Baillieu backtracks on bushfire safety plan

Baillieu backtracks on bushfire safety plan

30 December 2011

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Australia — PETER CAVE: With Victoria set to face temperatures over 30 degrees for the next four days, the State Government has announced a plan to reduce the threat posed by powerlines in bushfire prone areas.

A billion dollars will be spent on improving safety by burying a thousand kilometres of powerlines underground and installing remote switches which authorities can use to turn off the power on those days when the bushfire risk is high.

People affected by the Black Saturday fires in 2009 have welcomed the decision but say more powerlines should be buried.

Alison Caldwell reports.

ALISON CALDWELL: On Black Saturday in February 2009, nearly half of the fires were started by faulty powerlines.

The Bushfires Royal Commission recommended that within 10 years all single wire powerlines in Victoria should be replaced with insulated overhead cables, underground cables or other fire-proofing technology.

The State Government was provided with six options for the electricity overhaul, costing between $200 million and $10 billion.

It’s settled on a $1 billion plan.

Energy Minister Michael O’Brien.

MICHAEL O’BRIEN: The announcement today demonstrates that it can be done, it can be done in a practical way, an affordable way and a way which will deliver at minimum a 64 per cent increase in improvement in the safety of electrical assets in bushfire prone areas.

ALISON CALDWELL: Power companies will be forced to spend half a billion dollars installing powerline safety switches which can remotely shut down faulty powerlines during the fire season.

And the Government will spend $200 million replacing dangerous powerlines in high risk areas. The funding will cover the replacement of a thousand kilometres of wires or one per cent of Victoria’s electricity network.

The Opposition’s Lily D’Ambrosio says that’s just a fraction of what the Government promised when it was in opposition.

LILY D’AMBROSIO: They’ve raised expectations and now they’ve let Victorians down terribly. The Minister needs to explain when exactly they decided that they would dump their commitment to replace 100 per cent of those powerlines, 100,000 kilometres of powerlines.

ALISON CALDWELL: Fire ecologist Dr Kevin Tolhurst is a lecturer in fire ecology at the University of Melbourne. He says it’s a reasonable start.

KEVIN TOLHURST: I’m confident that the process that they’re going through will identify those parts of the network which are likely to have the greatest impact on human life and property should they start another fire.

So at least it’s a strategic approach and I think what’s being proposed is a good start from a bushfire point of view. All that is happening really is there’ll be a reduction in the number of fires that are starting which will make it easier, more possible if you like for the agencies in the community to cope with the fires. We’re really only still dealing with the tip of the iceberg I’m afraid.

The State Government wants the Commonwealth to contribute $250 million to the package.

PETER CAVE: Alison Caldwell.

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