St Patrick's Day fire victims have not suffered in silence but on the day Powercor was fined $130,000 over the safety failure that caused the devastating Terang fire, most were too tired and exasperated to speak.
For three years the fire-affected south-west community has fought fiercely for change after Powercor failed to safely maintain a power pole that caused conductors to clash and spark the Terang fire on St Patrick's Day in 2018.
But on Wednesday, after the energy giant was fined $130,000 in Warrnambool Magistrates Court over the safety breach, most victims contacted were too drained to speak.
One victim, who wished to remain anonymous, said it had been a really difficult three years mentally and he couldn't communicate his feelings following the magistrate's decision, but said the fine was "a round of drinks" and disproportionate to all that his community had lost.
Member for Polwarth Richard Riordan said the news would be "crushing" for those impacted by the fire.
"There are many, many homes destroyed and farmers who lost way more than $130,000 in the fires," he said.
"They have been set back a long time and they will be shaking their heads today, there is no doubt about that. "
The Terang incident was caused by clashing conductors that sparked a fire that burned 5800 hectares of land and destroyed more than 20 houses.
Mr Riordan said the sentence was inordinate.
"A milk bar can be fined $90,000 for not checking if someone has a mask on, yet you can burn out half of south-west Victoria and cop a $130,000 fine. I'm not quite sure of the relativity of that."
The Garvoc blaze wiped out at least two houses, 4000 hectares and stock.
Mr Riordan said Powercor had copped a fine for the "less egregious offences" and that the cost of the fine would likely be passed onto the consumer in higher fees and charges and on less investment in safety.
"I'm not sure that this is going to be a huge road bump for Powercor ," he said.
"My concern is that the fundamental underlining problems that we have around power and distribution line safety just won't be addressed and we'll possibly have to endure another powerpole-based fire at some point in the future to go through all of this again."
Mr Riordan said he had met with Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) recently to discuss his concerns.
"I'm not sure they're fully aware of the consequences that these type of fires have when they rip through communities and I don't think they're fully aware of what is required to keep commercial pressure on these companies to keep our infrastructure as safe as it can be," he said.
"To me, there's a fundamental problem with the inherent safety of the system that we have and I don't think a $130,000 fine is going to make much of a difference."
The Standard asked ESV commissioner Marnie Williams if she believed the fine was proportionate to all that was lost on St Patrick's Day in 2018.
She said there were no winners in the case.
"Powercor needs to do better. We cannot afford another fire caused by poorly maintained electrical assets," she said in a statement.
"I appreciate the bravery of those who read out victim impact statements to the court. I can assure those people as well as everyone who lives in those communities that were affected by the St Patrick's Day fires that ESV has taken steps to require change."
Ms Williams said ESV had required Powercor to quadruple power pole interventions in hazardous bushfire risk areas.
"ESV is confident that if Powercor meets its new obligations, this will make a material difference to preventing grass fires and bushfires caused by power poles," she said.
In a victim impact statement read by Elingamite's Vicki Angus on Monday, she said she was still traumatised by what she had lost - photo books and journals that chronologically detailed her children's lives, academic transcripts, war medals and her grandmother's 100-year-old engagement ring.
She said she and her family were victims of a situation that could have been avoided if appropriate steps had been taken.
"If this fire was due to a natural occurrence, maybe it could have been easier to deal with," she said.
A Powercor spokesman said the energy giant accepted the magistrate's sentence.
"Our plea reflected that in this instance we did not stop conductors clashing and we failed to minimise the risk of bushfire," he said.
"We acknowledge the fire has caused significant distress to many in the community, particularly to those people who were close to the fire, lost livestock or had properties damaged."
The spokesman said the victim impact statements presented to the court were "powerful and courageous, reinforcing the terrible and long-lasting damage of bushfires".
"Safely and responsibly managing our network is at the heart of everything we do, and hearing from the community emphasises why we continually strive to find better ways to minimise fire risk," he said.
Magistrate Kieran Gilligan on Wednesday said that there were no defects reported during an inspection of the pole No.3 in January 2017 and that a failure of "no complaint" was the catalyst for the fire.
He said the gravity of the consequences were serious and that he didn't accept that there was an early plea of guilty, although he admitted there was utilitarian value in the matter finalising on the sixth day of a contested hearing, which was due to run for 25 days and hear from 20 witnesses before ESV accepted a plea offer.
The magistrate said that in sentencing, he had also taken into account Powercor's work to rectify the clearance issues following the devastating fire.
He said Powercor had since surveyed similar poles and engaged in new technology in order to reduce the risk of vegetation and clearance and clashing issues.
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