SAFETY FIRST: Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham.
SAFETY FIRST: Natural Resources Minister Anthony Lynham.

MINISTER: Science supports decision to lower Paradise Dam

FOR 30 years, as a doctor, and now a minister, I have been primarily concerned with the wellbeing of my fellow humans.

Safety always comes first, and action for safety is based on science. As a surgeon in a team, I spent hours with my colleagues scrutinising and discussing medical evidence before deciding how to act on an issue.

I've applied the same science-based approach to the issues confronting our Government around Paradise Dam.

Sunwater and my Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy advised late last year that the dam may fail and cause catastrophic damage downstream.

As has been my practice all of my career, I accepted the extensive independent expert evidence.

And it is extensive.

Thirteen national and international experts agree with Sunwater that urgent action needs to be taken. It would be extremely reckless for Sunwater to avoid that advice.

The Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy's Chief Engineer has advised me upon review of the Rizzo Report:

"I could not in good conscience advise you to do anything other than support Sunwater's position to proceed with the essential works as the only viable option that is achievable before the wet season to reduce the risks to the Bundaberg community."

But like the people of Bundaberg and the Burnett region, and the customers of Paradise Dam, I had questions.

How did this happen, and most importantly, how do we prevent this happening again?

That's why the Government commissioned an independent inquiry under Justice John Byrne AO and Professor John Carter AM.

Despite the unexpected strictures of a global pandemic, the Commissioners heard expert witnesses, took submissions and have delivered a substantial and detailed report.

As I told parliament this week, their 563-page report identifies there are indeed several root causes of structural and stability issues with Paradise Dam.

The Report sheds a light on a broad range of problems with parts of the design and during construction. The spillway apron for example simply isn't wide enough. Evidence before the commission suggested that if the 2013 floods had lasted significantly longer, the erosion downstream may have undermined the stability of the dam.

The concrete mix chosen for the dam was more difficult to work with and these difficulties were exacerbated by the placement of concrete during hot and wet months of the Queensland summer. There were some problems during construction with the surfaces of the roller-compacted concrete layers and challenges with a large number of what are known as cold lift joints. Some important parts of the dam's design were never adequately peer-reviewed.

Expert testimony before the Commission confirmed that more testing is needed to resolve doubts about the dam's sliding stability.

This is consistent with the Building Queensland report findings handed down in March and preparations for testing is underway.

Importantly, after hearing extensive expert evidence, the Commission considers that Sunwater has adopted a reasonable position in responding to the risks associated with the dam.

The government has now accepted all eight of the commission's recommendations for future projects - seven fully and one in principle.

I do not want to see another Queensland community go through this uncertainty again, nor any future government face the full remediation costs we await.

Right now, today, the government's priority remains the safety of the people of Bundaberg and the Burnett.

After decades as a medical professional, I act, first and foremost, to prevent harm.

Next wet season, I want the people of Bundaberg to be just as safe as every other Queenslander who lives downstream from a dam.

And thus the essential works will start soon to lower the wall and protect Bundaberg. When Building Queensland and Sunwater complete the extensive testing, and return to Government with long-term solutions, I will again rely on the science.

In the meantime every customer of Paradise Dam has full access to their water entitlement.

I repeat again to dispel any further mistruths and myths: the dam will stay. I understand that the dam and the water security is fundamental to local farmers and their investment plans. Paradise Dam will continue to provide long-term water security and underpin economic prosperity in the Bundaberg region for generations to come

The work currently underway by Building Queensland and Sunwater includes identifying further local water supply options to the dam to supplement water security.

I ask that readers, as I do, await the further expert advice on those future options, confident that the real and immediate community safety risks are in hand.