Make your own free website on

85 Gellibrand St.,

COLAC 3250



Ph 0352335544

0352315497 H

 Fax 0352 313823



Ms Karen Harrison

Coroners Court

43 Paramatta Rd



Re Thredbo hearings



Dear Karen,


Following our telephone conversation. I am resending the documents I sent to the Coroners Court on the fax on the 31st July and the 1st August 1997.


As you would appreciate, those original documents (Appendices A1and A2) are hastily drafted questions and comments that could be better put with more time, and in the light of a site visit or closer examination. (Neither of which than I had then or since)


My main reasons for writing are, at least, twofold.   I have been extensively involved in coordinating an effective approach to landslide and risk protection for over 20yrs. I am also

very familiar with the practical reasons why institutions and the processes (both public and private) are less effective in this area in the late 1990’s than they were say, a decade ago. 


The attached examples of reports to Local Government and Referral Agencies indicate, I hope, the broad range of Local Government, Departmental (Fire, EPA, Parks, Flora, Mines) and private sector (in this case geotechnical) expertise that I coordinated as part of my work during the decade up to 1994. 


While we were not always effective as an environmental risk planning group in the years up to 1994, the only damage has been to property. Considering the huge area of risk (see Map A4) and, in the light of what has happened in the Otways Region since the team was dismembered, we did a lot of effective work and had a culture and a professional edge worth promoting.(Around two months of work for one person each year?) Ultimately, though, we were too effective? How do you talk about “outcomes” (deaths and damage) that haven’t occurred because you’ve been effective in stopping them?[1]


I am also writing, as I did in August 1997, because I believe you should, at the very least, investigate closely the broadest of issues, and process failure in particular. It would be too easy for the system to find one or two persons or bodies responsible. In fact, this kicking of people for not doing their job is too easy for leaders who can carelessly expect them to do the impossible.


The constant degradation of “the job” from continual restructures in the management sectors is sapping professional commitment amongst capable and objective field people both inside and outside the public divisions. This often well intentioned change is the reason for much real failure and perception predicaments in the preventative health fields in the last decade.


Lastly, I am also very keen to make some suggestions on balance issues, because a relatively small amount of redirected resources into prevention practice in the right place could make a huge difference to government and private sector effectiveness across a whole range of health and environmental planning issues. (An important Commission for the Future??!!)


I recognise that the balance between government and private sector roles could go to the heart of some of the controversies and important competence issues you may come across.


I also know both sides of the above story and have been effectively operating across the boundaries for decades.  A better balance would clearly give more sound briefs to the private and expert sectors on these matters-for one thing. As you are no doubt aware, the private sector and the client can sometimes presume too much about its ability to anticipate environmental problems. Distortions over environmental risks/values commonly create unreal expectations and extreme positioning.


Effectiveness in risk management, perhaps more than any area of competency I know, threatens leaders who, blindly or otherwise, are intent on removing known foundations of sound effective and independent advice-for something that works at least as well? For the cost? I don’t think so! I know so! I knew the current balance was dangerous before Aug97!A9


I would be happy to answer any questions you have about these complex matters. I am sure you have more than enough to read-by now.

One more important issue remains. Some understanding of the role of denial is critical in establishing any predisposition to failure in many risk management scenarios.

I have written extensively on the subject since the late 1980’s (If you are interested I can send you more on this).


Kind regards




John Modra




Attachments ( Author J.Modra)

1.       July 31st note  to Coronial Inquiry

2.       August 1st note  to Coronial Inquiry

3.       1984  Regional Guideline on Floods and Natural Disasters

4.       Map of Risk areas in Southern Victoria ( My work area)

5.       Overview of Otways slope stability issues.(Some examples)

6.       Strategy outline of local NRE roles in development  planning coordination.(1992)

7.       Copies of planning applications

8.       Examples of Newspaper articles on risk assessment and works planning

[1] At least two new houses have been permitted in the Otways below large and relatively active landslides in 1998. On one of those sites, I stopped development about ten years ago. As we no longer review these things properly, there is now no consistency or protection.