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Royal Canberra Hospital implosion leaves enduring legacy

By Peter Clack - 18 July 2014 20

katie-bender

The botched demolition of the Royal Canberra Hospital in 1997 is memorialised by the tragic death of 12-year-old Katie Bender, an innocent bystander who attended the event with her family.

The Bender family was part of an estimated 100,000 people who crammed around the lakeshore to view the hospital implosion, which had been vigorously promoted by the ACT Government under Chief Minister Kate Carnell and her cabinet colleagues, including her deputy Gary Humphries.

But the mismanaged demolition has so badly handled that many hundreds of people could have been killed and maimed. As it was nine other people sustained serious injuries and spinning shrapnel in chunks up to 12 kg whirled up to 650 metres, smashing into boats and cars and whistling through the treetops.

It is now 17 years since that Sunday afternoon (13 July 1997) and a lakeside memorial serves to remind us of the personal tragedy for Katie and her family and friends.

But there is no memorial to the undemocratic master strokes that led to the destruction of the historic Royal Canberra Hospital and the loss of the city’s central public hospital, sited adjacent to the Australian National University and perfect for a research or training centre. Instead we have the towering mass of Woden Valley Hospital, crammed onto a small unsightly block and forced into ever-growing upwards expansion.

Nor was there any public consultation before handing the picturesque Acton Peninsula to the Federal Government of John Howard as home for the new National Museum of Australia. In exchange, Canberra people received the largely toxic Kingston shoreline of Lake Burley Griffin.

The promise of a bustling promenade of cafeterias, restaurants and lakeside entertainment just never happened. Instead, it was just one more land grab that created an expensive enclave of high rise, glass and steel. It was money for the ACT Government and profits for investors.

The Carnell Government came in for severe criticism for its handling of the hospital implosion. The subsequent Coronial inquiry revealed the full extent of the appalling mismanagement and recommended laying criminal charges, but these never eventuated.

Coroner Shane Madden cleared Carnell (as Chief Minister) of any personal responsibility but he said in his report that the Carnell Government had turned the implosion into a public circus – and this had the approval of the Chief Minister. The Government had been cavalier in its attitude to safety; “…the evidence on this topic leads me to conclude that Carnell was poorly briefed and advised on this subject matter”.  He said safety was, “sacrificed in the interests of speed and expediency”.

Canberra people had no voice in the destruction of their much loved hospital or the secretive way the whole affair was conducted. The decision to “bomb” the hospital and to prevent the building being preserved for other uses was made by the Canberra Liberal Party and its political staffers.

Other key players in the hospital fiasco are various ACT senior public servants, who appear to have a special talent for consistently fouling up the administration of Canberra and failed and bungled projects stretching all the way back to self-government in 1989.

Yet the central players in the whole affair have all gone on to successful careers inside and outside politics.

Carnell is CEO of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, having held a series of high profile CEO jobs, since she resigned in October 2000 over the Bruce Stadium debacle.

Gary Humphries became ACT Chief Minister and went on the take the Liberal’s Senate seat, a role he had always coveted.

The main senior Liberal staff member who was central to the land swap of Acton Peninsula for the Kingston Foreshore, Gary Dawson, is now the CEO of the Australian Food and Grocery Council, a position previously held by Kate Carnell.

It appears to be an injustice that a young girl with all the bright hopes of her life before her should die in such a storm of mismanagement and self-interest. And yet no-one was found to be responsible.

(Photo By Bidgee (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5-au (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/au/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons)

What’s Your opinion?


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20 Responses to
Royal Canberra Hospital implosion leaves enduring legacy
1
gooterz 9:37 am
18 Jul 14
#

Somewhat rude to use Katie’s purely as a political statement.
The hospital was bomb proof and should never been imploded, i doubt a chief minister will have the skills to know differently.

The fact is 100,000 people wanted to watch, had it gone to plan would have been as a good event. Should we also hold ACT Labor responsible for all the road deaths in the act?

I thought there was also a rock for where katie was.

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2
Mr Gillespie 10:16 am
18 Jul 14
#

With respect Peter Clack, it’s not all about Katie Bender. It’s about all of Canberra. Everyone that lives here regardless of their views and feelings, and the fact that we are all now not allowed to watch demolitions/implosions because of overzealous “safety”, like remember the 2 bridges at the Glenloch Interchange that were shrouded in outrageous Russian-style secrecy? Remember when traffic was held up kilometres down Parkes Way? Remember the early-morning demolition?

I’m sorry Peter, but pulling my heartstrings by talking about this one person as a “young, innocent girl” doesn’t detract from the fact that this is not a perfect world, and accidents happen however much you try to avoid them.

I do remember Peter. I do remember.

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3
magiccar9 10:55 am
18 Jul 14
#

So, what was the point of this post?

There seems to be about 10 different subjects half-heartedly being pushed here, within 16 paragraphs.

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4
Earl 11:13 am
18 Jul 14
#

Mr Gillespie said :

With respect Peter Clack, it’s not all about Katie Bender. It’s about all of Canberra. Everyone that lives here regardless of their views and feelings, and the fact that we are all now not allowed to watch demolitions/implosions because of overzealous “safety”, like remember the 2 bridges at the Glenloch Interchange that were shrouded in outrageous Russian-style secrecy? Remember when traffic was held up kilometres down Parkes Way? Remember the early-morning demolition?

I’m sorry Peter, but pulling my heartstrings by talking about this one person as a “young, innocent girl” doesn’t detract from the fact that this is not a perfect world, and accidents happen however much you try to avoid them.

I do remember Peter. I do remember.

The death of Katie Bender was no accident, but the consequence of systematic negligence. If you analyse every part of the project, there is not one part that wasn’t fundamentally flawed – and as always the rot started from the head.

This was a tragic and totally unnecessary outcome, and that is why it is so important to remember Katie’s death because these are the potential consequences when political influences are able to subvert established safety principles.

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5
Peter Holland 11:26 am
18 Jul 14
#

Why is this being dragged out again? The implosion happened 17 years ago. Why not remind us of the Canberra fires, and the debacle with respect to political control? These are past events. The local government is not liberal, and the NCAA is bringing in paid parking in the parliamentary triangle. Wasn’t it senator humphries who stopped them last time? Why isn’t zed stopping them now? How about dealing with the present or the future and leave the implosion, the fires, etc in the past?

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6
creative_canberran 12:32 pm
18 Jul 14
#

Earl said :

The death of Katie Bender was no accident…

‘accident’ (noun)

“An unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury”

I.e. the opposite of something done with intent.

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7
Josh Mulrine 1:14 pm
18 Jul 14
#

Very moving article Peter. You have repainted the picture quite vividly.

It was a game of finger pointing and a damn shame for not just Katie’s family, but Canberrans alike.

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8
mountainman 3:18 pm
18 Jul 14
#

Peter Holland said :

Why is this being dragged out again? The implosion happened 17 years ago. Why not remind us of the Canberra fires, and the debacle with respect to political control? These are past events. The local government is not liberal, and the NCAA is bringing in paid parking in the parliamentary triangle. Wasn’t it senator humphries who stopped them last time? Why isn’t zed stopping them now? How about dealing with the present or the future and leave the implosion, the fires, etc in the past?

Why not bring this back up its Canberra in retrospect. However Peter is a very good authority on the fires writing Firestorm Trial by error!

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9
gooterz 4:37 pm
18 Jul 14
#

mountainman said :

Peter Holland said :

Why is this being dragged out again? The implosion happened 17 years ago. Why not remind us of the Canberra fires, and the debacle with respect to political control? These are past events. The local government is not liberal, and the NCAA is bringing in paid parking in the parliamentary triangle. Wasn’t it senator humphries who stopped them last time? Why isn’t zed stopping them now? How about dealing with the present or the future and leave the implosion, the fires, etc in the past?

Why not bring this back up its Canberra in retrospect. However Peter is a very good authority on the fires writing Firestorm Trial by error!

Respect for the Bender family for one. Must be hard every year for them, 17 years has no relevancy to the current topics of today.

Its true that we should learn from our mistakes but part of the process is moving on.

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10
John Moulis 5:15 pm
18 Jul 14
#

Peter Holland said :

Why is this being dragged out again? The implosion happened 17 years ago. Why not remind us of the Canberra fires, and the debacle with respect to political control? These are past events. The local government is not liberal, and the NCAA is bringing in paid parking in the parliamentary triangle. Wasn’t it senator humphries who stopped them last time? Why isn’t zed stopping them now? How about dealing with the present or the future and leave the implosion, the fires, etc in the past?

I have to wonder the same thing. Why this year is there so much focus on this anniversary when in the past it slipped by without anybody noticing. It isn’t even a round figure like 10 or 20 years, it is the 17th anniversary, a decidedly odd number. Please, let’s move on for goodness sake.

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11
Masquara 5:27 pm
18 Jul 14
#

Peter Holland said :

Why is this being dragged out again? …

Because people have quite some “emotional baggage” (immortal words attributed to Annabel Pegrum) around their birthplace.

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12
bundah 5:57 pm
18 Jul 14
#

John Moulis said :

Peter Holland said :

Why is this being dragged out again? The implosion happened 17 years ago. Why not remind us of the Canberra fires, and the debacle with respect to political control? These are past events. The local government is not liberal, and the NCAA is bringing in paid parking in the parliamentary triangle. Wasn’t it senator humphries who stopped them last time? Why isn’t zed stopping them now? How about dealing with the present or the future and leave the implosion, the fires, etc in the past?

I have to wonder the same thing. Why this year is there so much focus on this anniversary when in the past it slipped by without anybody noticing. It isn’t even a round figure like 10 or 20 years, it is the 17th anniversary, a decidedly odd number. Please, let’s move on for goodness sake.

Well there was this two years ago in the Canberry Times marking 15 years since the hospital implosion debacle and tragedy

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/15-years-since-hospital-implosion-tragedy-20120713-22034.html

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13
John Hargreaves Ex M 6:38 pm
18 Jul 14
#

Masquara said :

Peter Holland said :

Why is this being dragged out again? …

Because people have quite some “emotional baggage” (immortal words attributed to Annabel Pegrum) around their birthplace.

Thanks Peter for the reminder. We should get it every year. Like many, my kids were born in that hospital, and my mother died there. I mourn its passing regularly. But…. the tragedy that was Katie hits hard even now. To some of the rioters posts…. don’t treat it so lightly – if we don’t learn from the past, we’ll cock up the future…

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14
Masquara 7:12 pm
18 Jul 14
#

John Hargreaves Ex MLA said :

Masquara said :

Peter Holland said :

Why is this being dragged out again? …

Because people have quite some “emotional baggage” (immortal words attributed to Annabel Pegrum) around their birthplace.

Thanks Peter for the reminder. We should get it every year. Like many, my kids were born in that hospital, and my mother died there. I mourn its passing regularly. But…. the tragedy that was Katie hits hard even now. To some of the rioters posts…. don’t treat it so lightly – if we don’t learn from the past, we’ll cock up the future…

I think you are acknowledging the wrong quote there! Check back through the posts …

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15
rommeldog56 10:01 pm
18 Jul 14
#

magiccar9 said :

So, what was the point of this post?

There seems to be about 10 different subjects half-heartedly being pushed here, within 16 paragraphs.

The point ? To me, its about pausing to think about how political grandstanding – whether its about a hospital implosion or introducing a Light Rail – can effect everyone and have unintended consequences/risks.

What it reminds me of is a sad loss of a life. As does the bushfires and other events due to negligence or poor planning of some sort.

Also sadly, the almost impossibility of holding Gov’ts and their bureaucrats to account at Law or via administrative processes. Indeed, instead the Politicians and their bureaucrats seem to go onto bigger and better things !

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