Calls for parliamentary flood inquiry after chair quits

Calls for a parliamentary inquiry into last October’s Maribyrnong River flood are being shrugged off by the Andrews government, despite two separate motions from the Greens and the Coalition after the independence of Melbourne Water’s review was called into question.

The head of the Maribyrnong River flood inquiry, Nick Wimbush, resigned on Tuesday night.

Two people ride through flood waters from the Maribyrnong River in October 2022.Credit:Scott McNaughton

The resignation came after The Age revealed on Tuesday afternoon his previous role in supporting planning changes that led to a riverside retirement village in Avondale Heights building homes in areas swamped during last year’s disaster.

The possibility of a separate inquiry in the Victorian parliament has strengthened, with both the opposition and the Greens now seeking to establish a review.

Premier Daniel Andrews on Wednesday said an inquiry into the flood should be led by experts.

“The more and more politicians are involved in this, the less likely we are to get the outcome that residents and all Victorians want and need,” Andrews said.

Wimbush’s resignation followed revelations on Monday that Melbourne Water’s early warning system failed to give adequate warning to residents in the suburb of Maribyrnong last October. As the river rose rapidly, residents had just moments to leave their homes.

The terms of reference for the flood review sparked anger among residents after it included flood modelling but specifically excluded reviewing warning procedures.

Water Minister Harriet Shing dismissed suggestions that Melbourne Water’s review could not be independent, despite the authority being government-owned and reviewing some of its own processes and decisions.

“It’s independent in that government is not involved in it and it wouldn’t therefore be appropriate for me to run a commentary on the way that Melbourne Water has conducted its review,” she said.

Shing also would not comment on the appropriateness of Melbourne Water appointing Wimbush to run its review. “It would undermine the independence of the review,” she said.

Opposition Leader John Pesutto called on the Andrews government to “explain the conflict of interest that was allowed to occur surrounding the Maribyrnong flood inquiry”.

Leader of the opposition in the upper house Georgie Crozier introduced a motion on Tuesday for a parliamentary inquiry that would probe the adequacy of Victoria’s early warning systems, the resourcing of the State Emergency Service, and mitigation structures such as walls and levees – all factors that will not be considered by Melbourne Water’s review.

Meanwhile, the Greens on Wednesday will introduce a motion calling for the establishment of the upper house parliamentary inquiry they want to look into last year’s Maribyrnong River floods.

Greens water spokeswoman Ellen Sandell said their inquiry would help close gaps left by Melbourne Water’s review. She said it was far too narrow in scope and left affected communities in suburbs including Maribyrnong, Avondale Heights, Kensington, Ascot Vale and Flemington “deeply disappointed”.

Sandell said a broader-ranging inquiry into the floods was needed to explore issues including “why early warning systems didn’t work, and how we can better protect homes and lives during climate disasters”.

Both Melbourne Water’s review and the Greens’ upper house inquiry will look at the impact of the Flemington Racecourse flood wall the on Maribyrnong River flooding, and whether it exacerbated the impact on homes in surrounding areas.

“Last year areas of Kensington and Maribyrnong were under metres of water while the Flemington racecourse was kept dry by a flood wall,” Sandell said.

“The community are rightly outraged that the Labor government seems to want to sweep important questions about the flood under the carpet.”

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