The plight of Black Saturday bushfire victims — who are this week being forced to relive the 2009 tragedy in court to ensure foreign owned power company SP AusNet pays compensation over fires allegedly caused by faulty wires — highlights the potential ramifications of the O’Farrell Government’s electricity privatisation push.
The Electrical Trades Union said that despite the Bushfire Royal Commission finding that several of the fires which killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2000 homes were caused through lack of maintenance on the Singapore-owned electricity network, victims were being forced to jump through legal hoops in order to get compensation.
“If the Victorian electricity network was still publicly owned, there is no question that victims would not have been forced to relive this tragedy yet again simply to get compensation,” ETU NSW secretary Steve Butler said.
“That is especially true as the Royal Commission has already found several of these fires were caused by maintenance failings on the privately owned network.
“Unfortunately, the NSW Government seems to have learnt nothing from the experience of Black Saturday victims, who have had their tragic experience compounded by having to fight a multinational power company tooth and nail through the courts to be compensated for the horrific loss of lives, homes and livelihoods caused by these fires.
“Despite this, the O’Farrell Government are planning to do the same thing here in NSW and sell off the electricity network to the private sector who will cut back on maintenance, increase prices and slash services.
“Retaining this essential service in government ownership isn’t just about maintaining service standards, it is about ensuring it remains publicly accountable.
“Private companies, particularly those with foreign-ownership, have very little accountability to the community and will attempt to use every trick in the book to avoid paying compensation to victims of events like the Victorian Bushfires.
“If the Victorian Government still owned the electricity network it is highly unlikely that victims would now be reliving this nightmare through the courts, as the government would almost certainly have acted and compensated those affected.
“Electricity is not only an essential service required for everyday life, but it is also a highly dangerous commodity that can kill if the network is not maintained to the highest standard or network investment is cut.
“Experience shows us that this is exactly what private owners do in order to return maximum profits to shareholders.
“In Victoria we have clearly seen that under private ownership profits have come first and the public have come a distant second, which is now being played out in the courts.
“The O’Farrell Government needs to halt their own ideological privatisation push and guarantee that the people of NSW will never have to endure a similar experience.”