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Flood victims told they’re to blame

Scores of homes underwater in the Brisbane suburb of Chelmer in 2011. Picture: Russell Shakespeare
Scores of homes underwater in the Brisbane suburb of Chelmer in 2011. Picture: Russell Shakespeare

INNOCENT Brisbane residents and businesses wiped out by the 2011 floods have been told by the State Government water body they are partially to blame for their losses.

Lawyers representing one of Australia's biggest class actions yesterday said Seqwater believed some victims could have done more to protect their assets.

The January 2011 floods were described by then treasurer Wayne Swan as the most expensive natural disaster in Australian history, carving off an estimated $13 billion from the GDP, while successive state governments continue to count the ongoing cost in state budgets.

An aerial view of Milton during the 2011 Brisbane floods. Picture: PhotoMap by nearmap.com
An aerial view of Milton during the 2011 Brisbane floods. Picture: PhotoMap by nearmap.com

Personal tragedies were revisited in the NSW Supreme Court in Sydney yesterday as Maurice Blackburn lawyers said Seqwater had suggested some flood victims were guilty of "contributory negligence'' during the 2011 disaster.

Nicholas Owens, SC, representing Maurice Blackburn lawyers, said the claim of a contributory negligence was a puzzle to the plaintiff, which incorporates more than 6000 southeast businesses and individuals.

"It is a contention we struggled to understand,'' he told the court.

Mr Owens outlined personal stories detailing how ordinary Queenslanders confronted the disaster over those crucial days between January 10 and January 13 as the Brisbane River spilt into the suburbs.

David Williams with daughter Isabella, then 3, outside his flood destroyed home in Eagleby. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen
David Williams with daughter Isabella, then 3, outside his flood destroyed home in Eagleby. Picture: Lyndon Mechielsen

Lynette Harrison, of Coopers Plains, lost all the belonging she had accumulated over a lifetime to the flood waters, Mr Owens said.

"She had scrimped and saved over a lifetime and had long last managed to get some nice things around her and just like that it was gone,'' he said.

Mr Owens said Mrs Harrison did not know Coopers Plains was going to flood, despite monitoring media reports. He said had she wished to avoid the accusation of contributory negligence she would have had to order in a shipping container and filled it with her household goods.

An aerial view of the Brisbane suburb of Graceville during the disaster. Picture: Russell Shakespeare
An aerial view of the Brisbane suburb of Graceville during the disaster. Picture: Russell Shakespeare

"All of this in the middle of heavy rain where people were running around to try and save their own property," Mr Owens said.

Fairfield Garden's sports shop owner Vince Rodriguez also lost everything as up to 1.9m of water swept through his store, destroying all stock.

Mr Owens told the hearing that alternative flood models based on different operations of Wivenhoe Dam showed flooding could have been as little as 6cm-8cm.

"There would have been non-flooding on every alternative scenario,'' he said.

A raging torrent of water being released from Wivenhoe Dam into the Brisbane River.
A raging torrent of water being released from Wivenhoe Dam into the Brisbane River.

Seqwater suggested Mr Rodriguez had been guilty of contributory negligence because he had established his business at Fairfield Gardens Shopping Centre which was heavily impacted by the 1974 floods.

Mr Owens said the Rodriguez family were living in El Salvador in 1974.

He dismissed the notion the family should have known the area had been flooded.

But Seqwater suggested the records of the flooding of 1974 were available if the Rodriguez family had made inquiries.

"If someone had asked the Brisbane City Council these matters would have been discovered?'' Mr Owens said.

The class action, before Justice Robert Beech-Joneson, is being brought against Seqwater, Sunwater and the State of Queensland as operators of the Wivenhoe and Somerset dams during the floods.

In its first week, Maurice Blackburn's lawyers have concentrated on a central argument that dam operators allowed dams to fill during the January downpours, forcing them to release large volumes of waster quickly contributing markedly to the flooding.

Mr Owens indicated the accusation of contributory negligence would be strongly opposed by the plaintiff during the hearing, which is expected to run well into next year. Seqwater is expected to open its case today.

Topics:  2011 floods flooding flood victims seqwater



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