The inquiry into the 2010-11 Queensland floods is due to hand down its final report sometime today.  Already the vultures are circling, this is the summary of the story from this morning’s breakfast program on ABC Radio National:

The second version of the final report of the Queensland Floods Commission will be presented to Premier Anna Bligh today. The inquiry was forced back into session after News Limited journalist Hedley Thomas revealed allegations the inquiry had been misled. This morning, he writes in The Australian that submissions to the inquiry suggest the Wivenhoe Dam engineers could possibly face criminal charges.

It’s not clear whether the suggested criminal charges relate to the operation of the dam during the flood crisis, or conduct before the Inquiry where suggestions of fabricated and misleading evidence were made. In a question the presenter, Fran Kelly, asked if people were ‘looking for answers and who is to blame’.  With such a complex event, with so many factors to be considered it is tragic if our first reaction is to ask ‘who is to blame’.  People report a fear of legal consequences for actions; as a lawyer I distinguish between legal and other consequences, getting blamed by the media is not a legal consequence, and if there are allegations about the conduct of the dam operations, it will be SEQWATER or the Queensland Government, not individuals that are liable.  Criminal charges are different, there is no vicarious liability for criminal conduct so if there are criminal charges there will be personal liability but we are still a long way from that.

Whether or not the consequences are ‘legal’ the very process of the media response, and the public response, flooding isn’t the fault of nature, or the river, or very complex processes, it’s got to be ‘someone’s’ fault must make it very difficult for anyone to take on a position of authority. In emergency management, almost by definition, there will always be losses, of both life and property, no matter what you do, subsequent inquiries will always be able to find a suggestion that had something else been done the results may have been different.  And now we can discuss blame and liability even before the report is released!

Let us hope the final report is a more balanced.

Michael Eburn