Electricity distribution companies that endanger the lives and livelihoods of Victorians through their failure to repair, replace or maintain power infrastructure, must be held to account.

In the St Patrick’s Day fires last year, it was the snapping of a faulty power pole that contributed to the blaze. The fires across several locations caused by ‘electrical elements’ and rampant roadside vegetation eventuated in 23 houses, 40,000 hectares of land and 10,000 livestock being tragically burnt.

The company responsible for the maintenance of this pole and 550,000 others across Western Victoria is Powercor, who have now been left unaccountable. It appears now unlikely that energy regulator, Energy Safe Victoria, will make any efforts to prosecute the multi-national company. Careless companies that negligently endanger the lives of Victorians should not be treated with such leniency and irresolution.

The poles that currently support power transmission in Western Victoria were largely erected in the 1950s and 1960s and have an estimated life of 50 to 60 years. It should no surprise that these poles, which Powercor have failed to replace, now greatly endanger the lives of Western Victorians.

Victoria’s capacity to reduce bushfire risk is of integral importance. Our brave Country Fire Authority volunteers risk life and limb when fire threatens the public and property. We have had a Royal Commission into methods of reducing bushfire risk. How can we undermine these determined efforts by continuing to allow electricity distribution companies to not maintain or replace faulty power poles that ignite our countryside?

On the 21st of March in Parliament, I used a Constituency Question to ask the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change what the government was doing to rectify this “dangerous infrastructure issue before more lives and property are impacted.” The response I got was totally inadequate.

The Minister suggested that “Powercor inspected almost 20,000 power poles” and “concluded that the electricity network in [Western Victoria Region] is in safe working condition.”

If that was the case, the St Patrick’s Day fires simply would not have occurred. Local communities and farmers are well aware of the dangerous infrastructure across our region, but once again, those inside the tram tracks of Melbourne appear to believe that those who live, work and farm in Western Victoria are wrong and that there is in fact no issue whatsoever.

This is clearly unacceptable. The Government and Powercor must be held accountable for energy transmission safety. 

24 May 2019