One of Queensland’s most influential businessmen has spoken of how he and his family have suffered, particularly at the hands of the media after the deadly 2011 Grantham flood.
Denis Wagner and his family owned a quarry on the outskirts of Grantham when, on January 10, 2011, flooding devastated the small southeast Queensland town and claimed 12 lives.
Mr Wagner told the Grantham Floods Commission of Inquiry the quarry was one of several aspects to his family’s vast construction empire, which still included a private airport outside Toowoomba.
But he said the quarry, which was sold in 2012, had affected his family and its company Wagners both emotionally and financially.
“The allegation that had been made is that a quarry wall collapsed and caused the flood at Grantham, so I don’t believe that to be the case,” he said.
Over the course of the inquiry, including his two days of evidence this week, Mr Wagner changed his view that the quarry’s western embankment wall was a natural feature of the landscape, to conceding part of it was man-made.
Commissioner Walter Sofronoff QC asked Mr Wagner whether his original belief, which was at loggerheads with community sentiment, caused his family to become the target of “opprobrium”, or harsh criticism.
“I don’t believe so,” Mr Wagner said on Thursday. “I do believe, however, there are some terribly vindictive people in media, particularly radio media that have very little regard for the truth.”
Shock jock Alan Jones has been highly critical of Mr Wagner, while The Australian newspaper helped spark the current inquiry by commissioning an independent study that showed inconsistencies between the evidence and a broader probe in 2012 that found the quarry didn’t have an effect.
Although he and his family had suffered in the wake of the flood, Mr Wagner admitted it was nothing compared with what residents endured.
“There are some inspirational stories from the people of this region and I, and our family, have sympathy for those people that were affected,” he said.
“Particularly those who lost family and friends. It’s harrowing stuff.”
Mr Wagner’s employees will give evidence over the next few days.
He told media he wouldn’t comment publicly on the inquiry until it had finished.
Mr Sofronoff is due to hand down his findings and recommendations by August 31.