Queensland flood inquiry a whitewash

March 22, 2012

The Queensland Floods Commission of Inquiry presented its final report on March 16 into the January 2011 flood that submerged parts of suburban Brisbane. There have been very few more expensive exercises in irrelevance than this 658-page report.

With this whitewash, the Labor state government, facing annihilation at the state election, made flood operations engineers the scapegoats. They have referred the engineers to the Crime and Misconduct Commission, in effect, for simply turning up to work. But this report cannot hide the huge contradictions in Labor'sclimate change policy.

Two other reports, both just six pages long, but of much greater relevance to Queensland’s climate and flood risks, were released on the two days before the flood inquiry report.

The Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO released their State of the Climate report on March 14. The Climate Commission released its report, called “The science behind south-east Australia’s wet, cool summer”, on March 15.

Both of these reports point to the scientific facts that predict a bleak future of increasing exposure to risks of extreme weather events.

The State of the Climate report detailed the inexorable rises in average temperature, sea levels, sea temperature, ocean acidification, and atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane levels over the past few decades.

It said: “In Australia compared to the period 1981-2000, decreases in rainfall are likely in the decades to come in southern areas of Australia during winter, in southern and eastern areas during spring, and in south-west Western Australia during autumn. An increase in the number of dry days is expected across the country, but it is likely that there will be an increase in intense rainfall events in many areas.”

So according to the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, climate change is likely to cause more droughts and more extreme rainfall events.

The Climate Commission said: “On average, the south of the continent will likely be drier in the future compared with the early to mid twentieth century, particularly so in the cool months of the year.”

It also said: “It is more likely than not that heavy rainfall events will also become more frequent. Climate change cannot be ruled out as a factor in recent heavy rainfall events.”

And what does Queensland’s $16 million flood commission of inquiry say about this situation in its 658 pages? It says nothing. It does not even refer to climate change.

This fits with the shared Labor and Liberal National Party plan for Queensland: approve coal and coal seam gas mining statewide and ignore the threat of runaway climate change.

The relevance of the flood commission should be judged against this measure.

It’s really easy with hindsight to nit-pick and apportion blame for the flood disaster over what are actually marginal issues, such as failing to follow a deficient “operations manual”.

But the findings also open the door for the greedy insurance companies to claim huge compensation for their payouts from the government.

The potential that private insurance companies could grab more public money highlights one of the important policies the Socialist Alliance put forward in the Queensland state election.

Socialist Alliance called to reestablish a publicly owned Queensland Government Insurance Office, to offer low-cost, comprehensive insurance, with automatic coverage for floods, fires and cyclones.

On a warming planet, it is crucial that insurance for natural disasters be taken out of the hands of the giant, private corporations. Insurance must be run as a public service once again. We cannot afford the domination of the market over such vital issues.

[Mike Crook is the Socialist Alliance candidate for the seat of Sandgate in the March 24 Queensland state election.]

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