TEN years after horrors of Black Saturday and nearly a year after the devastation and heartbreak of the St Patrick’s Day fires here in the south-west, are we safer?
The answer is no. However arguments are coloured, Black Saturday was caused by power infrastructure. The St Patrick’s Day fires were caused by power infrastructure.
It is not hard to recall the debates over rising power prices that began some years ago with governments of all hues attacking power companies for “gold-plating” their infrastructure assets. If this was the case, then clearly this lavishness did not extend to the south-west. But crippling power prices did. And unfortunately so did bushfires caused by ageing and decrepit power infrastructure.
Black Saturday and the painful and expensive soul-searching that followed it resulted in both massive class action payouts to victims that were significantly depleted by legal costs and hundreds of Royal Commission recommendations aimed at reducing the risk of such blazes.
Progress on the implementation of these recommendations by the state government and Powercor has been painfully – and evidentially – slow.
The Standard has been campaigning on behalf of the people of the south-west since last year’s St Patrick’s Day blazes.
This campaign has already resulted in significant admissions of fault from Powercor, replacement power poles and inspections of thousands of others across the state. It has also resulted in a national first with insurance companies now offering some victims of the fires no-cost compensation offers.
The heroes of the campaign are farmers like Jill Porter and Jack Kenna. The villains? Possibly there are too many to list but let’s start at the top.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews didn’t just decline an invite this month to visit the south-west to speak to victims of last year’s blazes, he handballed it to Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio. Her response was a nightmarish piece of bureaucrat-ese that she and Mr Andrews should be ashamed of.
More importantly than a visit, the state government must be seen to act on implementing the Black Saturday recommendations, giving “teeth” to power company regulators and bringing these corporate giants to heel.
The Premier’s disinclination to visit or address the issue needs to be noted alongside the response by Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor and Member for Wannon Dan Tehan.
They are orchestrating strong pressure for regulatory reform as well as visiting the area soon to meet with victims.
As they told The Standard this week: “Keeping communities safe must be the priority of any government.”