Hills residents attend Use Your Power rally to protest privatisation of Western Power

A fire truck is parked on the roadside in Parkerville in Perth's hills on January 13, 2014. Picture: DFES.
A fire truck is parked on the roadside in Parkerville in Perth's hills on January 13, 2014. Picture: DFES.

ABOUT 200 people with concerns about power prices, job losses and increased bushfire risk attended a union-funded meeting in the Hills about the privatisation of Western Power.

Use Your Power campaigners selected the marginal seat of Swan Hills as the electorate for their first ‘have your say’ gathering.

High attendance at the Mundaring Town Hall event on Sunday has encouraged organisers to ramp up their campaign with more meetings planned for Perth and regional.

Australian Services Union WA branch secretary Wayne Wood said at the heart of community concerns in Mundaring was the impact privatisation would have on network maintenance and increased bushfire danger in a high-risk zone.

Bushfires destroyed 57 homes in Parkerville, Stoneville and Mt Helena two years ago when a collapsed pole ignited dry grass on a private property.

Mr Wood said that of particular interest to the residents was a case study from Victoria, where privatisation of ‘poles and wires’ had led to under-investment in networks later implicated in the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009.

He said the Bushfire Royal Commission found that “…five of the 11 major fires that began that day were caused by failed electricity assets; among the fires was that at Kilmore East, as a result of which 119 died”.

The Commission subsequently made recommendations calling for the urgent replacement of ageing electricity assets and changes to the regularity of inspections and maintenance.

Victorian electrical linesman Brendan Byrne shared information with residents at the meeting about the demise of the industry following privatisation and sale of electrical assets to a Singaporean-Chinese company.

Residents were urged to oppose the $12b sell-off by signing up to the Use Your Power website and joining the 9600 campaign followers on Facebook.

Opposition spokesman Bill Johnston told residents the Labor Party would not support the privatisation of Western Power under any circumstances.

Organisers of the Mundaring event said Swan Hills MLA Frank Alban, Kalamunda MLA John Day and Darling Range MLA Tony Simpson were invited to the meeting but did not attend.

A ReachTEL survey of 681 Swan Hills’ residents on May 16 showed 71 per cent opposed to the privatisation of Western Power, with Labor leading 53:47 on a two-party preferred basis.

The poll was commissioned by the WA branches of the Electrical Trades Union and the Australian Services Union, the unions behind the Use Your Power campaign.

Swan Hills MLA Frank Alban, who said he had not attended the meeting because he went to the Gidgegannup Small Farm Field Day, said there were safe networks in other states that had privatised.

“In other states where poles and wires have been privatised, the safety and reliability of the electricity network has been at least as good, if not better, than publicly-owned poles and wires, and electricity network prices are lower,” he said.

“A final decision to sell these assets has not yet been made and will not be made until after the 2017 election. Any proposal to sell any these assets will only be made following confirmation that the outcome is in the best interests of both West Australian taxpayers and electricity consumers.

“The Electricity (Network Safety) Regulations 2015, by which Western Power and Horizon Power is required to comply, would still apply, irrespective of ownership.”

An 83-year-old woman has been added to a writ served by the 183 residents whose homes were destroyed or damaged in the Parkerville, Stoneville and Mt Helena bushfires in January 2014.

The bushfire allegedly started on the property of Noreen Merle Campbell.

She is named as a defendant in the multimillion-dollar lawsuit in an amended writ lodged in the Supreme Court last week.

Residents are also suing Western Power and its contractor Thiess Services in the action launched last year.