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Ardent commits to Dreamworld future

AAP logoAAP 26/10/2016 Marty Silk

Ardent Leisure will not "cut and run" from its Dreamworld theme park and will support the families of four people killed in a horrific accident at the Gold Coast facility, chairman Neil Balnaves says.

Mr Balnaves says Dreamworld remains an integral part of Ardent's business following the tragedy on Tuesday, even as the company increases its business in the United States and approved a name change to reflect its new global entertainment focus.

"A disaster like this would not require a cut and run philosophy," Mr Balnaves said at a press conference after the company's annual general meeting in Sydney on Thursday.

Mr Balnaves said he couldn't say the board would not consider any "absolutely fabulous" offer if one arose for Dreamworld, but "we certainly wouldn't be cutting and running from it because of the accident".

Chief executive Deborah Thomas, who was clearly emotional during the press conference and described all Ardent staff as "shattered" by the tragedy, said the company's priority was supporting families of the victims.

"I am a mother, I have a family, I take my family to Dreamworld - this could have been my family," she said.

Ms Thomas, who has sought to contact the victims' families through Queensland Police, said Ardent's support would include counsellors and immediate financial assistance.

Dreamworld will reopen for normal business on Saturday following a fundraising open day on Friday.

The precinct around the Thunder River Rapids ride where the accident occurred will remain closed.

Mr Balnaves said psychologists had advised it would best for traumatised staff to return to work where they could support each other and the decision to open was "driven by the utmost respect for the families".

"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 (sic) concerned about their jobs and sitting at home in isolation," he said.

"It will open again on Saturday to basically repair the damage."

Mr Balnaves and Ms Thomas were forced to defend a vote at the AGM to award Ms Thomas a performance rights package worth $843,000 and the award of a $167,500 short-term cash bonus for 2015/16.

Late on Thursday night Ms Thomas announced she would donate the cash bonus to the Red Cross to support people affected by the tragedy.

"Any bonus Ms Thomas has relates to the prior year," Mr Balnaves said.

"The tragedy is only 48 hours old. It is just inappropriate to talk about commercial matters at this time."

Mr Balnaves, who retired as chairman on Thursday in line with his announcement in September, said the board took seriously the potential punishment if there was any prosecution over the accident, including $3 million in fines for the company and jail for up to five years for directors.

He confirmed Ardent was receiving legal advice about the accident, and director George Vernados - who becomes Ardent's new chairman - said the company had "adequate" insurance cover.

Ms Thomas said the accident would have "a significant impact" on current-year earnings, but Mr Balnaves said the effect would not be long-term.

Ardent shares rose 7.5 per cent, or 16 cents, to $2.15 on Thursday, however the stock remains well below its level of $2.67 before the accident.

Shareholders also approved Ardent changing its name to Main Event Entertainment.

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