UPDATE: Vc Government review into the safety of Victoria's electricity network
The Victorian Government’s Review into the Safety of the Electricity Network has hit the ground running. The Review, chaired by Paul Grimes, has been specifically seeking information on how the current laws in Victoria are failing to ensure a safe network and what needs to be done to fix them.
The union has made a very comprehensive submission to the Review. Our primary objective was to ensure there was no shortage of evidence to support the need for stronger laws to guarantee electrical network safety. We want to ensure that distribution businesses actually deliver the maintenance that they are paid to deliver.
The current Victorian and national electricity safety laws give distribution businesses far too much financial incentive and reward to slash operating and equipment standards and the resources needed to maintain them.
The key problems with the current laws are that they permit Victorian distribution businesses to:
- Determine their own operating and equipment standards
- Maximise profits by laying off workers during specific times in the Australian Energy Regulator’s (AER) ‘5-year regulatory cycle’
- Not be transparent or accountable for the increasing age and failure rate of assets
- Not fulfil their own safety plans on a regular basis
- Reduce asset inspection frequency & quality to minimise fault detection & spend
- Blame ‘human error’ or individuals for their own failings in policies and procedures
ETU Economist Ruth Kershaw says “Even we were shocked by how damning some of the evidence against the power companies is, from fire starts to turning off power of registered life support users. More astounding is the failure of Victorian regulators to monitor or penalise the distribution businesses for practices that would incur large financial penalties in other states or jurisdictions our electricity framework is modelled on.”
The ETU submission is currently confidential as it included information which is not in the public domain, including ‘whistle-blower’ information from members about how assets are maintained, to the escalation of fires caused by failed assets. We also commissioned an ‘Independent Sample Audit of Distribution Assets’.
While the Review is ongoing and bargaining in the power sector continues, the union intends to strategically release information to maximise members’ negotiating and campaign leverage.
The ETU has identified several potential ways to address these shortcomings with new legislation and regulations, including to:
- Create an Independent Electrical Technical Regulator – to set minimum standards in regulations
- Back a high-level ‘Stakeholder Advisory Committee’ to ensure government is fully informed and can address industry wide safety issues
- Introduce licensing of occupations operating in the electricity distribution and transmission power sector