The operators of the Gold Coast theme park pleaded guilty in the Southport Magistrates Court to three charges relating to failing to comply with its health and safety duty, exposing individuals to a risk of serious injury or death.
Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett, Roozi Araghi and Cindy Low died when the Thunder River Rapids ride malfunctioned in October 2016.
The tragic malfunction, around 2:15pm on 25 October 2016, saw two rafts collide on a mechanised conveyor near the ride’s unloading area. One raft partially flipped and was pulled vertically into the conveyor trapping four people. A 10-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl survived.
Ardent Leisure will face a plea hearing on 28 September on the charges that carry a maximum combined penalty of $4.5 million.
Queensland’s independent Work Health and Safety Prosecutor Aaron Guilfoyle charged the company under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 following Coroner James MacDougall’s six-week inquest into the deaths in 2018.
In a brief appearance in Southport Magistrates Court this morning, Ardent Leisure represented by barrister Bruce Hodgkinson, entered guilty pleas to all counts.
In Bundaberg. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said she could understand the families of the victims wanting closure.
“What happened at Dreamworld was an absolute tragedy,” Palaszczuk said.
Dreamworld and WhiteWater World remain closed on the Gold Coast, with Australia’s biggest theme park stating on its website that it plans a staged re-opening in time for the September school holidays.
After the charges were laid on 21 July, Dreamworld expressed sympathy to the families of the four who died while visiting the theme park and stated significant changes had since been made to safety procedures.
“Dreamworld has taken substantive and proactive steps to improve safety across the entire park and continues to enhance existing systems and practices, as well as adopt new ones, as we develop and implement our safety case in accordance with the Queensland Government’s new major amusement park safety regulations,” the company said.
“The new leadership team is committed to continuing to improve and enhance safety systems and practices with the aim of becoming a global industry leader in theme park safety and operations.”
The coroner’s report, handed down on February 20 this year, was scathing in its findings against the park, concluding the design and construction of the ride posed a “significant risk” to patrons’ safety and the park’s systems were “frighteningly unsophisticated.”
The coroner found the park’s safety and maintenance systems were “rudimentary at best” and there had been a “systemic failure by Dreamworld in relation to all aspects of safety.”
Shareholders in Ardent Leisure are also suing the company over the 2016 incident. They have launched a class action in the Federal Court to have Ardent Leisure compensate them for financial losses due to an inflated share price before, and the exacerbated losses since, the incident on the ride that was meant to be safe.
This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas