Tag Archive: Queensland Floods

While we’re on the topic

While we’re on the topic of natural disasters and the recovery for them, I feel the need for a bit of a rant about disaster relief payments, and the usual complaints about the bureaucracy they bring. In the week or so immediately following the Queensland floods I talked about earlier, there were complaints that in order to access the government-funded disaster relief payments, and the monies raised through the Premier’s Flood Relief Appeal, long and laborious series of forms needed to be filled out, and payments would be delayed to those who desperately needed the relief money. Bureaucracy, they cried, largely in the populist morning tabloids and evening “public affairs” shows, was denying people the chance to start moving on and rebuilding their lives.

Today a report was released from Centrelink (who administer some of the disaster relief payments) explaining that a number of people had been caught rorting the system, claiming flood relief payments when they were not eligible or, in many cases, not even affected by the floods at all. Funnily enough, these same people, fanned by these same populist journalists, are claiming that adequate checks were not in place to stop these heartless bastards ripping off innocent people of their deserved relief money.

They are in at least one way right – the people ripping off the flood relief are in fact heartless bastards, and far worse, who deserve to be severely punished for putting their petty, dodgy self-interests ahead of those who are genuinely in need. However, does anyone else not see the clash in logic between the two sentiments shared by the same group of people? Had the bureaucracy been fully in place and been able to properly manage the allocation of flood relief payments, all adequate checks could have been performed and the rorters would have been minimised if not completely eliminated. However, due to pressures from politicians and the public to speed this process up, shortcuts had to be taken, and as such these kinds of mistakes will happen from time to time.

My issue is that the populist media convinces people that they can have their cake and eat it too when it comes to all matters involving government. Basically, anything they can blame bureaucracy for they will, regardless of the real cause of the issue. I say this having spent some time working in government, and being regularly subject to the line that all government departments are lazy, slow, unresponsive and bureaucratic. Such is the hatred in the community for government of all levels that anything it can be blamed for it is, despite there being little to no logical grounds for doing so. I really believe that should people see the actual goings on inside these departments they so frequently and passionately deride, they may also have a much different opinion to the inaccurate populist viewpoint like I do.

So, to wrap this all up, I understand and fully support the need to get flood relief payments out into the community as soon as possible, and I do wish to try to avoid the presence of a Sir Humphrey Appleby style bureaucracy that seeks to needlessly delay and stifle any form of progress. However, in this case there is no such bureaucracy – there is I’m sure a lot of people working very hard to process a huge number of claims as quickly as possible. In that kind of situation, mistakes will happen, but they can be dealt with in the aftermath, once the help has been handed out. There’s plenty of time for chasing up loose ends after the cleanup has been done, and there’s simply no point attacking these people about it now while there’s still a lot of work to be done.


Post-disaster blame games

Yesterday saw the release of a report which laid blame on the Bureau of Meteorology for failing to accurately predict the severity of the rainfall in the days that led up to the horrendous floods in South East Queensland. So, someone wrote a report telling us that the weathermen weren’t and aren’t always right. Breaking news that is.

Come on – meteorologists do the very best job they can, but ultimately what they do is prediction, which is far from always accurate. Take away their computer models and you might as well ask an astrologer when you’ll die – chances are you’ll get about as accurate results.

The other part I dislike immensely about this is the human need to play a post-mortem blame game on everybody and anybody in the wake of a natural disaster. The same thing happened after Black Saturday down here in 2009, and will probably happen in the period after every other disaster that occurs from now on, but I find it revolting.

What seems to be completely missing from this blame game is actual acknowledgement of the facts of the matter. The fact was that all of Queensland had endured huge amounts of rainfall in the weeks and months leading up to the major floods. All the catchments were completely soaked – normally dry ground was completely waterlogged, so the additional 250mm of rain that fell in the two days before the floods really hit simply had nowhere to go. And when a quarter of a metre of rain falls anywhere: wet, dry or otherwise, it will create some serious runoff. That’s just simply hydrology – not the fault of the Bureau, or the dam operator, or the government. When Mother Nature’s a bitch like that, there’s very little any human can do expect pray that complete disaster does not ensue.

It’s all good and well to want to learn from disasters such as this and improve on areas where it wasn’t handled perfectly, but ultimately we need to accept that we are all human. In the face of disaster there is only so much any of us can do. Now sure, we can look back with the benefit of hindsight and say that less water could have been released from Wivenhoe Dam, and maybe a few more properties could have been spared from flood damage, but ultimately we need to accept that the best possible job was done given the circumstances at the time.

Relating this back to an example closer to home for me – I sat through the day now known as Black Saturday, and witnessed the aftermath of it, in terms of the physical damage done to people and property, as well as the political fallout from the subsequent Royal Commission. I, along with just about everyone who experienced Saturday February 7th 2009 here in Victoria, regard that day to be the most horrendous in terms of weather that has been seen. It’s was unbelievably hot, ridiculously windy, and as a whole just an incredibly scary experience. Had someone told me on that day that the world was about to end, I might have even believed them – I can’t imagine the concepts of Armageddon or even hell being much worse than that day. Add to that the fact that we were 12 years into an ongoing drought, and it really should not have been surprising that serious bushfires erupted on that day.

By no means take this as me trivialising the suffering and damage inflicted upon the victims of that terrible disaster – as a distant observer I can’t imagine the horror of being caught up in it directly, and have complete sympathy for those who were. But by the same token, is grilling senior members of the emergency services the real way forward from these disasters? Is lambasting the chief of the CFA and ultimately forcing his resignation a good way to reflect upon one of the worst natural disasters in Australian history? Is chastising the chief commissioner of the police for leaving on the night of the event and not micro-managing her entire police force when the scale of damage was not even close to being evident a successful outcome? And while I’m sure News Limited will proudly claim that it exposed and forced the resignation of Christine Nixon due to her dinner-date on that fateful evening, have they really achieved anything other than ruining another life? I personally don’t think so.

One of my favourite quotes describes this situation perfectly: “Hindsight is always in 20-20 vision”. Yep, true words they are. If only our authorities and society didn’t have such a taste for blood in the aftermath of these kind of extreme events, perhaps we could avoid having to subject ourselves to the continual reminders of the devastation in order just to pin the blame on someone. These disasters were in every way horrendous and totally unprecedented, let’s just accept that as fact and leave it there. But maybe I’m asking way too much of us here.

Queensland Floods

Like everyone, I’ve been absolutely devastated by the floods that have affected most of Queensland over the past few weeks. The sheer volume of water, both in terms of river heights and areas affected, is just mind boggling. With Rockhampton and Central Queensland flooding just before the new year, the Wide Bay region flooding just after, the Fraser Coast not long after that, then inland South East Queensland being smashed by those torrents of water, with the disaster finally culminating in massive flooding of the Brisbane and Ipswich areas earlier this week. Hundreds of kilometres of coastline has been totally devastated by this incredible deluge.

Brisbane itself is a lovely city – located pretty much in a valley, the undulating terrain cosily surrounds the already vast Brisbane River. There are a number of pockets on the river still largely undeveloped, but home to a few absolutely picturesque homes. It is these homes that were first to be flooded when the waters rose a few days ago. Sadly, while the beauty of living in a gorgeous riverside location such as many in Brisbane may be envied most of the time, these houses were simply made victims of their locations.

The Brisvegans were fortunate (believe it or not) in one way that the initial fears of a river peak higher than that of the devastating 1974 floods were never realised. The river peaked in the early hours of yesterday morning at 4.46 metres on the Brisbane City gauge, more than a metre below the levels of 1974, not that anyone was unhappy about that.

Two factors had an impact on the river falling short of those huge levels of 37 years ago, the first being a lucky break with the weather, amazingly enough. The rain had cleared by the morning of the 13th, the day the river was to peak. While there were huge rainfall totals in the days prior, the easing of the weather conditions on Thursday prevented any additional runoff in the river catchment.

The second was a brilliant decision made in the wake of the events of January ’74 – the construction of the Wivenhoe Dam. In 1974, all the runoff from the upstream catchment of the Brisbane River flowed completely unchecked downstream to the city itself, producing the devastating floods they experienced. This time around, the runoff generated could be at least in part controlled through the massive reservoirs of this dam. While some releases were required to protect the integrity of the dam wall, they were controlled to limit as well as possible the floods downstream. Now with the river falling below the minor flood level, the stored floodwater can be gradually released over the course of the next week at a safe rate that will ensure no further flooding. Without Wivenhoe, it is entirely possible that the floods could have and would have been worse than 1974, and far more damaging to property and even life.

Now the attention is turning to the cleanup. Thousands of homes have been inundated, and the receding waters have left behind a trail of destruction. Those with just a thick layer of mud through their homes will consider themselves lucky, there will be many whose houses and belongings have been totally destroyed, or will need to be. It will be months or even years before normality returns to the lives of so many Queenslanders. I wish everyone whose lives have been impacted by this disaster the best of luck in the recovery.