Angry reactions have erupted to the $3.6 million fine handed to the operator of Gold Coast theme park Dreamworld over the 2016 Thunder River Rapids ride tragedy that killed four people.
Commentator and ABC journalist Patricia Karvelas, a friend of two of the victims, took to social media to express her disgust at the sentence for being too light.
“This is the penalty for the death of my friends? What a dark day #dreamworld,” she said on Twitter.
Several people have already responded, with user Antifa for life saying “they won’t even notice that fine”.
Fiona Plant described it as ‘appalling’, while Michael Martin said it was “not even close to good enough”.
Ardent Leisure was facing a maximum penalty of $4.5 million after it pleaded guilty in July to charges relating to failing to comply with its health and safety duty, and exposing individuals to a risk of serious injury or death.
The company was sentenced in Southport Magistrate’s Court on Monday after a hearing where families of the four victims told of the grief they continued to experience as a result of the shocking deaths.
Cindy Low, Kate Goodchild, her brother Luke Dorsett and his partner Roozi Araghi were killed in October 2016 when the popular family ride malfunctioned, throwing them from the raft and trapping them underneath the mechanical conveyor belt.
During the sentencing hearing, Ms Goodchild’s mum Kim Dorsett said she now lived her life as if she was on a spin cycle in a washing machine.
“A broken heart has no words,” she said.
Magistrate Pamela Dowse said Ardent Leisure had a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of all workers and those people affected by their work at the theme park.
“They (Ardent Leisure) operated the most iconic amusement park in the country, which targeted and attracted families,” she said.
“There was complete and blind trust placed in the defendant by every guest who rode the Thunder River Rapids Ride.
“These guests were extremely vulnerable.”
The company has just one month to pay the fine.
Each charge carried a maximum penalty of $1.5 million.
Magistrate Dowse said the penalties were “indicative of the seriousness” of the charges.
“In this instance, the potential consequences of the risk are and were catastrophic. Steps were available to lessen, minimise or remove risk, and steps were not that complex or burdensome and only mildly inconvenient and really were inexpensive,” she said.
“The defendant continued to place considerable reliance on busy ride operators to identify, assess and respond to any potential safety issues, such as the pump failure.
“Operators were … not necessarily prepared with the appropriate (safety response) training.”
Family members of the victims bravely appeared in court at the time, including Ms Dorsett, who lost her son and daughter on the ride.
The Gold Coast Bulletin reports Ms Dorsett read a victim impact statement to the packed courtroom on Monday while a number of other family members watched via videolink.
Ms Dorsett said: “I cry for my lost children everyday.”
Magistrate Dowse said the victim impact statements read to the court spoke of the “lifelong impact” of the tragedy.
Prosecutor Aaron Guilfoyle explained how the ride worked, outlining in detail what happened in the lead up to the tragedy.
The court heard it would have cost just $3000 for safety measures to minimise the risk of pump failure, which ultimately caused the tragedy.
It was also revealed in court there were several ways the raft could have been stopped, including an emergency stop button, of which there was none in place for the conveyor on the main panel.
Audits conducted in 2004, 2009, 2013, and 2014-15 all recommended a single emergency stop button to replace the multi-step shutdown system in place on the ride.
Ardent Leisure chairman Dr Gary Weiss and theme parks division chief executive John Osborne said there had been “considerable change” at Dreamworld, as had been acknowledged by the coroner’s report.
“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 news ones, as we develop and implement our safety case in accordance with the Queensland Government’s new major amusement park safety regulations,” a statement issued earlier in the year read.
Outside the courtroom on Monday, Mr Osborne once again apologised “unreservedly” for the failures of Dreamworld.
“On behalf to the Ardent board and the new Dreamworld leadership team, I would also like to express our deepest sympathies,” he said.
“It is impossible to comprehend how the families feel. My thoughts and prayers are with them.
“Ardent accepts responsibility for this tragedy, and we fully accept the consequences.”
Magistrate Dowse took into consideration the early plea of guilty, the remorse shown by Ardent Leisure, and the swath of safety measures that have been introduced since the incident.