‘Disturbing’ inquest exposes Dreamworld’s critical failings

THE most shocking thing about the Dreamworld inquest was that the horrific tragedy really shouldn't have come as a shock at all.

The inquest exposed so many failings, on so many levels, that the bigger shock is that something like this didn't happen sooner.

Cindy Low, Roozi Araghi, Luke Dorsett and Kate Goodchild were killed on the Thunder River Rapids Ride at Dreamworld in 2016.
Cindy Low, Roozi Araghi, Luke Dorsett and Kate Goodchild were killed on the Thunder River Rapids Ride at Dreamworld in 2016.

The Thunder River Rapids, one of the tamest attractions in the whole park, had itself been the scene of several close calls over the years, including one eerily similar to the 2016 disaster, where empty rafts during a routine morning test run collided in a pileup of shattered fibreglass, leaving one staffer to shudder at what might have happened if people had been on-board.

Significant concerns went unheeded and ride shutdown protocols either weren't universally adopted or weren't understood.

How many times can the pump fail before the ride was shut down for the day?

Two? Three? Not sure?

Which was the most important shutdown button?

The floral tribute at Dreamworld where four people were killed following an accident on the Thunder Rapids ride. Picture: Glenn Hunt
The floral tribute at Dreamworld where four people were killed following an accident on the Thunder Rapids ride. Picture: Glenn Hunt

The ride's control panel looked like the flight deck of a spaceship from Star Wars, an information overload of red and green buttons, switches and levers.

Giving evidence, staffers gave various accounts of how to best initiate a shutdown.

Sitting in the media gallery, it was disturbing to watch.

It's for these reasons, and plenty more, that today's findings from Coroner James McDougall will not make pleasant reading for Dreamworld and parent company Ardent Leisure.

But there will be no public lynching.

Coronial officers repeatedly stated that the inquest was not a witch hunt looking for a scapegoat.

And while the Queensland government reacted swiftly with tough new workplace safety laws paving the way for industrial manslaughter charges against company executives, the laws are not retrospective and cannot be applied to the Thunder River Rapids case.

Similarly, under changes introduced at the start of the millennium, Queensland coroners no longer have the power to recommend charges.

Police investigate the ride accident. Picture: Nigel Hallett
Police investigate the ride accident. Picture: Nigel Hallett

They can instead 'refer' a case back to investigators, in this case most likely from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland, for further consideration.

Exactly what form that consideration takes remains to be seen.

Lawyers close to the case believe potential prosecution and heavy fines for Ardent Leisure as a company are possible, while action against individual office bearers such as executives, would be unlikely.

Dreamworld has already moved to redefine itself with a new world's-best-practice commitment to safety, pledging to uphold standards similar to those seen in the aviation industry.

That will be little consolation to the relatives of Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett, Roozi Araghi and Cindy Low, but it might just stop this sad, sorry tale from ever happening again.

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