COMMUNICATIONS Minister Stephen Conroy has announced a full-scale inquiry will be held into Warrnambool’s Telstra exchange fire which crippled south-west communications.
Special hearings will be set up to look at causes of the disaster and recommend ways to prevent it happening again anywhere in Australia.
Terms of reference and details on who will hold the inquiry are expected to be announced in the next two days.
The news was revealed by Wannon MP Dan Tehan who rang The Standard last night to say Senator Conroy had agreed to hold an inquiry.
“Minister Conroy has been closely following this issue since I contacted him last Thursday and has made it crystal clear he realises the significance of this disruption to the whole south-west,” Mr Tehan said.
“He is aware it could have national implications because there should be national disaster plans that when these things happen there can be a speedy recovery.”
It is understood the Warrnambool fire which paralysed vital parent node equipment for more than 60,000 landlines, 15,000 broadband connections and more than 80 mobile phone towers, had not been factored into either Telstra’s own disaster plan or the national security plan.
The fire affected communities in a vast area from Lismore through to Portland and north and south of that line.
There was no back-up for speedy restoration of services and the economic loss to the region could be as high as $100 million.
“I would expect the inquiry would conduct hearings in Warrnambool and other towns across the region so people and organisations can make submissions,” Mr Tehan said.
“My hope is that it could start as soon as possible.”
Warrnambool’s mayor Michael Neoh welcomed the announcement, which came a day after he instigated an urgent letter from the council to Senator Conroy and Mr Tehan calling for federal help.
“Obviously they are taking it very seriously at federal level,” Cr Neoh said.
“Numerous stakeholders have views on the issue.
“Most of the community and businesses will want to know what steps will be taken to move forward and mitigate the risks of it happening again.”
Mr Tehan said political point-scoring should not cloud recovery efforts.
“The south-west is a significant contributor to the national economy and is definitely on the federal government’s radar,” he said.