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Ardent Leisure Limited fined $3.6m over Dreamworld fatalities

By

28 September 2020

After pleading guilty, Ardent Leisure Limited has been sentenced in the Southport Magistrates Court in relation to Thunder River Rapids Ride tragedy at Dreamworld on 25 October 2016, where four people lost their lives.

The defendant pleaded guilty to three offences contrary to s.32 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the WHS Act). Each charge concerned a breach by the defendant of its primary safety duty under s.19(2) of the WHS Act to ensure that the health and safety of members of the public were not put at risk.

Dreamworld’s parent company, Ardent Leisure, was fined a record $3.6M, with convictions recorded.

The matter was referred to the independent Work Health and Safety Prosecutor, Mr Aaron Guilfoyle, after Coroner James MacDougall released his inquest findings. Mr Guilfoyle subsequently laid charges against Ardent Leisure.

"The brief of evidence referred to my office supported those charges", said Mr Guilfoyle.

"The brief was thoroughly assessed against the Guidelines of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

"I determined, having considered the evidence, that it was not appropriate to lay any further charges, including against any individuals."

Mr Guilfoyle hopes today’s result will give the families of the victims some sense that justice has been served.

"I am conscious that no penalty can account for their profound loss," he said.

"However, the penalty is significant, the largest fine in the history of WHS prosecution in the country.

"Ardent Leisure today acknowledged its failures and, in the course of the sentence, it unreservedly apologised for them.

"The penalty imposed reflects the seriousness of the conduct of Ardent Leisure and the tragic consequences which flowed from it."

"Today’s outcome wouldn’t have been possible without the work of many dedicated officers who contributed to both the investigation and prosecution process.

"I thank them all for their very significant contribution over the last four years."

Four guests on the Thunder River Rapids Ride at the Dreamworld Theme Park were killed after the raft they had been travelling in collided with another raft. The extensive Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigation revealed failures across a number of areas.

In pleading guilty, Ardent Leisure accepted that it failed, so far as was reasonably practicable, to ensure: the provision and maintenance of safe plant and structures; the provision and maintenance of safe systems of work; and, the provision of the information, training, instruction and supervision that was necessary to protect all persons from risks to their health and safety.

In sentencing, Magistrate Pamela Dowse observed, "The defendant operated the most iconic amusement park in the country. It targeted and attracted families. Those who were at risk from its failures were guests at the park, including those guests who tragically lost their lives. Complete and blind trust was placed in the defendant by every guest who rode the Thunder River Rapids Ride. Those guests were vulnerable."

"The failures of the defendant were not momentary and did not occur on the day of the incident. They were failures well before then, which led to what ultimately transpired.  Nor were they confined to a discrete safety obligation,” Magistrate Dowse said.

"Whilst the defendant directed resources towards safety, and implemented some control measures and improvements over time, its efforts were grossly below the standard that was rightly expected of it.  A variety of control measures were available to it, which would have minimised or eliminated the relevant risk."

"The defendant was aware of the risk of failure of the administrative controls, but continued to rely too heavily upon them, notwithstanding that, in most of the previous investigations into incidents on the ride, the primary cause was attributed to operator error in failing to follow operation procedures."

"In some instances, reasonably practicable control measures which would have reduced the risk were identified, but not implemented. The defendant failed to appreciate the increased risk in not doing so."

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For any media enquiries, contact: oirmedia@oir.qld.gov.au or 0478 33 22 00.