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ETU to call on Coroner and Keelty to examine role of energy regulator funding cuts in Tathra fires

Paul Lister - Friday, March 23, 2018

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) will write to both the NSW Coroner and Mick Keelty, charged with investigating the Tathra fires, asking both to consider the role of the Australian Energy regulator (AER) in forcing maintenance cuts on power companies.

An investigation by Rural Fire Service (RFS) specialist investigators reported late yesterday that electricity network assets are likely to have played a role in starting the Tathra fire, which resulted in more than 60 homes being lost and damage to countless others.

Similar devestating bushfires in the last 10 years in both Victoria and the Blue Mountains were found to have been caused by vegetation coming in to contact with power assets during extreme weather events On both occassions significant class action litigation resulted from families who had lost their homes.

ETU Assistant Secretary Justin Page said today that the role of the Australian Energy Regulator in cutting maintenance funding to power companies was a national disgrace and directly resulted in power companies being unable to adequately manage effective maintenance programs including vegetation near power lines.

“The AER needs to be brought to account as a result of this devestating fire. Tathra is potentially the latest example in a long list of fires caused by cuts to maintenance by power networks.”

“In an era of extreme weather events, this faceless regulator has consciously chosen to ignore the public and community safety implications of its decisions and has chosen to focus solely on economic arguments.”

“This is at least the fourth significant national tragedy that has occured for arguably the same reasons.  This needs to be a part of both upcoming investigations into the Tathra bush fire.”

In 2015 the NSW ETU formally raised concerns with the AER about proposed cuts to vegetation maintenance, citing bushfire risk following expert analysis (copies available). The AER however ignored the ETU’s concerns and proceeded to slash maintenance funding for all NSW power companies.

“Communities have suffered significant loss during events such as the recent Tathra bushfire and network operators have been placed under undue pressure when it comes to maintaining a large network of aging infrastructure.” said Mr Page

In a 2016 media release, then ETU NSW Secretary Steve Butler said about the AER “unsustainably slashing the money spent on maintaining, repairing and operating the network simply leads to inadequate infrastructure that may spark bushfires, fail in periods of extreme weather, or result in a growing number of blackouts and service disruptions.”

READ THE ETU SUBMISSION TO AER FEBRUARY 2015 RAISING CONCERNS ABOUT PUBLIC SAFETY AND BUSHFIRES: p11, THE COST OF SAFETY