Powercor ‘sat on hands', Black Saturday class action told

THE Supreme Court has heard Powercor was put on notice before Black Saturday that there were problems on the Colac-Camperdown line.

The claim came during closing submissions yesterday in a class action between lead plaintiff Terrence Place and Powercor into a fire at Weerite and Pomborneit on February 7, 2009. A finding is expected to be delivered next month.

Counsel representing the plaintiff, Tim Tobin, said there were reports of clashing on the line prior to the fire and there was a record of a Powercor employee saying there were issues on the line but Powercor “sat on their hands”.

Mr Tobin said it was not a matter related to the windy weather on the day and no one had come before the court and indicated weather conditions on the day were outside the expected parameters.

He said no one was saying it was a hurricane or that the temperature was never expected in the area.

Mr Tobin said the power lines had clashing marks on them, which had been seen by the court on a site visit.

Questioned by Justice Jack Forrest,  Mr Tobin said the evidence was that the marks were from clashing.

Mr Tobin said there should be a finding that Powercor hadn’t exercised reasonable care. If it had, the clashing wouldn’t have occurred, he said. Mr Tobin said the wind and temperature on Black Saturday was not extraordinary and the combination of the two hadn’t caused the clashing.

Justice Forrest said Powercor had responded following incidents demonstrating clashing of lines prior to Black Saturday, but the real question was did it respond adequately. He asked why Powercor should be required to do any more than rely on reports coming in and if it needed to go out to every line in the state.

On Monday, the court heard from counsel representing Powercor, David Curtain, who said the clashing could not have caused an initial fire of the size alleged. 

He said the plaintiff’s case was that within 30 seconds there was a nine-foot (three-metre) wide fire.

Yesterday, Mr Tobin said the court had heard evidence that phalaris grass was a very flammable species and would take off very quickly.

Justice Forrest said he would hand down his decision on the matter on December 19 in Warrnambool.

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