06 February 2012

Score One for Old School Journalism and The Australian

With the admission by public officials today that the Wivenhoe dam was indeed mismanaged,  The Australian newspaper is right to trumpet the importance of old school investigative journalism. Without their work, it is likely that the mismanagement would not have been uncovered:
Whatever its findings, the [Queensland flood investigation] report will be more informative and comprehensive as a result of the inquiry being reconvened and extended for 13 days after The Australian exposed glaring inconsistencies in the original evidence given by SEQWater and flood engineers about serious breaches of the dam's operating manual over two days leading up to the disaster. . .

For the public, an alarming aspect of the issue is that the mismanagement was uncovered not by their elected representatives or through the initial inquiry hearings, but by senior journalist Hedley Thomas's painstaking reading of official records. These suggested that SEQWater remained locked into the wrong strategy over the weekend of January 8 and 9 and into early Monday before the Brisbane River first broke its banks on January 11.

Scepticism, scrutiny of records and refusing to accept official spin are the hallmarks of fine journalism. Four days after the river peaked, contrary to SEQWater's insistence that the operating manual had been followed, Thomas questioned why the operation of the dam failed. He also reported independent engineer Michael O'Brien's view that catastrophe would have been avoided if releases had been adequate. Such probing, alas, did not suit more gullible media outlets, including Crikey, which brushed the public interest aside in claiming our coverage was "distorted" by "out-of-control" ego. A year on, the operations manager and chief executive of Queensland's WaterGrid admit that, based on what they were told at the time, the dam was mismanaged for two crucial days before the floods. In a land of climate extremes, hard lessons have been learned about managing the ravages of floods as well as drought, and the evacuation of St George shows authorities are being proactive. The emergence of the truth about Wivenhoe is also a lesson about public-interest journalism.
Whatever one might think about the political views found on the pages of The Australian or feelings about its ownership, Australians have been well served by its dogged reporting in the case of Wivenhoe. For everyone, the case provides a good example why independent oversight of experts and government makes good sense.


  1. sounds like REAL investigative journalism. Too often, simply printing leaks (with spin from the leaker) is confused with investigative journalism.

  2. Roger credit should be given when credit is due. In this case the mismanagement of the dam was exposed by climate skeptics(and ignored - look what Warwick Hughes & others have been writing) prior to this trumpeted MSM publication.

    Your post should have been titled "MSM asleep at the wheel finally wakes up!"

  3. This major story missed by the other major mews players in Australia: Fairfax and the government run ABC, possibly due to their apparent blind acceptance of official government statements and reports. Some good old fashioned scepticism required on their part.

  4. Why should anyone be concerned about the political views or the ownership of the Australian.

    Over time, I've not been able to identify any particular political stance by this paper. Currently, it appears mildly in favour of the opposition Liberals, but then so is everybody else.

    The opposition newspapers are owned by the Fairfax family and are openly and vigorously partisan. They take the standard left-wing vuew on every issue and are indistinguishable from the Guardian/Observer in the UK.

  5. "4. Huni-miaka said...

    Why should anyone be concerned about the political views or the ownership of the Australian.

    Over time, I've not been able to identify any particular political stance by this paper."

    As a regular reader of the online Australian I am quite surprised by your statements. I can only conclude that you are desensitized to the political innuendo in even the breaking news reports published by The Australian.

  6. Paul, best to read widely and mix your media diet, there is some form of bias on all sides. Fairfax and ABC not innocent in this regard.

  7. Paul:

    You are the one whose perspective is faulty.

    Did you not notice The Australian’s support for , and ultimate endorsement of Kevin Rudd and Labor in 2007---and its endorsement of Labor in many other elections?

    Are you unaware of an unprecedented , concerted five week attack in support of Rudd and Labor by journalists of The Australian , during that campaign ----- waged on a conservative journalist and the participants in his blog on the other major Murdoch newspaper, the Daily Telegraph?

    It’s all on the public record. So how do you reconcile that with the systemic bias you suggest and the Gillard government claims , at The Australian.

    The real story in Australia is that a public ‘belief’ in the ‘consensus’ on AGW, has been engineered and induced, by the device of an almost complete shutdown of information on the serious flaws, the biased make-up and operation of the IPCC, the destruction of raw data, refusal of FOI, and the myriad of other events and manipulations that would make a reasonable person suspect that this is more an authoritarian stance to produce uninformed groupthink , than the sort of back and forth and open discussion such an important issue requires if---that’s if---we still have a democracy.

    For the undeniable existence of this situation in Australia , you only have to look at the make-up of the Climate Change Commission and their own relentless , spelt-out suppression of anyone who raises the issue of the status of the science, [ complete unquestioning compliance with the ‘consensus’ view required]---- and also the fact [ announced by the Labor PM Gillard ], that support for a carbon tax was a compulsory prerequisite for any person wanting to participate in the so-called Multi-Party Committee on Climate Change .

    The shutdown of democracy on this issue , if he made himself aware of it, should surely undercut somewhat Roger’s confidence in the meaningfulness of the 70% public agreement with the AGW ‘consensus’ he seemed to claim [in his very interesting address in Australia this week to the Lowy Institute ] , to be a compelling affirmation of the unassailable correctness of the ‘consensus’ view.