes back to the 1840s, when his great-grandfather settled the land - said yesterday he was "very angry" his warnings were not heeded by SEQWater on the crucial January weekend.

Mr McConnel wants the royal commission-style inquiry into the floods to examine the duty roster on the weekend of January 8 and 9 to establish the seniority and availability of staff making vital decisions on water releases as the dam filled with increasing inflows and rainfall.

He said that if asked to give evidence at the inquiry he would explain that at about 11am on Sunday, January 9, after measuring the river height and talking to local contacts about rainfall in their gauges, he rang SEQWater to warn of an imminent and "very large flood".

Mr McConnel said he knew then that it was imperative for the dam operator to immediately and significantly increase its rates of release of water to give the dam critical storage for floodwater. But he said after explaining the situation to SEQWater he was put on hold and then told he should "call back tomorrow" on the same 1800 telephone number to speak to the right people. "I said to him: 'That's going to be too bloody late. We're going to get a big flood and the dam needs to be releasing a lot more water to cope'," Mr McConnel told The Australian yesterday.

"The SEQWater guy said to me, 'Well, I can't add to what I've said. Please ring back tomorrow'."

Mr McConnel, a grazier who runs a heritage-listed property that has been in his family for 170 years, said he spoke to his local newspaper, the Brisbane Valley Sun, "to ensure this is not swept under the carpet".

Mr McConnel said that during previous floods he and other locals with extensive knowledge of conditions in the catchment area and its local creeks had found it impossible to reach the right people at SEQWater on weekends and public holidays to give them a warning. "Nature does not stop on weekends, and it doesn't adhere to an operating manual for a dam," Mr McConnel said. "I am very angry at the management of the dam and the operating manual. What has happened is just crazy."

SEQWater has strongly defended its operation of Wivenhoe Dam. But senior engineers and water experts have run calculations showing the flood in the Brisbane River would have been largely avoided if more water had been released sooner.

SEQWater is refusing to provide briefings or answer questions pending the public inquiry headed by Supreme Court judge Cate Holmes.

SEQWater emails leaked to The Australian show that on the morning of Friday, January 7, SEQWater knew from the Bureau of Meteorology to "expect heavy rainfall from Sunday to Tuesday".

The emails show that the strategy on Friday morning was to start releasing water from the dam's flood storage compartment at 3pm that day at a rate of 1200 cubic metres per second (cumecs) and to stay at that "for a couple of days and continue releasing until the end of the week". The next email on Saturday night, from an SEQWater engineering officer in contact with the flood operations centre in Brisbane, states: "Current releases from Wivenhoe Dam are 1250 cumecs. Forecast for the next four days is for significant rainfall across (southeast Queensland)."

The next email, which was sent about 24 hours later on Sunday night, states: "Current releases from Wivenhoe Dam are 1400 cumecs. However, please note that we are experiencing major flooding in our catchments. Inflows are approximately 5000 cumecs in the upper Brisbane River and 3000 cumecs in the Stanley River system, with rainfall continuing.

"The (bureau's) current severe weather warning predicts heavy rainfall until Tuesday. If these totals eventuate in the next 12 to 24 hours, higher releases from Wivenhoe Dam will be necessary."

By 6.50am on Tuesday - after heavy rain in the preceding 36 hours - the next email states: "We are entering conditions where dam safety overrides other concerns, although minimisation of urban flooding remains very important."

Senior engineers said SEQWater's strategy of making relatively small releases led to the dam's flood compartment almost filling up, and forced the operator to make huge releases late on Tuesday which led to most of the flooding in the Brisbane River.

Mr McConnel said many residents agreed dam policy and management were responsible for most of the flooding.


Green/Left Bias at Australia's national broadcaster

Accompanied by a sweeping disregard for the facts, unsurprisingly

THE ABC's charter calls for balance and professionalism but it seems these values are no longer held by some of its staff. Don't believe me? Here's just one example.

In late November last year Sara Phillips, ABC's environment editor, posted an opinion piece about climate negotiations at Cancun to her taxpayer-funded blog. I left a comment suggesting she might be better off covering a recent paper published in the Journal of Climate co-authored by Steve McIntyre. This work refuted an earlier study published in Nature in the summer of 2009 and widely covered by the ABC which claimed there was unusual warming in west Antarctica due to man-made global warming. McIntyre and co-authors O'Donnell, Lewis and Condon proved the statistical methodology of the Nature study was flawed and the results erroneous. I directed Phillips to a post on the subject by McIntyre, at his Climate Audit website.

The following anonymous comment was posted to Phillips's blog shortly afterwards:
Annie : 03 Dec 2010 7:07:53pm

The denialist clowns return again . . . . . . run by Stephen McIntyre a known climate denialist and extremist right-wing provocateur . . . you are a joke as are your answers . . . laughing hysterically.

On seeing the comment I alerted Phillips, suggesting the comment should be removed as it contravened ABC posting rules, namely, 4.4.1 defamatory, or otherwise unlawful or that it violates laws regarding harassment, discrimination, racial vilification, privacy or contempt; 4.4.2 intentionally false or misleading; 4.4.4 abusive, offensive or obscene; 4.4.5 inappropriate, off topic, repetitive or vexatious; 4.4.9 deliberate provocation of other community members.

After a day or so it was clear my request had been ignored, so I submitted a formal complaint to the ABC. This was turned down by the ABC's audience and consumer affairs. The reply I received on December 16 included the following rationale from Phillips:
"The moderator has explained this decision as follows: "Mr McIntyre is described by Annie as being an 'extremist right wing provocateur'. Mr McIntyre's views are seen by some as extreme. Annie clearly believes they are. He could reasonably be described as 'right wing' as a speaking member of the George C Marshall Institute, which is known for its right-leaning politically conservative views. 'Provocateur' is a name given to describe those whose thinking goes against that of the status quo, another label that could reasonably be given to Mr McIntyre. As such, the comments from Annie are not unfounded and therefore not defamatory."

I thought McIntyre might be interested in our national broadcaster's view of him so I passed on ABC's official response. These views perhaps account for the lack of coverage of McIntyre's ground-breaking work on climate change by the ABC. McIntyre responded to the ABC, in an email sent on December 17:
I am not a "member of the George Marshall Institute". This allegation on your part is untrue. I once spoke at a briefing session sponsored by George Marshall Institute, but that does not make me a "member" or imply any endorsement on my part of their views. I would have been delighted to make the same presentation at a session sponsored by the Pew Centre.

Nor is there any basis for characterising my political views as "extremist right wing". I have seldom expressed political opinions, though I once said that, in American terms, I would have been a Bill Clinton supporter. My only recent political contributions have been to a left-wing municipal politician in Toronto, Pam McConnell. I challenge you to provide any evidence that I hold "extremist right wing" political views. The comments by Annie are totally unfounded and defamatory.

Yours truly, Stephen McIntyre

On December 23 ABC advised that the offensive comments had been removed.

The level of bias and base ignorance inherent in the views of a senior ABC journalist, in supporting the defamatory comments, are truly astonishing.

The affair leaves one questioning the credibility and objectivity of ABC's environmental reporting, along with the independence and efficacy of ABC's system of self-regulation.

Why did it take so much effort to remove the offensive comment? How did Phillips obtain permission to run such a biased and unbalanced opinion page at the taxpayers' expense?

In an era where there are a multitude of opportunities for ABC staff to express their opinions by setting up their own blogs or personal web pages, how does Mark Scott justify the use of taxpayer funds to foot this bill?

As the government is looking for budget savings to fund flood and cyclone reconstruction I can't help but think that a few dollars could be saved by forcing ABC staff to fend for themselves in the blogosphere, rather than continue to sucker on our old Auntie's sagging teat.

It's not about shutting down the debate, it's about moving it to an appropriate venue. One where the taxpayer does not have to wear the cost, or bear the risks of paying out on defamation cases brought about by poor moderation.

With environmental activists posing as journalists at the ABC it's no wonder Maurice Newman's plea to end the Climate Groupthink has been ignored. And the ABC is yet to apologise to McIntyre, or provide any coverage of his important work.


Government to dump Australia's most successful job training scheme

To prop up a failing scheme. McDonalds imparts precisely those habits and attitudes which are vital for success in any job -- but which are very poorly taught (if at all) by the schools. But McDonald's is a successful business, so is hated by the Left

Tens of millions of dollars in wage subsidies paid to McDonalds, KFC and other retail giants would be slashed as part of a radical plan to tackle skill shortages and boost apprenticeship numbers. In a bold blueprint to tackle an apprentice drop-out rate of 50 per cent, young workers in "traditional" trades such as plumbing and mechanics would be paid higher market-linked wages. They would also be able to fast-track their on-the-job training - qualifying much faster if they can prove they have the necessary skills.

But thousands of traineeship jobs in big retail stores, restaurants and fast-food chains are at risk, with a Government-appointed taskforce calling for major changes to $1.2 billion in annual subsidies.

The apprenticeships taskforce has also recommended a new "training levy" on employers to boost skilled workers and ensure the economy keeps ticking over. But the Minister for Skills and Workplace Relations, Chris Evans, has immediately stomped on the plan - putting him at odds with his own taskforce.

After a 12-month inquiry, the taskforce has warned Australia's 400,000-strong apprenticeship scheme needs "significant improvement" to make sure the economy has sufficient skilled labour. It wants a national apprenticeship "tsar" to oversee reform and recommends an army of "mentors" be used to ensure apprentices are getting proper training - and not being used as mere factory fodder.

In a controversial plan to cut a drop-out rate of 52 per cent, the Government has been told to slash tens of millions of dollars in traineeship subsidies paid to retailers, restaurants and fast-food outlets such as KFC and McDonalds.

In its final report "A Shared Responsibility - Apprenticeships for the 21st Century" the expert group - chaired by BAE Systems CEO, Jim McDowell - has slammed these subsidies as being little more than a "labour market program".

These amount to an "implicit wage subsidy to the employer of up to 20 per cent" but do little to boost overall skill levels, the panel has found. "We question whether the significant government funds currently being spent on employer incentives for these qualifications are providing any tangible benefit to the broader economy," the report - a copy of which has been obtained by The Daily Telegraph - says.

Senator Evans conceded the $1.2 billion paid by Canberra in annual subsidies for apprentice and traineeships had to change. "Clearly, we could target it better," the Minister told The Daily Telegraph.

But the Government will be picking a brawl with powerful employer groups and some of Australia's biggest companies - including Woolworths and Coles - if it cuts out millions of dollars paid in subsidies to these workers.

In a key finding, the taskforce said completion rates for apprenticeships "are unacceptably low" at about 48 per cent. "This represents a significant economic cost, given the time and resources provided for both on-the-job and off-the-job training," the panel said, in its report.

"There are a range of issues that commonly emerge from the research about reasons for non-completion, including: workplace or employer issues, lack of support, low wages and not liking the work."

It has called for the appointment of an apprentice "tsar" - a National Custodian - to drive these key reforms and take responsbilitiy for a system that is disjointed. Critically, the taskforce wants the Government's industrial umpire to consider linking apprentice wages with "going rates of pay" in particular industries.

This would mean that first-year apprentice - who is now paid $250-$300 a week - would receive higher wages on average, boosting their incentive to remain in the trade.

Senator Evans threw his weight behind the wages push. "We are going to have to make wages more attractive to encourage the best applicants for apprenticeships - because the alternatives (in work) are more attractive," he said.

The Government is also backing calls for a "competency-based" system that would allow apprentices to finish their training quicker. The Minister said he wanted to "drive quite a radical reform agenda" in apprenticeships, starting with the report's release today. And while he doesn't have a completion rate target in mind, the current completion rate "is a disgrace", he said.


Boat children key part of racket, says former Australian immigration minister

Former immigration minister Philip Ruddock says children are being used to pave the way for entire families of refugees

FORMER immigration minister Philip Ruddock says children are being used to pave the way for entire families of refugees following a near-doubling of unaccompanied minors in detention.

As the Immigration Department prepares this week to fly nine-year-old Seena Akhlaqi Sheikhdost, whose parents died in the Christmas Island shipwreck, back to Sydney, figures show the number of unaccompanied minors in detention has increased by more than 40 per cent since November, The Australian reports.

Mr Ruddock said yesterday a "significant portion" of those unaccompanied minors had been sent with a view to paving the way for other family members, although he conceded that some might be seeking to avoid forced conscription or other forms of persecution.

"By the time you've got an unaccompanied minor and they've got a claim up, they would argue that under the Convention of the Rights of the Child they've got a right to bring over their parents," Mr Ruddock told The Australian.

"I would suspect that in the majority of cases, they would not be intent on living here alone without their families once they have succeeded . . . I suspect a significant proportion would have been sent for that purpose."

According to the department, the number of unaccompanied minors jumped from 266 at the beginning of November to 453 as of last Friday -- a 41 per cent increase. Unaccompanied minors account for slightly less than half the 1036 minors presently in detention.

Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre dismissed the theory that families were sending their children ahead as a way of ensuring their own lawful passage through family reunion schemes. "I speak to asylum-seekers in detention and their stories don't bear that out,' she said.


Killer hospital to be investigated at last

MORE than three years after the death of two-year-old Ryan Saunders in Rockhampton hospital, his family may finally get some answers. Queensland Coroner Michael Barnes has written to parents Donna and Terry Saunders advising them there will be an inquest.

The Emerald couple have never fully recovered since their son died painfully on September 26, 2007, after a five-day illness that went undiagnosed. "We are in limbo, waiting, just waiting for answers," Mrs Saunders said last week.

The Health Quality and Complaints Commission conducted a two-year investigation into the death but the report was never made public.

Premier Anna Bligh met with the Saunders in February 2008 promising the Government would do everything possible to learn the lessons from their son's death and "implement every recommendation".

The HQCC provided 21 recommendations following its investigation but not all have been followed up. The HQCC would give no detail to The Sunday Mail about which recommendations had been actioned and which were still waiting to be effected.

It was initially believed Ryan was suffering from a twisted bowel but he spent 24 hours in Emerald Hospital and another day at Rockhampton Base Hospital unable to be scanned because of a lack of staff.

Offered very little pain relief, he was in severe agony. It was discovered too late that Ryan was suffering from an infection and he died of toxic shock syndrome as he was about to be transferred to Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital.

"Mr and Mrs Saunders welcome the news of the coronial inquest and look forward to that process and the answers to come," their solicitor, Ian Brown, told The Sunday Mail. He said they would make no further comment as they were not coping and had been unable to come to terms with the loss of their little boy.

Recommendations relating to toxic shock were generically published on the commission's website late last year. "Most of these recommendations have been fully implemented, while others remain in progress as they require more time to fully implement," a HQCC spokeswoman said.

"Under the strict confidentiality provisions of the Health Quality and Complaints Commission Act 2006, we are unable to comment on the source of the recommendations posted on our website." She said recommendations were shared to improve care for septic shock in infants.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour


Paul said...

You should start a Blog on health matters. It would soon dwarf your other blogs though and occupy all of your time. You could start with the 50 or so Cairns Base patients still stranded in Brisbane as of last weekend, while PNG Nationals get admitted to Cairns Base by bleeding heart Doctors under some scammy treaty agreement. I didn't tell you this of course.

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