Why region’s farmers are taking on state in court
THE Paradise Dam matter before the Supreme Court is scheduled for a review hearing next month according to Marland Law.
The law firm, acting on behalf of farmers who want to see the spillway restored to its former height, has filed additional documents with the Supreme Court of Queensland this month against the Chief Executive Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy and SunWater.
While the dam is currently deemed safe, concern has been raised about the stability of the dam in an event similar to the 2013 floods.
The state government and SunWater have decided to lower the primary spillway by 5.8m, reducing the dam's capacity to 42 per cent to secure the dam and undertake further testing.
A Commission of Inquiry was held in relation to Paradise Dam which was met with farmers rally outside the local courthouse during the Bundaberg hearings.
In May, Marland Law made an application for a judicial review of the Government's decision and sought an injunction to prevent the dam wall being lowered, which was then withdrawn.
The NewsMail understands they are now seeking an injunction prohibition, post hearing, as part of the judicial review process.
In the documents submitted to the courts recently, five issues were raised.
One of which questions whether the first respondent's or the Delegate's conduct in making the decision (to lower the dam wall) constituted a breach of natural justice.
The documents allege the Delegate "did not act independently as he improperly abrogated the making of the Decision by rubber stamping an earlier decision …".
Further in the documents, the applicants contend the decision was an "improper exercise of the power conferred on the First Respondent by the Water Supply act".
Marland Law principal Tom Marland said the issue with Paradise Dam had more to do with the costs to fix it than their concern for public safety.
"SunWater and the Government have been aware of the costs to fix the dam since 2016," he said.
"When water sales were insufficient, due to inflated pricing, to fix the dam; the next cheapest option was to simply pull it down.
"The most insidious element of the conduct of SunWater and the Government in their handling of Paradise Dam is that they have used the pain that the Bundaberg community endured in the 2013 floods as a way to scare people into thinking that the dam is unsafe to divert attention from their own negligence and mismanagement," Mr Marland said.
A SunWater spokesperson said the company's decisions in relation to Paradise Dam have been about protecting both lives and livelihoods.
"The decision to lower the dam wall has been made to improve the safety of communities living downstream of the dam, while longer term remediation of the dam is designed and implemented," the spokesperson said.
"SunWater will vigorously defend its position on Paradise Dam in court."
Earlier this month the NewsMail reported, Essential Works were progressing using a combination of concrete cutting techniques and excavators.
Rubble chutes had been installed to remove excavated material efficiently from the wall.
Mr Marland said in a time when water security and food security were critical to ensure our recovery from COVID-19, the State Government was "destroying" a dam that delivers billions to the state and national economy.
"Impacts are already being felt in the Bundaberg community with this year's water allocations being cut to 70%. The whole region is still drought declared," he said.
"Who knows what water will available next year if we don't get big rain over summer?"
The water year's allocations announced by SunWater saw a 1 per cent decrease in medium priority allocations from 71 per cent to 70 per cent for the Burnett River sub-scheme.
The high priority allocations remain at 100 per cent, as do both the medium and high priority allocations for the Kolan sub-scheme.
Natural Resources Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said SunWater and the Government's primary concern was community safety.
"The dam is safe now," he said.
"However, the publicly available independent technical reports confirm potential risk of major flooding if there is another an extreme weather event like 2013.
"SunWater, the six members of its Technical Review Panel, five independent engineers, the government dam safety regular and the chief engineer all support the urgent works to lower the spillway before the next wet season."
Dr Lynham said Sunwater's advice was that reducing the volume of water in the dam reduces pressure on the dam wall and creates additional time for the dam to fill in an extreme weather event, and extra time for any evacuations.
"And, as these essential works now lower the dam wall in time for the next season, testing continues to inform the long-term decision to be made down the track," he said.
The matter continues before the Supreme Court and is scheduled for a review hearing at the end of August.