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Search for answers to Qld flooding begins

Published: 9:35PM Thursday February 10, 2011 Source: AAP

The long effort to learn lessons from Queensland's fatal summer of floods has started, with the head of a judicial inquiry vowing the loss and destruction will never be forgotten.

The Queensland Floods Commission sat for the first time on Thursday, with Justice Catherine Holmes making her opening remarks about the vast task ahead.

Flooding has killed 35 people in Queensland since November 30 last year and left three-quarters of the state disaster declared. Seven people remain missing.

Justice Holmes told a packed Brisbane courtroom that while it was the commission's first sitting, it had been in a state of "frantic business" since it was formed on January 17.

It had already travelled twice to the Lockyer Valley, as well as Toowoomba, and was planning another trip soon to hear from residents in an "informal" setting.

The flood's aftermath in the Lockyer Valley alone had left an "indelible impression" on her, she said.

"The task before us is enormous because of the variety of issues to be addressed in a very short timeframe," Justice Holmes said.

In the year-long inquiry's sights are the role of Brisbane's Wivenhoe and Somerset dams in the city's flooding, whether warnings were adequate ahead of the deadly flash floods in Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley, and the state's readiness for floods.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Peter Callaghan, said there had been no similar inquiry after Brisbane's 1974 floods, and it was vital for lessons to be learned.

"1974 became a shorthand term which was understood to relate to flooding, but with the passage of time gradually lost meaning and failed to properly convey the true sense of loss and destruction associated with events of this nature," he said.

"This commission affords an opportunity to ensure that the lessons which might be learned on this occasion are recorded.

"In this way, it might be hoped that Queenslanders are neither condemned to the fate of those who cannot remember the past nor left vulnerable at the hands of those who might choose to forget it."

Callaghan said the flood commission's website was already live and it would advertise this weekend for submissions.

Submissions on flood preparedness for next summer would be sought by March 11, in order for the commission to meet the August 17 deadline for its first report.

Dates for the hearings, which will be held in some regional locations, are yet to be set, but will be streamed live on the website where possible.

Callaghan said submissions were invited from "all individuals who feel that the inquiry should hear something that they have to say" - with or without legal representation.

But he also reminded observers that the inquiry had powers to order witnesses and evidence, and there was no right to silence on the basis of self-incrimination.

"No amount of legal argument will prevent the commission from inquiring into any matter of legitimate interest," he said.

Premier Anna Bligh said she was looking forward to getting to the bottom of the disaster's causes.

"I look forward to hearing answers to some of those questions that I share with other Queenslanders," she told reporters in Sydney.

Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek said the inquiry must be able to operate without commentary from the government.

"It's important that everything be investigated in a full and frank manner and I think, importantly, without commentary from the government," he told ABC Radio.

The commission's final report is due on January 17, 2012.