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10 February 2011

Queensland Flood Royal Commission: Inquiry to examine 'nature at its extreme'

                                   
An inquiry into the devastating Queensland floods is hoping to provide important lessons for the future in a state affected by "nature at its extreme".

The head of the Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry, Justice Cate Holmes, today said the task was "enormous" and those involved have been in a state of "frantic busyness" since the commission was created last month.

The commissioner called for submissions from those who wanted their observations and stories relating to the weather event to be heard by the inquiry.

 "What occurred this summer was the product of nature at its extreme," she told Brisbane Magistrates Court during a brief directions hearing this morning.

"Our aim is to identify those areas where things can be managed better in the future. We hope that those in a position to contribute will do so."

Justice Holmes said the inquiry will work in "as open a way as possible" with an initial focus being on what can be done to improve safety for next summer.

Hearings would be held in flood-affected areas of the state to ensure anyone who wanted to contribute was able to have their say.

Addressing media and several members of the public, counsel assisting the inquiry, Peter Callaghan SC, said Queensland would learn from the 2010-2011 floods.

"Those who lived through the worst of 1974 provided lessons that were never to be forgotten," he said.

"But for others, 1974 became a short-hand term which was understood to relate to flooding but which, with the passage of time, gradually lost meaning and failed to convey the true sense of loss and destruction associated with events of this nature."

He said there was no comparable commission or inquiry into the events of 37 years ago.

"This commission affords an opportunity to ensure that the lessons that must be learned on this occasion are recorded for the purposes of the future," he said.

"In this way it might be hoped that Queensland is not condemned to the fate of Queenslanders who cannot remember the past, nor left vulnerable at the hands of those who might choose to forget."

While much of the public attention had focused on Brisbane, the inquiry would represent the public interest of all Queenslanders.

"An opportunity to contribute is not restricted ... it is open to all individuals who feel the inquiry should hear something that they have to say," he said.

If a submission relates to safety improvements for next summer, material needs to be received by March 11.

Other submissions are required by April 4.

The public hearings will be held across the state in coming months, subject to the needs of those suffering grief and loss.

"Any concerns about political interference can be laid to rest," he said. "There will be an unprecedented opportunity for the public ... to monitor the process as it unfolds."

He said the commission received guidance from the Office of the State Coroner and assistance from those involved in the 2009 Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission.

But, he said, it was clear the Queensland Flood Inquiry would be "different from any previously undertaken".

Mr Callaghan and fellow counsel assisting the inquiry, Elizabeth Wilson, had travelled to Grantham and Murphys Creek and plan to return. They had also visited Toowoomba.

"In a short period much has already has been achieved," Mr Callaghan said.

He said it was too early to outline what evidence the inquiry would hear.

Ms Wilson said the commission of inquiry would rely on both written and in-person submissions.

The hearings would be streamed to the commission's website and transcripts would be taken and published online, she said.

The hearings would be held on dates yet to be fixed.
 

 

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