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JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS
Implementation of rockfall risk reduction strategies on Christmas Island
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- Committee Name
JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS
Mr RICHARD EVANS
Mr TED GRACE
Implementation of rockfall risk reduction strategies on Christmas Island
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JOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS
(JOINT-Thursday, 11 July 1996)
- Committee front matter
- Committee witnesses
Mr RICHARD EVANS
Mr TED GRACE
- Committee witnesses
Mr RICHARD EVANS
- Committee witnesses
Mr RICHARD EVANS
- Committee witnesses
- Committee witnesses
- Committee witnesses
Mr RICHARD EVANS
Mr TED GRACE
- Committee witnesses
Mr RICHARD EVANS
Mr TED GRACE
Content WindowJOINT COMMITTEE ON PUBLIC WORKS - 11/07/1996 - Implementation of rockfall risk reduction strategies on Christmas Island
CHAIR —Would you please state the capacities in which you appear before the committee.
Dr Baynes —I am here to give evidence on the rockfall risk.
CHAIR —Perhaps you could elaborate a little on the capacity in which you appear, since that was a very modest introduction.
Dr Baynes —I am a chartered geologist with 20 years experience in dealing with the investigation of landslides and rockfalls. I have been involved in a number of studies similar to this, and I am currently a member of the Australian Geomechanics Society, assessing landslide risk.
Mr Moore —I am the Director of the Infrastructure Section for the Territories Office in the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories. I am here to assist the committee in presenting evidence on which they can make a decision.
—I have been on the island since the start of the
rebuilding program, acting in the capacity of construction manager. My
background is architecture. I have a Bachelor of Architecture degree, and I
am here to assist.
Mr Layton —I am an architect with Troppo Architects, working for Works Australia, particularly in relation to the master planning of houses on a site in the Poon Saan area.
CHAIR —Thank you.The committee has received a submission from the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories dated July 1996, a supplementary submission dated January 1996, a letter from the Attorney-General's Department dated 5 October 1995, a report from Golder Associates dated October 1995, the curriculum vitae of Dr Fred Baynes, a review of the Golder report by Mr David Stapledon dated 11 October 1995 and a summary of strategies prepared by the department. Do you wish to propose any amendment?
Dr Baynes —No, Mr Chairman.
CHAIR —It is proposed that the submission and the associated documents be received, taken as read and incorporated in the transcript of evidence. Do members have any objections? There being no objection, it is so ordered.<INC.DOC>
The documents read as follows--
[DOCUMENT OMITTED FROM DATABASE, SEE HARD COPY PAGES 4-102]
CHAIR —Would a representative of the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories now read a summary statement please.
Mr Moore —Chair, members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, on behalf of the Executive Director of the Territories Office, Ms Sema Varova, I would like to introduce the department's submission on this matter. You will note the submission has been presented jointly by the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, and Works Australia.
To assist the committee, with me today are Ms Merrilyn Chilvers, the Acting Administrator for Christmas Island; Works Australia representatives Mr Bruce Franklin, Mr Brian Bate and Mr Ian Nelligan; Dr Fred Baynes from Golder Associates, our expert geological consultants; and Mr Richard Layton from Troppo Architects, who have provided architectural design input.
The background to the risk of rockfall on Christmas Island is well documented in the statement of evidence. There have been many recorded instances of rockfalls over the past hundred years of settlement, some of which have damaged property, but apparently there has been no serious injury to persons. The problem is not a new one so the question to ask is: why has it not been addressed before? To an extent it has. There is some evidence of earlier reports on the issue but none leading to much significant action. I can only speculate on why this was the situation before the Territories Office became involved. It is possible that the frequent turnover of management staff could have been a factor.
It is certainly curious that blocks 408 and 412 were constructed at the base of the cliffs, apparently without detailed assessment of the risks of rockfall in relation to persons and property. While the problem is not new, what is new is the level of investigation and analysis that has been undertaken. When the Territories Office became aware of the issue, at the inception of the Christmas Island rebuilding program in 1992, a firm of geologists, Golder Associates Pty Ltd, were commissioned to report on the risk. Their report highlighted some areas of higher risk and the Christmas Island administration took subsequent action, which included closing a restaurant in an area of perceived high risk.
Funds were also set aside within the Christmas Island rebuilding program for the construction of rock safety fences. At this stage there was no specific quantification of the level of risk. There had been no recent significant rockfalls and the views of local residents and others, such as those who patronise the Boat Club, varied widely on how dangerous the situation was and on their level of personal concern. When the 30-tonne boulder fell in February 1995 the then administrator, Mr Dan Gillespie, became most concerned and sought expert advice. Golder were then commissioned to undertake their comprehensive landslide risk assessment which Dr Fred Baynes can explain to the committee.
Following receipt of the Golder report in December 1995 the former government referred proposals to the Public Works Committee to relocate affected residents and to construct rockfall defensive measures. At that time, a January 1996 statement of evidence related to a proposed package costing over $20 million. The package included a range of alternatives in relation to the relocation of residents into medium and high density housing in the Kampong and Poon Saan areas, as well as the construction of rockfall barriers.
Since the preparation of the 1996 statement of evidence, Works Australia commissioned additional risk evaluation analysis in relation to the range of alternative strategies that could be undertaken. Dr Fred Baynes carried out this work. The final results of this analysis have been incorporated into the July 1996 statement of evidence to the PWC. As a result, the statement of evidence which the committee is now considering does not recommend a particular alternative but instead seeks the committee's recommendation as to which is the most appropriate strategy. The task is not an easy one as a decision has to be made in relation to issues of risk where absolute certainty is not possible and where the social and financial consequences of the decision need careful consideration.
In terms of funding for the various strategies, I would like to draw the committee's attention to the summary of strategies document. This document indicates that no additional funds will be required for strategies 1 and 2, and only $164,000 additional funding for strategy 3. Sufficient funds could be made available from within stage 1 of the Christmas Island rebuilding program to implement each of these strategies, none of which require the relocation of residents. Strategies 4 and 5 involve relocation of residents from block 408, or block 408 and 412 in the Kampong. As indicated in the statement of evidence, there is a range of options available as to where and how this could be achieved. Additional funds which would be required to implement these options range from $5.1 million to $20.7 million. Option 1 of strategies 4 and 5 is not favoured by the Territories Office due to the present lack of space in the Kampong area for parking and public amenity.
I would like to make the point that Christmas Island is unusual in terms of the Commonwealth's responsibilities. It is wholly dependent on the Commonwealth for funding for all three tiers of government. It is also unusual in terms of the problems facing the community, such as housing, as highlighted recently by the Commonwealth Grants Commission. It is important that a consistent response is made by the Commonwealth across all its responsibilities in relation to the territory.
The Territories Office invites the PWC to make recommendations as to the
most appropriate longer-term solution to this unique problem. Through this
hearing the committee can seek detailed explanation from the expert
witnesses and members of the affected community so as to recommend a
solution which meets the Commonwealth's duty of care responsibilities and
is in keeping with the needs of the affected people. I now hand over to Ms
Merrilyn Chilvers, who will provide the committee with some introductory
remarks from her perspective as the Christmas Island Administrator.
Ms Chilvers —Mr Chairman, members of the committee, I would just like to reiterate some of Hugh's remarks in terms of this being an issue that has not only technical problems that require technical solutions. It also highlights a social problem here on Christmas Island in relation to the pressure on housing. This is an unusual place in that there is very little rental housing available in the private market and there are high pressures on the Commonwealth to provide public housing and also housing for its employees.
When Dr Baynes has been here carrying out his investigations he has talked widely with the affected community, and there have been public meetings so that the community has been made aware of the problem. This has resulted in a high level of concern by some residents. I think the committee probably realised yesterday that it is not an even concern--some people are perhaps more fatalistic; some people relate it more to their other housing issues. So I do not think the community itself has one answer in mind.
I think also there is some difficulty in grasping that concept of risk, whether it is expressed in qualitative terms such as low, medium or high, or in the more quantitative terms that have now been presented to us. If I tried to explain to someone the difference between one in 50,000 and one in 500,000, when that could still happen tomorrow, I find that very difficult.
I would like to emphasise that 403 is being refurbished, not as a relocation option but to relieve the pressure on our waiting list for public housing. So that if in fact there was a decision to relocate families from 408 into 403 in the short term, we still need to look for alternative housing to relieve the pressure on our public housing.
Also, as well as the short-term issue of do we continue to put our tenants into 408 when we know there is a risk, there is the longer term issue of do we continue to refurbish those units, even when rockfall defences have been constructed, if that is the decision. When the risk has been minimised, do we continue to keep extending the life of those buildings? Do we want to think that that is the standard of housing that we provide both for our employees and for our public housing tenants? Those are all the comments I would like to make at the moment.
—Does any other member of the panel from the department
wish to comment at this stage? I will then open the proceedings to
questions of the department of territories. Mr Moore, you said that you
thought it was `curious that blocks 408 and 412 were constructed at the
base of the cliffs, apparently without detailed assessment of the risks of
rockfall in relation to persons and property'. I would have said that was a
very generous remark and that in fact it is scandalous and reflects very
poorly on the department and--if not on the present administration--on
former administrations of the department. As I understood from yesterday's
inspection, there was not even a report of some of the rocks that fell
close to those buildings.
Mr Moore —I would like to make a comment in response to that. The buildings were constructed by the mining company. It is true that it was a partially Commonwealth owned mining company, but that was certainly well before the current federal Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories assumed responsibility. But I am quite happy to accept Commonwealth guilt for not properly evaluating the situation before the buildings were constructed.
My comment was really to the point that, if an approach had been followed in line with the types of investigations that we undertook when we constructed the rebuilding when we undertook the rebuilding program in 1992, we probably would not have built them there. That was not the approach that was taken by the then mining company. That was all I was trying to make a point about.
CHAIR —But surely the refurbishment of them in 1992 represents something of a scandal, given that I recall being part of that inspection and being reassured that the over $1 million that was being spent was money well spent in refurbishing them without any reference to the potential hazard posed by the rockfall.
Mr Moore —The Golder's report, which we received in 1992, in relation to the rockfall risk situation was taken into account when decisions were made to refurbish those buildings. It is very easy to be wise in hindsight, particularly when we now have the detailed evaluation of relative risk from Dr Baynes which identifies 408 in fairly specific quantitative terms and 412 as at risk.
The evidence that we had in front of us in 1992 when we took the decision with the advice of Works Australia--and which was endorsed after consideration by the then administrator of the island after looking at the possibilities for construction of much needed housing--was in the form of a report which identified three levels of risk and strategies that we could take in relation to the rockfall hazards. I will just restate them briefly here.
They provided what was described as a minimal risk option, which was to cut back the cliffs. They indicated that that would cost some hundreds of millions of dollars. They provided a high risk option, which was to do nothing, which we at the time decided was not an appropriate strategy. But I must stress: they did not at any point in time quantify what was minimal and what was high.
In the middle they also recommended a low risk option, which was the option that we, on the advice of Works Australia, decided to pursue. That low risk option recommended relocating the Boat Club and the Fishermen's Landing Restaurant and the erection of short- to medium-term steel cable rockfall protection fences behind the potentially affected buildings. It also recommended the planting of trees and undertaking some monitoring.
When we refurbished blocks 408 and 412, we put in place measures to effect that low risk option. So it was in the context at that point in time that we in the Territories Office believed we were undertaking an appropriate response in accord with the documentation that was then available to us in relation to risk. The action we took was that we did shut down the Fishermen's Landing Restaurant. The then administration then and subsequently has sought to alert and do something about the Boat Club situation. But that has been resisted by the Boat Club itself. We also undertook with ANCA some planting of trees.
But, in keeping with the tone of this report, action was not taken to immediately do anything and it was believed that we could still refurbish blocks 408 and 412 and take these low risk option actions and undertake an appropriate response to the situation. It was only later when the 30 tonne boulder fell down that we became more alert to the problem and decided that we would take further careful investigation, which we then commissioned Fred Baynes to undertake. We have now arrived at this very detailed assessment of probability.
If we had not taken that detailed response and got that detailed
information, we would still be in a position where we had the original
report and we could have, within the existing rebuilding funding, proceeded
along the path of that report and been completely clear in terms of having
satisfied our obligations that we had met the requirements that were put in
front of us to ensure that there was a low risk and still refurbish the
CHAIR —So, prior to the work that had been done by Dr Baynes, as far as you know there was no assessment made of the risk of the overhanging rock and particularly the hazard that Dr Baynes pointed out to us yesterday?
Mr Moore —There was an assessment of the situation behind 408. The response was that it should be monitored and that a rockfall defensive fence ought to be put in place. We had funding put aside for that purpose. It did not get a guernsey in the first highest priority rebuilding program items, but it was scheduled. If the rock had not fallen a year ago, it is quite possible that by now we would have probably had the fence in place.
When the rock fell, we asked for the further studies and did nothing until we had advice from Dr Fred Baynes as to what we should do. His advice was that, at that point in time, it did not warrant an immediate emergency response to evacuate people and that it was appropriate we consider the evidence he presented and come up with a measured response to the problem. So we took his advice. As soon as he became involved a year or so ago, we took his advice as to how we should act and put on hold the construction of the rockfall fence.
Mr HOLLIS —Mr Moore, you very generously accepted Commonwealth guilt there for sins of the past. I think, again, that you or the department are trying to pass the buck onto this committee and I think that you are trying to put onto this committee a role that the parliament has not put on this committee itself. If you heard what the chairman read out in his opening statement, you would know that our role is to recommend.
You are the experts, you are paid the big bickies to come up with the recommendations, not us. As far as I am concerned, we are not going to play Russian roulette on this project and try to find the correct solution. You are the experts, you have got expert assistance. It is up to you to recommend to us and we will then in turn recommend to the government--whether they accept the recommendation or not. In a way, you may feel you have had your fingers burnt by past mistakes. I was part of the committee of 1992. I still feel that we were not given all the evidence that we should have been given. You say, `Oh, well, you were given the evidence that was available at that time.' I have got my doubts about that.
I am just one member of the committee, but there is no way that I see
this committee's role as that of selecting between four or five options. In
all the years I have been involved with this committee--close to 10
years--we have never had that option put to us before, at any hearing. I
would be very surprised if my fellow committee members took up your kind
invitation to make the recommendation. We will have a look at the various
options, take your recommendation and decide whether it meets the
guidelines that the chairman outlined at the beginning of the hearing. I do
not know whether you want to comment on that or not.
Mr Moore —I might. I appreciated, when we put this approach together, that it is an unusual situation. We sought to get approval and endorsement for our approach. We discussed it with our minister and we also discussed it with the secretary of the committee. I do understand that it is not totally unique because of the situation, according to the advice I received from the secretary of the committee. In the case of the quarantine station, the committee was apparently given a choice as to which location the quarantine station would be on: Cocos, Christmas or Norfolk, I think--I am not an expert on the matter. But certainly the unusualness of this was not something that we went into lightly. I guess all I can say is that we thought we were doing the right thing and it is up to you to respond to our request.
Mr HOLLIS —I must say that the quarantine station was way before my time, so I do not know anything about that.
Mr Moore —And mine, too, I might add.
Senator CALVERT —There is a big difference between making a choice about where you are going to put a quarantine station and deciding on the element of risk. The element of risk is what you are asking us to come up with an answer on. I was very pleased yesterday in the informal discussions we had with the Islamic Council when the question was put straight to Dr Baynes, `Would you live there with your family?' He gave what I thought was a straight answer. That is what Mr Hollis is talking about. We want a straight recommendation, taking all the different criteria into account.
I think if you asked each of us, we might all have a different view.
Some of us might look at it from the point of view of the cost, some of us
who are gamblers might look at it as a probability of risk. You have had
the benefit of being here, living here and knowing what goes on. I have got
a few questions to ask the expert later about different things he has
suggested. I agree with Mr Hollis: we can make a decision on the element of
risk, the results of which might backfire on the Commonwealth, only when we
have a proper, straightforward joint recommendation from you people who
have been dealing with it over a long period of time.
CHAIR —We are about collecting that evidence right now.
Mr HATTON —Could I ask Mr Moore whether the department had available to it when it was making its decisions in 1992 the 21 March 1972 report on rockfall and landslip at the north end of Flying Fish Cove?
Mr Moore —Which one?
Mr HATTON —The 21 March 1972 report. I do not know whether you have that.
Mr Moore —I am not certain which document you are talking about.
CHAIR —The rockfall involved the police Land Rover that was damaged.
Mr HATTON —There was a geologist's report which is quite extensive in terms of the geological problems at the far end above the boatshed. The department provided that to us in response to our query. Were they aware of that report in 1992?
Mr Moore —I was not personally aware of that. I was aware of the May 1992 Golder report which was put together by Golder Associates as a consultancy to Works Australia. I took the recommendations of Works Australia based on the Golder report into account. I am not certain to what extent that Golder report was aware of the 1972 report, but I would be surprised if it was not aware of the 1972 report, because that 1972 report was available within the administration's records. I am pretty certain it would have been taken into account.
Mr HATTON —Two things are fairly clear to me from having looked at that report. Firstly, the geologist working on it did a pretty good job, and it worked out what the core problems were in relation to the slope and cliffs above the entire site. Secondly, in 1972 he had recommended the kind of flexible rock barrier that Dr Fred Baynes has now suggested as one of the options here. It was 1972 when that should have been put in place behind the boatshed. From the attached pictures that are there--it was a pretty large rockfall in 1972--and when we went to have a look at it yesterday you could see part of the wall being knocked down, so one got no impression of the size of the rockfall behind the boatshed at that point in time.
That would link with simply this: whatever the Golder report said--and I
have read that--my impression is that the work done on the refurbishment of
408 and 412 in 1992, if you look at what that report said, that would be
enough evidence to give one great pause. The second thing is that a simple
inspection of the site in 1992 should have given everyone associated with
that great pause. And if you link that with the 1972 report, just further
down the end behind the boatshed, I find it quite unbelievable that that
refurbishment went ahead, given that there is not much distance between
those two events and there was a substantial geological report on the
Mr Moore —The only comment I would like to make on that before perhaps handing over to Fred Baynes to make some comment is that the evidence we had at that time did not quantify risk. The subsequent evidence we got which does quantify risk suggests that, notwithstanding that 1972 occurrence at the Boat Club, the risk of fatality at the Boat Club is not in fact at a level of risk where you would be concerned now to vacate it, because it is identified in Dr Baynes's report as one in 450,000, which is safer than flying a plane.
It would appear that if we were to take action to do something in a case where it was already as safe as flying in a plane then that could be criticised as a waste of Commonwealth money, notwithstanding that big boulders did come down there. People have been killed on ovals from lightning strike. It does not mean that we then decide that people cannot frequent ovals. Similarly, in the case of the Boat Club, because there was a lightning strike at the Boat Club, although rockfall, it does not necessarily follow that we need to take that as evidence that the problem is such that we have to do something draconian about it.
This is hindsight because at that point in time we certainly did not have this quantification that Dr Baynes has provided. I think the subsequent quantification does point to the fact that we are now in a situation where we have a lot better evidence of what the actual risk is likely to be, and we are in a better decision making mode than we were at that point in time. It is very difficult, as I said before, to wind back the clock and say, `No, let us forget everything we have in this book and go back to the evidence we had before in 1992.'
Mr HATTON —It is clear and apparent there is an entire cliff face down the end above the boat shed. That cliff face there; parts of it have come down and other parts of it will come down over time. The 1972 report was entirely clear in terms of the basic geological problems in the wet. When you have a lot of water up the top, because the mud becomes very slippery eventually the boulders are going to roll out of there. So it is not just a simple case of lightning struck once here, and it may not strike again. The report is entirely clear that we are going to continue to have problems there, and that was not addressed in 1972. I do not think it is a hindsight situation, I think it is a quite clear foresight situation, in terms of directly looking at what that problem is.
Obviously the problem was not addressed in 1972, even though there were
direct recommendations to the island manager then, and it also was not
addressed in 1992. We are still in a situation in 1996 where we are trying
to make determinations about it. I would not think you would have to base
it on just a straight risk assessment thing. But when this geologist looked
at it, and when Dr Baynes looked at it, they found quite clearly that there
is a massive problem. It is not one that is going to go away, and it is not
one that is not going to re-occur. There have not been a lot of people
killed previously, but if you look at the size of the boulders that rolled
through in 1972 there is a clear and present problem there that has to be
addressed, and not just on a question of risk assessment.
Mr Moore —Perhaps I could ask Dr Baynes to make some comment on risk assessment, because that is the issue that we are really moving into. I am not an expert on that.
Dr Baynes —The comment that I think I would like to make, at this stage, is that in my profession I consistently come across instances where the perception of geological problems is not always clearly made, in the first instance, and although there may be reports that indicate that there could be a problem it is only when that problem is clearly communicated to the decision makers that reality strikes home.
So, even though in the past there have been reports made and there has been information available, I like to think that it is now that we have got a map and we can actually see the spatial distribution of the problem, and the relationship of the problem to the community--and also now that we have got some idea of the actual level of risk and some comment by me saying that something has got to be done--that the problem becomes clearer and more apparent. Part of the 1972 report was bound into our 1992 report. I have quoted from it in my report, and I have certainly read it with great interest because it is a very important report.
CHAIR —Did you have a question at this stage, Mr Evans?
Mr RICHARD EVANS —Yes, I do. You said before, Mr Moore, about rockfalls not being reported in the past. I just wonder whether there is any procedure in place now about reporting rockfalls? Is there a set procedure to record rockfalls?
Ms Chilvers —We do not have any formal procedure but certainly we are, through Works Australia, taking note of what has happened. The community, now they are aware of the risk and are interested in it, let us know if there has been a rockfall. We do not have a formal mechanism, but I am confident that it is happening.
Mr RICHARD EVANS
—That it will happen or it is happening?
Ms Chilvers —I am confident that in fact we are being told by the community when rocks come down now.
Mr Moore —For example, most recently, before the committee met, we were alerted by Works Australia to a small boulder that came down and actually punched a hole in the back of that heritage building we walked past yesterday. You might have seen that and we got a report from Works Australia on what had caused it. Obviously we are in a heightened alert about rockfall at the moment and it would certainly be appropriate that we put into effect a formal mechanism after this heightened period to make sure that we continue to be alerted to all of the rockfall events.
Ms Chilvers —And we have been looking at formulating an ongoing management strategy whereby we might have someone inspecting the cliff face at regular intervals to monitor changes. We have not put those into place, but we are certainly looking at ways that we can monitor the cliff face and be more aware of changes and potential rockfalls.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —So you anticipate this to be in place soon?
Ms Chilvers —I do not have a firm date.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —The other thing I wanted to ask you about was that, if you did have an incident where a rock or a boulder came down, do you have an emergency plan in place--a contingency or disaster plan.
Ms Chilvers —I am not really sure on that. Perhaps one of the Works Australia people who are here would like to comment on what happened when that boulder came down in 1995. Ian, were you here at the time?
Mr Nelligan —I was here at the time when that large boulder came down behind the bank. It was reported to Works Australia from administration at the time. We contacted our Perth office, which in turn contacted Fred Baynes. It was looked at in terms of the problems that it could cause to the community below that area. Fred advised on the method to remove that rock or to make that area safe, and subsequent action was taken to remove the rock.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —But my extension to that question is: if a boulder did go into 408, is there an emergency plan in place to handle that if there is risk to life or building damage? Is there a management plan in place?
Ms Chilvers —Not that I am aware of, but I notice that Mr Edwards is nodding.
—Yes, I believe the services you have on the
island--the services such as the fire brigade et cetera--have a disaster
plan in place.
CHAIR —Mr Edwards, you are not one of the sworn witnesses.
Ms Chilvers —Would it be possible to have Mr Edwards sworn in?
CHAIR —If the department would like Mr Edwards sworn in, we could arrange that to happen if it is the wish of the administrator.
Ms Chilvers —Yes, if that is possible.
CHAIR —Mr Edwards, would you like the question asked again for the purpose of the Hansard record?
Mr Edwards —Yes please.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —I am wondering whether there is a disaster or management plan in place to handle any emergency if a boulder were to hit 408 or 412.
Mr Edwards —I know for a fact that they have a workplace agreement with the Western Australian fire brigade administration. I believe they are in the developmental stage--if not already completed--of a disaster plan for the island and that included training and facilitating along those lines. Going back about eight months ago, I know they had dummy trials at the airport, et cetera. I believe that is the situation. With the coordination of the police force when the cyclone hit last year, there was a strategy in place for cyclone relief, et cetera. But I cannot directly comment on an actual rockfall proviso in that plan.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —So, since 1992 when we had become aware of the danger of these rockfalls, when we had been thinking about moving 408 and 412 and we had been thinking about putting up barriers, we are still actually thinking about putting a management plan in place to monitor any rockfalls. We have not got a management plan in place if we have a disaster or an emergency.
Mr Moore —Can I make a response on that? I am not aware of the detail, nor are the other witnesses here just at this point in time aware of the detailed arrangements for disaster response on Christmas Island. That is a matter which is coordinated by the Australian Federal Police, and I can arrange to provide a written response if you wish to the disaster response arrangements on Christmas Island.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —Fine.
—Facetiously I cannot not help observing that if I were on
Christmas Island and noticed a hole in the heritage building I would have
checked the airline schedule to see if Mr Forrest had been visiting. I hand
over to Mr Forrest now to ask a question.
Mr FORREST —Thank you. Most municipalities in Australia, to follow up on Mr Evans's question, would have a disaster plan. What your response to Mr Evans's question just says to me is that there is really no great imminent risk here at all. Nobody has been motivated to prepare a disaster plan. For example, if a boulder took out that rising sewer main, what are the actions to get that into service within a short period of time? I mean, your response to that question says to me there is really no great inherent risk here at all. So how do you respond to that?
Ms Chilvers —The fact that perhaps we have not formulated responses does not actually change the risk. It is our reaction to it rather than the actual risk, because the risk is what has been quantified by Dr Baynes. The fact that we have not taken what would appear to be appropriate measures does not actually alter the risk that is there.
Mr FORREST —My point is that there has not been enough attention to a high risk to justify the preparation of a disaster plan. To me that says there really is not a major risk here at all. There are possibly some measures we need to take of a minor nature to arrest the problem, but it really is not a major risk. Nobody here on this island is responding in any immediate way to an imminent risk, so--
Mr Moore —Can I just respond? In relation to rockfalls, we have taken the advice of Dr Fred Baynes as to what we ought to do, which is that there is not a need to take immediate action but there is a need to raise awareness of the issue within the community, which has been done, because part of the response to the possibility of rockfalls is that, if people are aware of it, they can make sure that they pay attention when they are in areas of risk or they can avoid them at times when there is heavy rain which, as has been explained to people, is a higher risk period.
In relation to other disaster risk plans, as I have mentioned I will provide a written response, but there are a range of potential disasters on Christmas Island. Rockfalls is only one of them and arguably is less risky, depending on what type of incident might occur, than perhaps a disaster involving fuel supplies, for example, or even a natural disaster involving storm and tempest.
Mr FORREST —Could I ask if there is a disaster plan that everybody knows exactly what to do when there is a risk? I noticed some of these fuel depots around the place. Do those plans exist?
Mr Moore —Again, the witnesses here today are not briefed or across that particular issue, but I am aware that on the fuel side the people who we lease the fuel facilities to, Gaseng Petroleum, have risk strategies in place. They are required to under the legislation, as I understand it--their licensing requirements and so forth.
—What is the probability of one of those disasters
occurring in relation to some of the others?
Mr Moore —We are hoping that it is as little as possible. We are taking all the sorts of preventative actions that you need to take in those situations, such as making sure that all of the infrastructure meets the Australian standards, that the practices that are followed are appropriate and that there are provisions, for example, for firefighting. The various sorts of firefighting equipment have to be available to respond to an incident if it should occur.
Mr FORREST —To get it into context, in the submission before us it has been suggested that the individual risk of fatality per annum in building 408 is something between one in 11,000 and one in 63,000. What is the risk of a fatality if one of the fuel depots here explodes into flame? That was my question. How do those probabilities relate to those in which you already have a disaster plan in place?
Mr Moore —I cannot answer that because I am not an expert on probability.
Dr Baynes —I do not know what the assessed probabilities of an explosion in the fuel depot are.
CHAIR —I guess it is really of academic value, with respect to Mr Forrest. He is trying to ascertain whether we are ready for a disaster in any form as I understood.
Mr FORREST —Mr Moore said something about somebody having a chance of being struck by lightening or a higher chance of being killed in an aircraft. Those are positions in which people have a decision to make: whether they actually take a flight in an aircraft or not. We are talking about people here who are allegedly in an involuntary position where they have no choice. The question of probability was suggested by Mr Moore; it is relevant to the decision we are being asked to make. I am trying to get these probabilities in context with other events that are probably more likely to occur on the island. It is an important question. Travelling in aircraft is completely irrelevant because people who live in the Kampong probably do not make a choice to travel by air. To me an important question is how it fits into everything else that happens on this island.
CHAIR —I am going to ask Mr Grace and Senator Ferguson to question the department. Then I think we ought to draw the attention closer to the whole question of probability as Mr Forrest has indicated and perhaps direct some questions to Dr Baynes about what he sees as the real risk factor.
Mr TED GRACE
—I think Mr Forrest has asked my question. I find it
absolutely amazing that you are not aware. You people are on the ground
here. You are the people I would imagine that the islanders look up to and
are seen as the relevant administrators of the island. I am absolutely
amazed that you are not aware of any procedures. Mr Evans asked one of the
questions I also had. You are aware of procedures if anything happened with
the oil but you are not aware of what to do if a rock hits into 408 for
instance, which would be a disaster immediately. There is apparently no
procedure yet in place where those unfortunate people would be transported
to hospital or immediate help given to them. I just find it amazing.
Ms Chilvers —We do have a St Johns Ambulance service which would be called out.
Mr TED GRACE —Would you just cross your fingers and hope that they get there tomorrow or something like that?
Ms Chilvers —No, we have a properly trained ambulance service staffed by volunteers and so there are procedures in place for that sort of thing. What I was saying is I am not aware of whether we have a document that says, in the event of rockfall, to ring Works Australia to bring geotechnical experts. Obviously--
Mr TED GRACE —Do they have dry runs, for instance, as part of the training?
Ms Chilvers —Yes.
Mr TED GRACE —But prior to that, with all due respect, you told us that you did not know of any procedures in place, am I wrong?
Ms Chilvers —I guess I was just not thinking of that detail. If there was an accident involving injury, you would naturally ring the hospital to get the ambulance.
Mr TED GRACE —The other question that Mr Forrest asked was the probability question, which has been adequately looked at.
Senator FERGUSON —We have heard a lot of people comment on the question of whether or not mistakes have been made in the past. That does not concern me much, as long as they are not repeated and we make the right decisions for the future. In your submission, and in talking about risks, you say:
Golder Associates suggested that a judgement should be formed as to what is an acceptable risk of fatality from rockfall . . .
In the next paragraph you said:
This places the responsibility for judging what is an acceptable risk with the Commonwealth Government.
I would have thought that it is very difficult for governments to decide what is an acceptable risk. In the work that you do in probability, is there a dividing line or a point at which a risk is acceptable or not acceptable? I am asking Dr Baynes.
—Normally, when you provide your client with advice,
you present some analysis of the risks, but you suggest to the client that
he should choose which risk he wants to take responsibility for. I perceive
the problem with that to be that the client does not always understand the
real nature of the risks involved and, therefore, he cannot make an
Senator FERGUSON —That is the point I am making. You, as an expert in the field, can assess the probabilities and the risks, and then you ask us, who have no expertise in the field, to make the judgment as to what is an acceptable risk and what is not. We need some recommendations from you as to what you think is the level of acceptable risk.
Dr Baynes —I agree that that is a difficulty which has come about, having put the report in.
Senator FERGUSON —Are you prepared to give us an assessment of what you think is an acceptable risk?
Dr Baynes —There is currently some research being done as to what are acceptable levels of risk, taking into account such factors as society's aversion to large numbers of people being killed as opposed to individuals being killed. There is research being carried out by ANCOLD, the Australian National Commission on Large Dams. They have recently published a paper on risk assessment in which they have indicated some idea of what acceptable risks might be deemed to be by society in general. The difficulty is that you have got to form judgments on behalf of the Commonwealth, which is an onerous responsibility.
Senator FERGUSON —The other factor is whether or not anything can be done to reduce that risk factor. In the case of a natural disaster, you cannot do anything about it: a cyclone either happens or it does not. Do you take into account how much you can reduce the risk by the various methods that you have recommended, such as fences, et cetera?
Dr Baynes —The reason for assessing the probabilities is to be able to compare them to some yardstick, and there are yardsticks that you can compare them to. But, behind all that, the numbers are there to present a framework in which you can make sound judgments. For instance, you might make what I think to be a sound judgment that it is important to protect places where people live from a perceived risk.
Senator FERGUSON —Depending on the probability of that risk?
Dr Baynes —Depending on the probability; but you might take into account the fact that you have got an inherent desire to protect places where people live, as well as the number. So the number is there; but it is not, in my view, the only thing that should be taken into account in forming judgments as to what course of action you should take.
—A lot of emphasis seems to have been placed on
the event where a boulder came down in February 1995. How much wetter was
that season than previous seasons? Was it an extremely wet season, one that
only happens once every 20 or 30 years?
Dr Baynes —I do not believe it was an extremely wet season. It was one of a series of events which occur across the cliff with monotonous regularity.
Senator FERGUSON —When you talk about there being persistently wet weather, is that something that could happen in any one year? It was not because of the wet year?
Dr Baynes —There is a wet season here, in which it is persistently wet.
Senator FERGUSON —But this was not a season that was out of the ordinary.
Dr Baynes —I do not think it was a one in 100 year event or a one in 50 year event, or something like that; no.
Senator CALVERT —Mr Moore, you were telling us in answer to the former chairman that you were asking us to make a decision on the risk assessment. For instance, looking at the golf course, who made the decision to put that fence up, and for what reason?
Mr Moore —I understand that the decision to construct the fence was part of the briefing process which was undertaken to define the scope of works for that particular road, and that it involved a consultative process with the Shire Council and with the Christmas Island administration. I understand that the fence to protect from the possibility of golf balls damaging vehicles or persons was a briefed requirement in that process as a result of strong representations put by both of those parties, but particularly by the Shire Council who had at an earlier stage proposed closing the road altogether because of their concern at the risk of a $1 million lawsuit type liability from an incident involving a golf ball.
Senator CALVERT —To your knowledge, had any incidents happened?
Mr Moore —Not on Christmas Island, but the issue of shire councils and golf balls is something that has occurred on mainland Australia we understand from what the Shire Council told us.
—So the department took the view that, because
there was a risk, it made a recommendation and the work was carried out. It
never even came to the Public Works Committee. They can make a decision on
that and yet here today, we cannot get a recommendation despite all the
evidence that goes back to 1972, and with the extra evidence and supporting
recommendations and information from Dr Baynes. If I were to ask you today
at the conclusion of this hearing if you would be in a position, given all
the information that you have, to make a balanced recommendation to this
committee, could you do that?
Mr Moore —I personally would be willing to make a recommendation to the committee, but that is not the strategy that my department and my minister have endorsed to put before the committee.
Senator CALVERT —Do you have any idea how much that fence cost?
Mr Franklin —It cost $93,000.
Senator FERGUSON —I used to play on a country golf course that hit across three main roads and there are no fences provided. I just wonder where they got their information that a fence was a necessary requirement.
CHAIR —I think that it would be helpful if we drew this back into the whole focus of what we are doing with rockfalls on Christmas Island, rather than golf courses on central York Peninsula. I would appreciate an opportunity to speak more directly to Dr Baynes about what he sees as the risk and the options of eliminating the risk that is threatened to the people on Christmas Island, in order to allow us to make that decision.
I am wondering, Dr Baynes, would it not be possible to identify the boulders that pose a problem above 408 or 412, or even over the yacht club area, and progressively remove those that pose the largest risk and so minimise the hazard that we are currently dealing with?
Dr Baynes —I did think about the possibility of doing that. Having walked all the way around the cliffs and having seen the large numbers of boulders there, I think that it would be an unlimited task. You would never be able to finish it. It would, in itself, pose a great danger to the operators doing it, and that in doing it, you would send a large number of boulders rolling down to the bottom which could cause damage and would certainly impact upon the usage by the community of the area. So, on balance, I do not think that it is an effective way of dealing with the situation.
CHAIR —If that is not an effective way, are there other risks that we need to be aware of that could precipitate a problem? Are vibrations from the phosphate mill, for example, likely to cause further cliff instability, and should we be looking at the operation of the mill, as a result?
—No, I do not believe so. Vibrations from machinery or,
indeed, explosions out at sea are unlikely to create ground accelerations
of a magnitude and duration which would dislodge boulders, in comparison
with seismic risk.A minor earthquake is likely to precipitate a rockfall.
There is nothing that we can do about that. That is far more likely to
precipitate a rockfall than vibration from machinery or explosions out at
CHAIR —And are we in an earthquake risk zone?
Dr Baynes —Everybody is in an earthquake risk zone. It is a matter of relative risk. I believe that the study that we commissioned suggested that Christmas Island was, within the Australian context, in relatively high seismicity and therefore a relatively high risk. I believe that there are more minor earthquakes felt here than in other places in Australia. But as happened at Newcastle, earthquakes happen throughout Australia.
CHAIR —Which means it would not matter what we did to minimise or eliminate the existing risk, the reality is that a seismic event or heavy rainfall is much more likely to cause a disaster than any of the present occupational industrial activity that occurs.
Dr Baynes —Yes, that is correct.
Mr FORREST —Just to follow up on that one: a major earthquake of that nature is likely to cause building damage as well. Perhaps some of the building experts could comment. An earthquake that is of a size to cause a rockfall is probably going to have caused some damage to buildings anyway and possible risk and casualties. Are the buildings we have been looking at designed for any earthquake activity?
Mr Bate —The more recent buildings are designed to take loads which will accommodate the seismic conditions of the type that we are discussing here. But some of the older buildings are designed on load-bearing brickwork which will not take those ground accelerations, so you could get some of the older buildings collapsing in the sort of seismic activity that we are describing here.
Mr FORREST —Are units 408 and 412 in that category?
Mr Bate —No, they are framed structures. They are actually concrete frames, so they are less likely to be damaged than load-bearing brickwork. You would get damage on the buildings, but they would not collapse.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —Dr Baynes, are you able to determine--with your expert knowledge--whether there is less, greater or no risk as compared to, say, 50 or 100 years ago with boulders coming down? Is there greater risk now than there was, say, 50 years ago?
—A lot has happened in that 100 years. There has been
some impact on the vegetation through timber cutting and banana
plantations. There has been human activity in terms of spoil being pushed
over the bank. Those things probably tend to increase the risk. There has
been construction activity in terms of building the chute, and those kinds
of things tend to increase the risk. Human activity in general has, I
think, increased the risk over the last 100 years. But I think that you
want to know whether it has changed over the last 50 years.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —You were saying before about if you were up there marking rocks or whatever it might be that you may in fact cause a disturbance and therefore a rockfall. I guess there are rockfalls higher up that do not come all the way down. Therefore, are there more likely to be future movements? And because of all this so-called man-made disturbances we have had over the last 100 years, what I am getting to is whether there is a higher risk now than there was, say, 50 years ago?
Dr Baynes —I think there is probably a slightly higher risk now than there was 50 years ago because of construction activity on the slope.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —Therefore--I did not do much probability--I guess the probability would increase that there is going to be some increased risk the longer we go on.
Dr Baynes —There may be but it is not at a level you could attempt to quantify.
Mr HATTON —My first question is related to the cliff tops at the far end above the boatshed. There is quite significant overhang there and there have been considerable problems there in the past with a big fall in 1972 and so on. If the boatshed was to go, is there any way you could do a controlled reduction of that risk by actually getting rid of those boulders at the top or causing them to fall in that particular area to clear out future problems from the top of the cliff? We have not seen the top of that but you would have been along there. It is fairly sheer and overhanging.
Dr Baynes —It would be possible to do that. I would put that in the category of major civil works involving large quantities of money. In order to be able to actually lay the slope back to what might be regarded as safe, it would probably involve considerable excavation of the whole slope.
Mr HATTON —So it is not just one major overhanging section.
Dr Baynes —No. You could remove that and what you would find is that there would be a flake behind it and a block behind that. That underlies my concern about going up there and trying to do anything in that you try and deal with one problem and then you may uncover another problem. It is a never ending process.
Mr HATTON —The second thing is that if you remember when we walked in yesterday there was that flat area and that went in part of the way behind 408 and 412--
Dr Baynes —The old railway line.
—In terms of protecting 408 and 412, apart from using
the fencing, is it possible to take that road in a certain way--not right
through--basically to provide a soft bed for the upper boulders to hit
into, particularly in front of 408 where there would be a major problem?
Dr Baynes —Yes, it would be possible to do that. I looked at it at an early stage in terms of alternative ways of trying to protect 408. I formed the view that the scale of the civil works required and the excavations required and also the fact that you would then be having to excavate on the slope beneath material that wanted to come down after you anyway could pose a greater risk and threat in itself and could trigger off some larger events through there. That is why, in terms of an engineered design solution, I felt more comfortable with a fence which you can sneak in and place without disturbing the existing system too much.
Senator CALVERT —Although we saw a video yesterday of a type of fence, are you satisfied that a fence similar to what we saw on the video would be the answer? What would you assess that as reducing the risk by? Would it be by half or three-quarters? I know you are on the record and I would like you to go on the record as saying that at the present time you would not feel like living with your family in 408 or 412 but, if there was a fence similar to the type you explained to us behind both of them, you would live there.
CHAIR —I do not know that Dr Baynes is on the record, in the Hansard sense, as having said that in private conversation yesterday.
Senator CALVERT —I know. I want to get him on the record.
Dr Baynes —With regard to living in 408, as an individual and partly because of my profession and my personal attitude, it would not really concern me to live there as an individual. With regard to my family, I would be most unhappy at the prospect of having to live in 408. I would less unhappy but still unhappy about the prospect of living in 412. If there was a fence there, I presented some probabilities in the documentation as to what I think the reduced probability of fatality would be as a result of building the fence, so effectively those figures are on the record, I guess. Such a fence could not stop all events, but it would stop probably about 99 per cent of events and the events that it would not stop are fairly unlikely. If such a fence was there, I would be happy to live in 408 or 412, although the rooms are a little small.
Senator CALVERT —Following on from that, according to your plan, the post and rail that was put up there, which is the old rockfall barrier, it does seem to have stopped some rocks.
Dr Baynes —I believe it has. You can actually see the rocks that it has stopped.
—Even a very basic fence like that has some
benefit. Obviously a proper constructed fence would be most beneficial.
Dr Baynes —The kind of fence that we saw in the video is relatively recent technology. It is a sophisticated design and it has basically been put together to deal with exactly this problem. There are a variety of manufacturers that produce fences of this kind. A colleague of mine, Alan Moon, who was the person who carried out the pier review of my report, recently went to the International Landslide Conference in Norway. I asked him quite specifically to approach some people about the uses of these kinds of fences. He reported back that yes, these fences were being used and yes, the kinds of approaches that we had talked about did seem to be generally accepted by the international community.
Senator FERGUSON —Following on from Senator Calvert's question, the statistics suggest that 99 per cent of the rockfalls would be stopped by the type of fence that you have suggested. To a layman, can explain why that only reduces the risk from one in 11,000 to one in 40,000?
Dr Baynes —The one per cent that it does not stop are the very big rocks. The very big rocks have got more energy and therefore, if they impact upon the structure, they are more likely to cause a fatality, because what we are dealing with here is the combination of probabilities. It is the probability that a rock will fall down a slope, combined with the fact that, if it does fall down the slope, the probability is that it will kill someone. If you have a small rock and it hits a brick wall it might not even go through it. But if you have a rock of 20 tonnes and it runs into the side of the structure, it is likely to go through the structure and implant itself in the living room.
Senator FERGUSON —The only other question that I really wanted to ask, and probably it is addressed more to Mr Moore than to you, Dr Baynes. In calculating the cost of putting up this protective fence, are you confident that you have given us an accurate assessment of the cost, taking into account the terrain that it has to go through? I forget the actual cost of the fence, but I would like to be assured that that was a very accurate assessment of the cost of actually putting the fence in what seems to be pretty inaccessible terrain.
Mr Moore —Perhaps I could get Works Australia to comment on that? The costings that have been included in these documents relate to fences in specific locations. It is possible, depending on what recommendations the committee comes up with, that they could vary. But in terms of the rate per metre calculations perhaps Works Australia could comment?
—Through Dr Baynes we approached a company called
Geobrugg over in Switzerland who produced that video that you saw
yesterday. We have approached them several times and they have given us
several rates per metre for these types of fences. One of the problems is
that Works Australia does not have the in-house expertise for this style of
facility and so we do need to go to experts and talk to them about it. One
of things that we are aware of is that they will really need to come to the
island to assess the design and constructability of the fence. But we
believe at this stage that we have enough fat in these prices to cater for
the types of terrain they are going to need to put them into.
Senator FERGUSON —So, in other words, you would consider it to be a very conservative estimate?
Mr Franklin —We hope they are conservative, yes.
Senator FERGUSON —Should we go along that path I would not like to think we came back and found it cost twice as much.
Mr Franklin —I agree.
CHAIR —Particularly as the terrain is very different to the terrain, as Senator Ferguson said, that we viewed yesterday, where at least you could stand up while you constructed the fence.
Mr Franklin —Yes.
CHAIR —As Mr Forrest and I can attest, with the help of Dr Baynes, it is fairly difficult to stand up, let alone dig a hole.
Mr Franklin —I agree.
Mr Moore —I would just like to make a comment that Works Australia has indicated that they do not have expertise in the construction of those fences. That is correct, but they do have some experience in construction on Christmas Island, including in terrain of a very steep nature. For example, the sewerage line that went up the incline around past Smith Point involved putting concrete footings in on a slope in very inaccessible conditions, which precluded people using mechanical equipment. That sort of experience has been taken into account in putting together their estimates.
Mr TED GRACE —It is always a little bit difficult to explain to the layman and even show him on television a certain test--and we saw yesterday the test of your proposed recommended netting--and I also note that you said it is recommended by other organisations throughout the world. Is there any actual evidence of a real test on this netting? In other words, has it been tried out through a disaster or through a rockfall in any part of the world that you are aware of, other than the testing?
—It has been used extensively, as I understand it, in
Europe and the United States, and the tests that we saw were in a field
trial. They also conduct tests by placing the net horizontally and lifting
up large rocks with a crane and dropping them. I have seen pictures of
that. As far as I am concerned, the design is a verified design in the same
way that any other structural design can and should be verified.
Mr TED GRACE —But is there any evidence where you can say, `This stopped a 20-tonne rock', for instance?
Dr Baynes —I cannot tell you a specific instance, but I can show you the pictures in the promotional brochure which are of operational fences with large rocks restrained by the fences. I am quite sure that if that information were required, it could be provided.
Senator FERGUSON —How long has the design been used for?
Dr Baynes —I have come across references to the people who designed Geobrugg's stuff as early as 1972. It is fairly well referred to in the literature from about 1990 onwards. When I thought that I had come across something that was not well known, after I made a few inquiries to a few people in the international consulting community, they said, `Yes, we are aware of these fences.'
Mr TED GRACE —So they have been used since 1972?
Dr Baynes —I believe so, yes.
Mr TED GRACE —But that goes back to my question. Surely, if you were trying to convince somebody that these fences are a genuine deterrent, you would be showing clients, not only a test situation, which since 1972 is a lot of years, but there must be a situation where a good salesman would say, `This netting has been between California and San Francisco and this is what happened two years ago. Here's the rock that went into it and here's what happened to it.'
Dr Baynes —I am sure that evidence of those instances does exist but I have not pursued it.
Mr TED GRACE —But it would have helped this committee--that is what I am trying to get at, Dr Baynes. I am always sceptical of test situations.
Dr Baynes —I accept that.
—Perhaps I could help the committee. Rockfall mesh
fences like this are throughout Europe. However, my question is related to
the situations that I have seen them used in. Usually they are beside a
highway where there is ready access. In fact, it is important for the
function of the fence that any debris be removed fairly quickly. It worries
me a little bit about access to such a mesh fence up on that terrain. Has
anybody given any thought, when the fence has collected boulder debris, to
how it is going to be cleared? I did note in the video that it suggested
heavy equipment needed to be used. Is there going to be some sort of access
road constructed? Has anyone given any thought as to how the debris that
gets collected in such a fence is going to be removed?
Dr Baynes —When I discussed the possible use of these fences with Works Australia, one of the things I did was to go up with Bryan Edwards and try to make an assessment of the constructability based on what we saw in the video. You can see what level of vehicular access is required and although it looks steep up there, there are some flat spots. In fact, there is an old dozer track that goes through the area. I believe that the fence could be constructed on that track. Boulders that collect behind it may have to be removed by a variety of methods and that might include going up there and drilling and popping them, if necessary, or manhandling them, or leaving them where they were. My attitude is that if the fence stops a big boulder then removing the big boulder is the least of your problems. The fence has done its job and that is the main issue.
Mr FORREST —I was concerned that if there is disturbance to be created then that creates all the problems of a new risk of freshly disturbed rock, that is all.
Dr Baynes has talked a lot about the size of these boulders, and that worries me. The design of the fence is recommended to 1,000 kilojoules. I am having difficulty in my mind of trying to assess what sized rock that is because it will depend on its velocity. I heard 17 tonnes mentioned yesterday by one of the people we spoke to and I have heard Dr Baynes talk today about a 20 tonne rock. What is the size of the rock in layman's terms that this 1,000 kilojoule fence that is recommended will stop?
Dr Baynes —Kinetic energy is 1/2 mv(2), it is half the mass times the velocity squared. It is not just the mass of the boulder, it is the speed at which it is travelling. You have to take that into account. In the report I have actually provided some examples. One tonne travelling at 10 metres per second--and 10 metres per second is about the kind of speed that boulders get up to when they bound down hillsides because I have been through the literature and looked at the kinds of velocities that they get up to--is 50 kilojoules. Ten tonnes at 10 metres per second would be 500 kilojoules and 20 tonnes at 10 metres per second would be 1,000 kilojoules. So 20 tonnes at 10 metres per second would be the fence design capacity. That is the nominated design capacity. It is also acknowledged in the literature that it has excess capacity in there that may well work.
Mr FORREST —With that terrain and vegetation up there, surely 10 metres per second is a fairly high velocity. It would be much slower than that as compared with the video we saw yesterday.
Dr Baynes —If it was slower than that it would have less kinetic energy as a function of the square root by the amount that you had reduced it by.
CHAIR —Which has little to do with vegetation, I gather, and I am showing how little I know about mathematics.
—But to the layman you could confidently say you could
stop a 20 tonne rock. Is that correct?
Dr Baynes —Yes.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —Following Senator Ferguson, he was talking about the capital cost being about $2.2 million to put up three fences. Has there been any estimate for ongoing maintenance costs involved? If so, what are they? With the rapid growth of jungle around the place, would the growth of jungle reduce the impact of a fence and would there be ongoing maintenance to reduce the jungle around the fence?
Dr Baynes —In general terms the jungle assists in that boulders crash into trees and are slowed down.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —At the fence, though, if it started to overcome the fence.
Dr Baynes —It would only improve it in my mind. In terms of maintenance, I do not believe that we have really addressed the issue of long-term maintenance. At this stage this is, if you like, a concept design.
CHAIR —I propose a break here for morning tea. I suggest we might reassemble at about 10.45 a.m. While I am happy to continue this risk assessment with the department for as long as is necessary, I would also like to look then at some of the housing options that we face prior to calling other witnesses.
CHAIR —I reconvene this hearing into the rockfall risk reduction strategies on Christmas Island and invite other questions from committee members to representatives of the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories.
Senator FERGUSON —Could I just follow on from the other question we had about risk. The one question that I was going to ask before, which was associated, is: have you assessed the possibility or probability of a rockfall being caused by the construction of the fence, the disturbance of the land where you are going to put the fence up? How likely is that to cause a rockfall? This is surely something that must be taken into consideration.
Dr Baynes —It is. I have looked at it not quantitatively but qualitatively in terms of constructability. By walking through the area and thinking about how you might construct the fence, I have made an assessment as to whether or not it can be done in a safe and reasonable manner. I believe that it could be done in a safe and reasonable manner, but that is a judgment.
—So it is possible that disturbing the landscape
where you are putting the fence through could actually cause a rockfall in
the areas that you are trying to protect, although obviously it might be at
a lower level so it would not gain as much force by the time it got down.
Dr Baynes —There are two aspects to it. There is the actual construction of the fence which would have to be done in a supervised manner and areas would have to be cordoned off to allow for the possibility that a rock might be dislodged. But the fence itself is a minimum intrusion into the landscape in terms of moving dirt around and therefore I do not believe it would increase the likelihood of rockfall.
CHAIR —I would like the focus at this stage to be on the rockfall risk reduction and then we can look at some of the housing options while we have the departmental witnesses with us. Do other members of the committee have any other questions on the rockfall risk? I do not want to preclude any questions, so people can ask them again later if they wish, but can we now turn to the issue of what the department sees as the viable life of blocks 408 and 412, since they are the focus of the concern we have about any human tragedies in rockfall risk. Could I ask, through Mr Moore, any one of the departmental witnesses what you see as the long-term life of those two units.
Mr Moore —Perhaps I could start. I might need to draw on the advice of some of my Works Australia colleagues, but blocks 408 and 412 were refurbished to provide urgently needed accommodation as quickly as possible. Their refurbishment cost was approximately $1.2 million or $1.3 million each. That works out at a cost of about $36,000 per unit. It is useful to put that cost into perspective. The alternatives that the Commonwealth has for providing housing on Christmas Island--if we were not to refurbish units but were to build new units on a site, wherever that would be--would be in the order of at least $200,000 per unit. That is our experience.
I will simplify it and say that a reasonably accurate projection of unit life span is, I understand, something like 20 years in the very testing Christmas Island environment. That means that we are talking about a capital cost, if you spread out that $200,000, of approximately $10,000 per year. The units that we constructed cost $36,000. In comparison, we can expect a life expectancy out of them of something like 3 1/2 years. We have now had about 3 1/2 years out of those units. So I think it is useful to put that in perspective, in terms of the value for the money that we have expended on them.
Units 408 and 412 were not refurbished for a long-term life cycle. The minimal work was done to keep the cost down. For example, the plumbing systems were not replaced. The cast-iron sewers were left in place and they are deteriorating. There perhaps is something like--Ian might correct me--three to five years left in those blocks.
Mr Nelligan —That is correct; before any major expense is due. The cast-iron plumbing, in places, is paper thin. It was at the time, but it was going to be extraordinarily expensive to replace it at the time that the refurbishment initially was carried out. So the plumbing will certainly require replacement in some of the units now, and in some it will last another three to five years.
Mr Moore —Assuming a best outcome scenario, being optimistic, let us say five years. We could have five years life out of them, and then we would have done extremely well in dollar value for the investment in refurbishing these buildings. At that point in time, we will need to make a decision as to what to do with those units: whether we spend the large amount of money which would be required to completely refurbish them; whether we did another, similar sort of job of $1 1/2 million or $2 million in today's costs; or whether it is desirable to vacate the area because of a possible rock risk situation.
We need to look at that also in the context of the design life and the
effectiveness of a fence--if a fence were to be constructed--and the cost
of that fence. Again, to put that in perspective, the cost of putting a
fence behind one of those units is in the order of three-quarters of a
million dollars, on the Works Australia estimates. We need to make some
decisions, from our own perspective, of the short-, medium- and long-term
housing future of the Kampong area and of the Commonwealth assets that are
within it. Because we have not invested a proportionately large amount of
money and because we are getting, if you like, value for our investment
already, we are not constrained, in my view, by that previous investment
from doing other things with it. We have the chance now to make an open
decision as to what to do with those particular buildings. The important
thing to consider in that is cost and social issues and risk in relation to
the rockfall defences. If we were to put up a rockfall fence, its design
life would be obviously subject to the materials that it was made out of,
but it would certainly last five years without any significant
Dr Baynes —Something like that would normally have a design life between five and 30 years I would imagine.
Senator CALVERT —I will ask the obvious question. What have you got in mind for these units? If there was not any rock problem or any other problems what, in five years time, would you do?
Mr Moore —Sell them.
Senator CALVERT —Sell them?
Mr Moore —Or even earlier.
Senator CALVERT —Just sell them?
—Ideally, the Commonwealth position on housing is that
it wants to be as much out of housing as possible, particularly out of
older stock housing. For example, we have currently got the old hospital
site up for auction. We previously had a hospital there; we have moved out
and built a new one. We are seeking to sell off that. Other people could do
something with it. They could completely refurbish it, for example. They
could turn it into housing accommodation or they could turn it into resort
accommodation, or whatever was appropriate within the town planning and
social constraints. But the Commonwealth would prefer, if it had a
requirement for housing, that it built modern housing to modern mainland
Senator CALVERT —That leads me to the next question. If you did sell it in five years time to, say, a local group, would you have to survey the land and convert it to real title or something? What is its status at the moment? Is it Commonwealth land?
Mr Moore —It is Commonwealth land, correct.
Senator CALVERT —So you would have to subdivide it and then sell it with the buildings?
Mr Moore —Yes, correct, strata title.
Senator CALVERT —If your private company bought it and they filled it up with people and then a couple of rocks came rocketing down the hill, who is liable? We are still liable, aren't we?
Ms Chilvers —We still own the cliffs and the rocks.
Mr Moore —We are liable because the Attorney-General's advice is that, whatever we do, we have to take all reasonable steps to prevent damage to people because we own the cliffs. We own the problem.
CHAIR —We have to be seen to have taken a duty of care.
Senator CALVERT —So the fence option remains, whether the buildings are there or not. You would reduce the risk by taking the buildings out completely in five years time, but it is still a risk of sorts for the other units, so therefore you would still need a fence?
Mr Moore —I did say we would sell if there was no risk when you asked the question. If there is a risk, it depends on the level of risk. We have to then consider what is an appropriate response to it. We have a range of options. One of them could be to demolish, put up a personnel fence and stop people going in there. Another could be to retain, but to have a rockfall barrier fence.
Mr HATTON —I have a question for Dr Baynes. If we demolish 408 and 412, would we still need the rockfall fences there? The personnel fence would have to be well in, I would imagine, close to 409 and 411? You would still get rockfall running down into that area.
—If you were to demolish the structures and replace
them with, for instance, gardens with trees and soft soils, it is my
opinion that that would sufficiently impede the progress of any rocks, so
there would be no threat to people in the community outside that zone. The
areas themselves would still be prone to rockfall risk, but a fence and
some understanding by the community that they were entering an area at risk
into which it would be unwise to go during periods, for instance, of heavy
rain would seem to me to provide a reasonable approach to the problem.
Senator CALVERT —Getting back to the sale of these units: you say that in five years time you would sell them--that is in the normal course of events. So, in the meantime, you would be building other houses somewhere else to relocate those people or whatever, would you? You have still got your housing problem, haven't you?
Mr Moore —Yes, we have a housing problem that we have to address. Outside the context of this committee we have a report from the Commonwealth Grants Commission on housing problems on Christmas Island which the government is currently considering.
Senator CALVERT —But if you did that, then you would not have this cost of relocation built into these particular options that we are looking at this morning, would you? It would be in the normal course of events rather than this particular event we are looking at now. You have built into some of these options the cost of building new buildings to take those people from. In five years time, in the normal course of events, that would be happening anyway, wouldn't it?
Mr Moore —If funding had been provided to construct those new buildings.
Senator CALVERT —And that is the administrator's problem, I suppose.
Mr Moore —It is the government's problem.
Ms Chilvers —It is the government's problem.
Senator CALVERT —On the set-up of the housing, the Commonwealth builds it, and it is public housing, and then you rent it to the tenants. When you were saying that you get good dollar value out of this particular refurbishment--$36,000 or whatever you spend on it--do we ever get our money back really? Do the returns you get from the rental really cover the total costs of on-costs and the cost of refurbishing these buildings?
Ms Chilvers —Not in every case because, in fact, a lot of the tenants are public housing tenants and do not pay the full commercial rate. But one of the obligations of the administration in its state level role is to deliver public housing.
Senator CALVERT —It is the same in every state; I realise that.
—That is right.
Senator CALVERT —But it is still the same argument, but the cost to actually build these particular buildings is a lot higher because of where you are.
Ms Chilvers —Yes.
Senator CALVERT —You quoted $200,000. In Sydney or Melbourne it would be half that, wouldn't it?
Mr Moore —Yes. The building costs on Christmas Island are between 1 1/2 to two times that on the mainland, depending on the type of building.
Mr TED GRACE —How competitive is the tendering process?
Mr Moore —Works Australia has been responsible for letting tenders for housing and has attempted to get the very best tender prices for housing. That has involved, on occasion, calling tenders twice because the prices that were originally received were considered to be too high but, in the end, that resulted in no significant savings. I guess the assessment is: how competitive? It has been made as competitive as it can be made. Works Australia has also sought to get prices from locally based builders as well as bigger project home builders and kit home builders.
It is probably not as competitive as we would like because a lot of people have decided that Christmas Island is an expensive place to build and they do not see themselves as making good returns, but we have sought to make it as competitive as possible. Works Australia has taken all possible steps to make it as competitive as possible.
Mr TED GRACE —So normal home builders on the mainland would not be interested in coming here to build? Is that what you are trying to tell me?
Mr Moore —They are not.
Mr TED GRACE —They are not?
Mr Moore —No.
Mr TED GRACE —They have been approached? They know the tendering process?
Mr Moore —Brian, do you want to speak at all to that question?
—Yes. We have a number of builders that are prepared to
come from the mainland to Christmas Island. They do not always tender at
particular times because of their particular workloads, so we have some
difficulty getting tenderers at particular times. But, generally speaking,
there are a number that will come to the island and there are builders on
the island who give us tenders for the work as well.
Mr TED GRACE —At some time I would like the committee members to have a look at the tender documents. Has it ever been suggested that, for instance, tenders be let out to non-Australian companies? It would seem to me that you would have to stretch the friendship a little bit here. Has it been considered that materials could come in from Indonesia?
Mr Bate —No. There has been no consideration of taking other than Australian--
Mr TED GRACE —If not, why not? It seems to me that $36,000 to renovate one of those little blocks is an exorbitant amount of money in any terms.
Mr Bate —We generally operate under the Commonwealth government's policy that we accept only materials from Australia and New Zealand.
Mr TED GRACE —Has it ever been suggested to government that we change it for this particular reason up here? After all, it is the Australian taxpayer who is footing the bill.
Mr Bate —We have not suggested it to the government.
Senator FERGUSON —Ms Chilvers, you said initially that block 403 was going to be used to relieve the pressure on waiting lists. How long are the waiting lists?
Ms Chilvers —We have got approximately 20 single people waiting for accommodation and 38 applications in for family accommodation.
Senator FERGUSON —Where are they living now?
Ms Chilvers —Currently it is a mixture of living with friends, with parents or renting privately. But through financial hardship they could actually want to be considered as public housing tenants.
Mr TED GRACE —I would like that problem in my electorate.
Ms Chilvers —Yes. So it is a mixture. Some of the families are currently squashed into single quarters and they want to have more suitable accommodation. Someone might have been originally allocated a one-bedroom unit as a single person. The person has since married, and the first or second child is on the way and so the family is now on the waiting list for more suitable family accommodation.
—It just seems that if the option were taken to
remove blocks 408 and 412, it would only exacerbate an already dreadful
Ms Chilvers —Yes.
Senator FERGUSON —What is the current population of the island?
Ms Chilvers —Around 2,000, I believe. It is a fluctuating population. The ABS figures last year were around 1,800.
Mr Moore —The Commonwealth Grants Commission quoted 2,200, but it does vary.
Ms Chilvers —Yes.
Senator FERGUSON —The figures that we had in some of our papers were that there could be as many as 3,000.
Ms Chilvers —I would think that that would be a rather high figure at the moment.
Mr Moore —I think it was higher at one point. It is actually lower just at the moment than it was perhaps a year ago.
Senator FERGUSON —It has gone up from 1,300 at the last census?
Ms Chilvers —Yes.
Senator FERGUSON —And how much more housing has been developed since the last census?
Ms Chilvers —I do not have the answer to that.
Senator FERGUSON —You have nearly doubled the population, it would seem.
Mr Moore —It would have been fewer than 20 units in total, I would have thought.
Senator FERGUSON —It is just that if the population has possibly nearly doubled, or close to it, there must certainly be an extreme amount of pressure on availability of any form of housing.
—That is correct. There was a situation though where
Christmas Island originally had a higher population--when it was a mining
town--and accommodation that was used then was allowed to become derelict.
That occurred to 408 and 412 and some others. Some of those derelict blocks
have been refurbished by us and some others were refurbished by the casino
to provide accommodation for the people it brought here.
Senator FERGUSON —They were the ones that we saw at Poon Saan?
Mr Moore —That is right.
Mr HATTON —Following up from what Mr Grace asked: in terms of the building costs here, the normal process that has been followed would be that we use Australian contractors and Australian materials. It would seem to me that the location factors in relation to Christmas Island would mean that there should have been submissions put in that we got materials and sourced those in Indonesia or Singapore. If you followed that course of events, the freight costs that we have got from Perth seem to be extraordinarily high. Freight costs from Indonesia and so on would, I imagine, be relatively little. We would also be able to put pressure on the people who are doing the freight from Perth up to here to give them some competition in relation to providing that material. It would mean that we would be able to build a great deal more for a great deal less if we took that kind of approach.
Mr Moore —There have been some occasions when some materials have been sourced from other than Australia for some of the projects in situations where they have not been readily available. It also needs to be put in perspective, and perhaps the Works Australia people could comment on this. The extent of potential savings from going down that track are perhaps not as much as might be imagined.
Certainly, there is an issue of quality as well as the actual source of the materials. The materials that have to be bought have to meet certain quality standards for Commonwealth government construction and we would not be suggesting varying from those. And to provide equivalent quality materials from the north is not always much cheaper. As for heavy materials such as sand, for example, which is required for concrete construction, it is not possible to import that at all, that has to be crushed on the island here, and it is a cost that you will have to bear regardless of where you source your materials generally.
We also have situations where the Commonwealth is precluded by other policies, for example, from using rainforest timbers which precludes material from the north. Taking all those factors into account means that the potential for savings is perhaps not in the same category as might at first case appear.
Mr HATTON —May I ask how closely we have looked at it?
—We have not gone down that track because it has been
contrary to Commonwealth policy, but we have looked at those options and we
are aware of some of those factors. Perhaps Works Australia might like to
Mr Bate —We simply had to source certain materials from Asia where they have not been immediately available on the island, and contractors have found that they cannot get the materials from Australia quickly enough. There has been permission given to use those to continue the building process. But we have not, specifically, gone to Asia to look at particular components to see whether they are cheaper than Australian components.
We know from our very first studies of costings on the island before we started the program that the only building that we could use as a guide was the casino which was being built at the time, and the costs compared with Perth costs were sitting about 1.9 times the cost of Perth for the casino. A lot of that material was sourced from Jakarta. When we first called tenders on the island for the work that we were doing we got rates of around about 1.4 to 1.5 times the cost of Perth prices, and that was using Australian materials. So that is the only guide that we have had to Asian sourced materials.
Mr HATTON —Could I ask a follow-up question in relation to freight rates. They seem to be exorbitant from what I have heard. Is there any competition in relation to the freight rates? How would you compare the freight rates out of Perth to here or to London or whatever in terms of moving those materials?
Mr Moore —I would like to make a comment on that. Freight rates have varied over the period of time that we have been using freight for the rebuilding program. At this present time there is competition. There are two services: there is one via Perkins and one via the Clunies Ross ship to both Christmas and to Cocos, and I understand that the freight rates at this point in time are lower than they have been for some considerable time. How long that competition will stay I am not certain because there is no doubt that Christmas and Cocos are very small markets, they are very small volumes.
The issue of freight has been the subject of a separate Commonwealth parliamentary inquiry which provided a report a little while ago. The government's response to that was basically to allow the market forces to determine the freight situation. That is what is currently happening but we, in the rebuilding program, have had to deal with the cost of that freight, which has not been inconsiderable and is a major component of the cost, bringing our costs above that of the mainland.
CHAIR —Any other questions from committee members to the Department of Environment, Sport and Territories?
Mr RICHARD EVANS —You said before, Mr Moore, that if it were safe you would sell the properties 408 and 412--the ones considered at risk. Do you consider that if the fences went up they would be likely to reduce the risk and therefore you would be selling in five years?
—I am not an expert on risk and I am not able to provide
a personal opinion because I am representing the department's position on
this matter rather than my own. It is clear from the evidence that has been
provided, which is based on the information provided by our consultants,
that if you were to put up safety fences, you would reduce the risk in
relation to both of those buildings to levels which in one case, 412,
appear to be safer than flying in a plane and, in the other case, are safer
than being hit by a car as a pedestrian. I merely draw the attention of the
committee to that evidence that we have presented on the basis of our
Mr RICHARD EVANS —On the assumption, then, that the government department would consider it to be safe enough to sell, and therefore the relocation of the families and people within 408 and 412 would be required, are they likely to be relocated into the Kampong or up to Poon Saan?
Ms Chilvers —I think that is something that we would still need to determine. We have not actually planned that far ahead and it would become a process that will be developed through the town planning process in consultation with the shire council.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —So there is space in Kampong to build some new--
Ms Chilvers —No, I do not think I said that. I said that we actually had not developed a position on that and it would be something that we would need to work through with the council in terms of town planning requirements, and with the community in terms of the amenity that was required.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —I understand what you are saying to me, but that is not the question I am asking. Is there available space if, in fact, all the town planning requirements were met? Is there available space in the Kampong to build more units, or would you have to demolish units to in fact put up more new units, if town planning was all equal?
Ms Chilvers —I do not have the answer to that because I have not actually examined that. I do not know if anyone from Works Australia has looked at that in terms of densities.
Mr Bate —No, we have not looked at it. We know that the council is looking at the planning aspects of the cove. They recommended knocking down one of the buildings to produce a reasonable balance between open space and the density of the buildings, but we have not taken any position on it.
CHAIR —Can I just interject and say that it struck me that it is not the sale that would force the relocation of families, it would be the demolition that would force the relocation of families.
Mr RICHARD EVANS
CHAIR —The property would still be occupied if it were sold. That was my point.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —Yes. The point that I am making is that if it were sold, those families would not necessarily still be living there, so there would be a demand for public housing. What I am trying to get to is whether there is available space in Kampong for new housing.
CHAIR —I understand that.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —If there is not, therefore the assumption is that the community in the Kampong would have to be split between Poon Saan and the Kampong.
Mr Moore —As you would have seen in your inspection yesterday there are two blocks, 401 and 402; 401 is occupied at the moment but 402 is not occupied whatsoever. As mentioned previously by witnesses, the preferred option from the Territories Office is not to refurbish or use all of those blocks in that area. It is considered that the density of living there is higher than desirable even affecting the requirement for public amenity and car parking spaces. That is a view which is consistent with positions put to us by the Shire Council.
Senator FERGUSON —That is for both of those blocks?
Mr Moore —Not necessarily both; the desirability is not to have all three.
Senator FERGUSON —So you could perhaps have 401 and 403 or 402 and 403?
Mr Moore —Correct.
CHAIR —Are there any other questions to the Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories? If not, could I just ask one question of the acting administrator. What consultation procedure do you have on Christmas Island to allow you to be in touch with the Christmas Island community? Clearly, you would be in touch with the council in whose chambers we are now meeting, but is there any regular consultation with other community groups, or do they come to you as need dictates?
Ms Chilvers —There is a mixture of processes. There is a community consultative committee as part of council, with which I meet regularly. I have recently undertaken to meet with the chamber of commerce. I will attend all of their meetings so that I can actually report to them on what is happening in terms of development proposals, land issues, and economic development. But very much it is an open door. People ring and come in and make representations. If there was a particular issue that affected one group specifically, certainly there would be a direct contact made with that group.
—Could I perhaps just add a comment on that? In respect
of infrastructure works and the Christmas Island rebuilding program, we do
have a process in place whereby the rebuilding program project management
team, which includes myself and representatives from Works Australia from
Perth and some based on Christmas Island, including Ian Nelligan and Brian
Bate, consults with the community on approximately a three- to four-monthly
basis. We visit here and talk with a range of groups representing a
cross-section from the community, including the Shire Council and its
officers, the chamber of commerce, the Union of Christmas Island Workers,
the mine and whoever else has a particular interest in any projects that we
might be pursuing.
CHAIR —Regardless of whether or not blocks 408 and 412 are removed or renovated in the long term, clearly--as has been acknowledged--the Commonwealth recognises there is a need for public housing on Christmas Island. I assume, therefore, that that public housing would be built to what are regarded as acceptable Australian standards and cyclone proofed as necessary for the island environment. What sort of return on the investment does the Commonwealth expect from public housing as a proportion of the cost?
Mr Moore —We have not done precise calculations because public housing is a community service obligation which we do not have a choice about--or we believe we do not have a choice about. But we did carry out a business plan in relation to this particular rockfall relocation exercise previously when it was proposed to relocate residents to the Poon Saan development. The results of that business plan show that the Commonwealth is incapable of getting a commercial return out of its development, if the estimates that were put together by Works Australia are the ones that actually would be the cost of the building works. Those estimates might be a bit conservative but even if they were cut down it is unlikely that the Commonwealth would get a return for its investment at a commercial rate. We did some sums in those business plans, looking at what might happen with the value of the construction works that were undertaken because options needed to include a building renting for a period and selling again. It would require an increase in property values outside the probability that is going to occur on the island to make a commercial return.
Mr HATTON —Could I ask Fred Baynes about the area around the old administrator's house. That area seems to be quite stable and does not have a problem with rockfall and so on. How extensive is that area and what has basically been planned for it? To me, that could be a housing area as well and not just a community facility area because from the house at the back it looked like there was quite a bit of land. In terms of the stability of the area--
Dr Baynes —Is that the area that is to the south of the Christmas Island Club?
—Yes, right up to the end where there is a
double-storey house. I do not know whether you have been able to look--
CHAIR —The old administrator's house.
Dr Baynes —I am sorry. My study did not actually extend around that far. From a casual look at it I did not think there was a problem there.
CHAIR —The administrator's was seen as disposable, one presumes.
Dr Baynes —I do not think there is as much space as you might be envisaging in that particular area. I know that in that particular area the administrator's residence and the gun emplacements, for example, which is most of the flat area there, are heritage listed. From there onwards around to the sewage treatment plant the cliffs come in a bit closer to the access road and I know that, for example, we have to consider issues beyond rockfall when you start thinking about building on the terraces. For example, the fuel farm site has two sections where there are fissures. That particular area around the cliff and the lower terrace often has fissures and you have to have a geotechnical investigation of the underlying conditions, as well as consider the overhanging conditions.
Mr Edwards —If I might add to that, the prohibitive point of actually going out there as well is that it is a single-lane access to the site of the administrator's residence. If you have large traffic flows via housing up there then you are going to be prohibited by that access.
Mr Moore —The Shire Council does not pay for that as a general access. In fact, they use it for accessing works to maintain the sewage treatment plant but at one stage it was considered that the narrowness of that road and the traffic flows warranted possibly shutting it off altogether rather than putting a boom gate across it for everything other than maintenance traffic.
CHAIR —Two more questions, remembering that the witnesses will reappear at the concluding part of the day.
Mr RICHARD EVANS —You mentioned before about the need to review 412 and 408 in five years time because of sewerage breakdown. Is that the same for the other buildings in the area as well: 413, 410 and 409? Would that be the same condition?
Mr Nelligan —I am not sure. I have not looked at those buildings. I have not been involved in the upgrade of those buildings.
Mr Moore —They are privately owned buildings so it is not an issue for the Commonwealth to concern itself with.
—At the land you showed us yesterday at Poon Saan
where you may have future housing, what would the all-up cost be for
two-bedroom and three-bedroom units up there? You mentioned a figure of
Mr Bate —We have looked at a range of housing on that particular site, and that impacts on a particular density of the site. If you are looking at two-bedroom and one-bedroom units, it does not make a lot of difference if you are talking about the number of units. So, in broad terms, the sort of total cost that we have suggested for the 72 units, which is the total number of units on that site, is around the $20 million mark.
Senator CALVERT —So it is bit more than $200,000 per unit, is it not?
Mr Bate —Yes. On that particular site.
Mr Moore —Does that include servicing costs? My $200,000 is the construction cost; I was not worried about land costs.
Senator CALVERT —That is what I was clarifying because $200,000 by 72 is $14 million, not $22 million, and I thought that there had to be some other costs in there somewhere.
Mr Moore —I was trying to round it off for simplicity.
Senator CALVERT —Yes.
Mr FORREST —I am just wondering when we are going to actually assess the different strategies that have been recommended to us. Will we do that later? I have some questions about that.
CHAIR —This is the opportunity to ask those questions. When the witnesses reappear, it will be largely to respond to the evidence that has been given by other witnesses and, while it is appropriate to ask questions then, it would be in the interests of the hearing to pose the strategy questions now so that other witnesses can also refer to them.
Mr FORREST —Strategy 1, as suggested, is straightforward; so is strategy 2. But strategy 3 includes rockfall barriers, but also includes the vacation and demolition of the Boat Club, and landscaping. It does not say what would happen with an alternative for the Boat Club. There is no strategy which says, for example, that there would be rockfall barriers to protect 408 and 412, leaving the Boat Club in its place. There are, perhaps, two points to the question: what is suggested for the Boat Club if that strategy occurs and why is there not a strategy which retains the Boat Club but takes measures to protect 408 and 412 with rockfall fencing?
Mr Moore —The strategies that have been put together were designed to be roughly according to risk. In other words, the early strategies are the most risky. Number 1 is the most risky strategy; strategy 5 is the least risky strategy. On reviewing that material recently since we prepared it, I have taken the view that the Boat Club demolition really belongs in a later strategy. It really belongs probably in strategy 5, not in strategy 3 because, if you relate the sequence of strategies to risk, its level of risk is such that it belongs in the last of the strategies if you were to do something about it in terms of demolition.
I believe that, on the other hand, there are other ways that you can deal with the problem at the Boat Club and minimise the amount of risk in that area. Notwithstanding that Dr Fred Baynes has identified a relatively low level of risk, there is certainly, as he pointed out yesterday, a possibility that that risk could be increased if you have large congregations of people there frequently. And so I would like to now add to this submission a supplementary view that the appropriate approach to the Boat Club should concentrate, certainly in the initial strategies, on a management approach to it rather than a demolition approach to it.
I would also like to make the point that these strategies are a summary version of the range of strategies and alternatives that are possible. When Dr Baynes and Works Australia were putting them together, they got up to 60 strategies, and then they decided that, for the purposes of presenting material, you needed to home in on particular groups. There are a very large number of permutations and combinations possible within the strategies, not all of which have been identified, necessarily; and this is a guide to making the decision.
We would suggest that the decision needs to consider all of the evidence
that we are presenting today, and that it is possible that, as a result of
the evidence that is given by ourselves and others, there may be a need to
finetune the combinations of strategies here, beyond what I have just
mentioned in relation to the Boat Club. I appreciate Mr Hollis's comment
that it would be easier for the committee if we were to recommend
something, but I suggest that this is an unusual situation. If it would
assist the committee, the Territories Office and our advisers are happy to
have some advice from the committee which recommends some principles or
some guidance in solving the problem and which seeks for us, on the basis
of that guidance in relation to risk, to put to you a firm proposal based
on those principles.
Mr FORREST —I could condense that by saying that there could be an option--call it 3(a)--which instead said something along the lines that you have just said of proper management, instead of vacating and demolishing the Boat Club. If it is bad weather and you do not have public gatherings--or whatever you might include in the management plan--what would be the cost for that? What I am trying to determine is how much has been allowed in what you are suggesting as strategy 3 to relocate the Boat Club.
—It would be less. The cost of the demolition of the
Boat Club was mostly to do with the demolition works, and the figure is
$35,000; so you would save the bulk of that amount of money.
Mr FORREST —$35,000?
Mr Moore —Say $30,000.
Senator FERGUSON —Were you also planning on putting up something for them somewhere else or not?
Mr Moore —No.
Senator FERGUSON —So, in other words, it just no longer exists?
Mr Moore —Correct.
Senator FERGUSON —Is that why they did not want to shift last time?
Mr Moore —Undoubtedly. I can say that there are a lot of issues outside this committee's consideration, outside this particular rockfall issue, which could impact on the way we manage the results of this investigation. If, for example, it were to be considered desirable to relocate the Boat Club or any other community facilities, it is possible, for example, that the Boat Club or others could put a submission to the community benefit fund--which is established for community purposes as a result of casino revenue--to seek support for new facilities in an alternate place. That is not something that we have a power of decision making over, but at the moment it is certainly a Commonwealth owned facility which the Commonwealth allows the Boat Club to use.
CHAIR —As there are no other questions to the departmental witnesses, I will comment on Mr Forrest's very valid concern by saying that there is, of course, no reason why we could not, at a normal meeting in Canberra, seek further evidence from the department about the options we face as well, if that were in the committee's interests.
On behalf of the committee, I thank Mr Layton, Mr Nelligan, Mr Franklin, Mr Bate, Ms Chilvers, Mr Moore, Dr Baynes and Mr Edwards for appearing before us. We will call you later in the day to add supplementary evidence.