‘‘We just want to know what happened’’ at Central Pier

‘‘We just want to know what happened’’ at Central Pier

By Sean Car

Former Central Pier tenants and members of the Friends of Central Pier lobby group have renewed calls for a parliamentary inquiry into its closure by Development Victoria.

It follows Reason Party leader and Member for Northern Metropolitan Fiona Patten’s question to the Minister for Workplace Safety Ingrid Stitt in the Victorian Legislative Council in February asking why the government was yet to launch an investigation.

“Despite the clear and obvious workplace safety risk, an investigation was never launched, and this put at risk 1300 workers and the thou- sands of visitors to the pier, so I ask the Minister to explain why no investigation was launched,” Ms Patten said.

Ingrid Stitt replied that while the matters were still before the Federal Court, she was prepared to look further into WorkSafe issues revealed in court documents by The Age in February, but refused to commit to a formal investigation.

General manager of Austage Events Nick Ellul, whose business once provided and managed audio-visual infrastructure for events held at Central Pier, said all businesses and staff just wanted to understand what happened.

“We’re talking in the media about 600 jobs that have been saved at a smelter in Portland and that gets the Prime Minister’s attention, but we lose more than 1300 jobs at Central Pier in Docklands and that manages to get buried,” he said.

“I feel like there is no vindication for my staff who lost their jobs. This is someone upstream who obviously done their job given the timber that we stood on every day was rotting and liable to give way at any moment.”

Having once employed around 15 full-time staff and around 30 part-time staff to run equipment at events held at Central Pier for eight years, Mr Ellul told Docklands News that he’d only since managed to transition “a hand- ful of them” since the closure.

After Federal Court documents revealed Development Victoria knew about the risk of a “catastrophic” failure of the marine structure some years before its sudden evacuation in August 2019, he compared the oversight to that of flammable cladding on high-rise towers.

“Given it’s sitting on 1300 pieces of timber, that’s not one or two pieces that they’ve missed. How is it that enough of those have been missed that are broken and rotten that we need to have an emergency evacuation,” Mr Ellul said.

“Post-traumatic stress syndrome is not an unwarranted term given that we didn’t know when we were going to get back and the future of our jobs. We were told on the night that they needed four weeks to assess it. Then they needed another three months.”

“Within several weeks all of our work just began vaporising for the next two years so we literally saw our businesses evaporating in front of our eyes. That made it doubly hard for the staff.”

“They could of given us that chance to tran- sition our businesses on the night, even years before given what The Age uncovered. Instead they chose to try and bury it. They knew what was going on but they chose not to notify us about it and, in turn, put the public’s safety and our staff’s safety and risk.”

“That leaves us dismayed and devasted. We still have assets on that pier that we’ll never be able to recover.”

Development Victoria is expected to begin a public consultation into the pier’s future use by the middle of the year •

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