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Wednesday, 31 March 1971


Senator MILLINER (Queensland) - I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

I believe it would be wrong on an occasion such as this if the Senate did not express its deep sympathy to the relatives of those young people who were drowned in such tragic circumstances on the' night of 26th January 1971. The tragic circumstances on this night are indicative of what can happen when the elements take over. No matter how man tries to prevent accidents of this nature, nevertheless he is in the hands of the elements when flash floods occur such as the one on this occasion. I believe I would be expressing the thoughts of all honourable senators when I say how sorry I am that the tragedy occurred. We extend our sympathy to the relatives of the deceased.

However, I believe that some aspects of the disaster must give cause for some concern. In the statement presented by the Minister for Civil Aviation (Senator Cotton) he refers to some points made in the Coroner's statement. 1 believe it is worthy that 1 should repeat that section. It reads:

The drainage system in the Woden Valley was designed to flood from time lo time, and water beyond the capacity of the drains was lo be accommodated in the greenbelt and road systems adjacent to the drains. The Department of Interior and Commissioner of Police were not advised by the National Capital Development Commission that the causeway at the Melrose Drive, Yamba Drive intersection was likely to flood, and that Hit adpacent roads would be subject to floodwaters from time to time: and it was contemplated by the National Capital Development Commission that the intersection and road system would be under the control of the police, or some authority, when danger to the public was imminent.

I believe that the Coroner's finding in that direction - that is, that there had been neglect in that authorities were not warned of dangerous areas in the national capital of Australia - is a condemnation of liaison that has existed between the National Capital Development Commission, the Government and the Police Department.


Senator Byrne - Condemnation of the liaison or lack of liaison?


Senator MILLINER - Well, lack of liaison. I am not speaking in a political sense when I say that. This is not an occasion when one should go into political thoughts. But I believe that it is important that the Senate should note that there has been the insufficiency of detailed examination of dangerous areas in the Australian national capital. I deplore the fact that this had not been done earlier and so possibly - possibly, I say - prevent this catastrophe.

I also refer to the Minister's statement where he refers to the recommendations made by the Coroner. The Coroner recommended:

If they have not already done so, the Commissioner of Police and Department of Interior should establish immediately a system which will enable potential areas of danger in the Woden Valley to be brought under police control before danger to the public arises.

I submit it is a little late to make that statement. Nevertheless, it may prevent similar tragedies in the future and I trust that the Coroner's finding in that particular aspect will be brought to the attention of the Police Department. In addition, I further believe that the NCDC should be required to report on these aspects to the Joint Committee on the Australian Capital Territory so that we as the custodians of the rights of the people may be satisfied in that aspect and have an opportunity to express an opinion as to whether the NCDC has gone sufficiently far in alerting the Police of any dangerous points that may exist when disasters such as flood waters come upon us.

Mr Deputy President,1 believe that one aspect of the Coroner's statement is a little ambiguous. I refer to folio 280 of the findings where the Coroner says:

There is no evidence of any significant waves or walls of water, save that it is possible that a wave about 2 feet high above the general level of the floodwaters may have caused Margaret Smith to lose her grip on the rail, and there was evidence of a 4 foot wall of water striking a police motor vehicle in Yarra Glen south of the Carruthers Street overpass.

To my way of thinking, that is an unusual type of finding to pinpoint in evidence of this nature. He says there were no significant waves but yet later in the same paragraph he says there was evidence of a 4 foot wall of water striking a police motor vehicle. From our point of view, I believe this is unsatisfactory. I am sorry that we will not be able to have an opportunity perhaps to find an explanation Tor what I consider to be an unusual paragraph in a finding.

I close by repeating that J believe that all honourable senators would like to extend their deepest sympathy to the relatives of the deceased. T seek leave to continue my remarks on a subsequent occasion.

Leave granted.

Debate (on motion by Senator Murphy) adjourned.







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