Four people died at Dreamworld on Tuesday. The horrible accident has rocked Australia and fans of one of the country's most popular theme parks, with questions and public fury following the park's management and executives. Families of the victims say they've been kept out of the loop, the CEO of the park's parent company was forced into an embarrassing backflip over a big bonus she was to receive, and a planned re-opening was quashed by police within hours.
The circumstances are tragic, and obviously all parties are distraught; the families, Dreamworld staff, and not least the company behind the park. But serious questions are being raised about how Dreamworld and its parent company Ardent Leisure have responded to the tragedy. Opinion pieces are now targeting Ardent, with respected business journalist Michael Pascoe writing it had "has failed at every hurdle since the tragedy".
CEO Deborah Thomas has admitted as much herself, saying on Friday "If I haven't handled it as well as we could, we thought we were doing the right thing in terms of the way we approached it through the police."
Chief among criticisms is the way Dreamworld and Ardent has dealt with the families of the victims. Thomas told a press conference on Thursday that the company "offered them every assistance" but that claim was directly contradicted when a Channel Ten journalist said the Dorsett family had not heard from Dreamworld.
"They say that they've had no direct contact whatsoever. No one's even reached out to them," the reporter said.
"They've even sent me her mobile phone number, saying 'can someone please call her?'"
"We didn't know how to contact them," Thomas replied.
The Araghi family reported similar frustrations, telling the ABC on Thursday that they had not been contacted by police.
"We resorted to even ringing triple-0 and trying to get through to the police station via that," said Simon Araghi, the brother of Roozbeh. "We had three of us on hold for well over an hour."
Araghi also said it took until Thursday for Dreamworld to contact his family.
"I finally got a call wanting to discuss things and offering their support, but I told them we don't want to discuss it," he told ABC. "I would have preferred the call a lot earlier."
Dreamworld boss Craig Davidson said he had spoken to all the families involved, while Thomas reiterated on Friday that "we will look after them".
On Friday, Shane Goodchild -- father of Kate Goodchild and Luke Dorsett, who both died in the accident -- said any further communication from Dreamworld should go through the family's legal representatives.
Journalists used Thursday's press conference with Ardent to ask Thomas about her executive bonus, which was to come 48 hours after the tragedy. She was questioned about whether it was appropriate to accept a large bonus -- reported to be as high as $840,000 -- at such a time, and whether she would donate that money to charity.
"I'm not going to discuss anything to do with that at this stage... Four people died very recently, and we are all shattered by this. This is not something that we deal with very easily. So, right now, I do not want to discuss transactions at this point," she said.
However, just a few hours later, she announced that she would be donating $167,500 -- what she said was her whole bonus -- to the Red Cross.
"I will be making a personal donation of $167,500, which comprises my entire cash bonus, to the Australian Red Cross via the Dreamworld memorial day event. Red Cross will ensure 100 percent is directed to support people affected by this tragic event," Thomas said in a statement.
Around the same time as the statement's release, there was another blow for Dreamworld. At the press conference, executives talked up how the park would reopen on Friday for a memorial day, with gate proceeds going to charity. They fielded media questions about whether the quick re-opening was appropriate, saying it was in the best interests of staff to return to work.
"The advice we have from psychologists and a lot of the people working with the staff, it is better that people get back to work and basically get together with their comrades and talk and deal with this issue rather than they are concerned about their jobs, and they're sitting at home in isolation, and we're just adding to their issues," said Ardent chairman Neil Balnaves.
"It is a very fine park. At some point the park will open. And it's driven by the utmost respect for the families and the deaths, and it will open again on Saturday to basically repair the damage with a lot of our people as well."
However, just hours later, the day was cancelled after police said their investigation would not permit the park to reopen.
"Dreamworld has been advised by Queensland Police Services (QPS) that we are unable to proceed with tomorrow's memorial service as planned," the park said in a release.
"Obviously the integrity of the Coronial Investigation is of paramount importance and postponing the service will give QPS the time it needs to conduct this investigation."
The circumstances are tragic and all parties want this investigated and dealt with. But from the families' perspective, they seem to think things could have been handled in a better way.
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