Western Power privatisation could increase risk of fires in Hills: Opposition Leader Mark McGowan

In this handout photo provided by DFES, A fire truck is parked on the roadside in Parkerville in Perth's hills on January 13, 2014.
In this handout photo provided by DFES, A fire truck is parked on the roadside in Parkerville in Perth's hills on January 13, 2014.

WA Opposition leader Mark McGowan has told local residents he is concerned about the risk of bushfires in the Swan Hills.

Follwing a meeting on the possible privatisation of Western Power, Mr McGowan met with Gidgegannup residents to discuss concerns.

Gidgegannup suffered more than 60 fires in the 15/16 summer period and along with Swan Hills ALP candidate Jessica Shaw, he emphasised the need for the community, State and local government agencies and Western Power to work together to maintain community safety.

Ms Shaw said in Victoria, following the privatisation of the power network, the new owner’s priorities moved away from planned maintenance.

“This was one of the causes of the Black Saturday fires,” she said.

Mr McGowan has voiced Labor’s strong opposition to any fire sale of the electricity network.

Local resident John Mancini, who has decades of experience in the volunteer bush fire brigade and is the West Gidgegannup Deputy Chief, said he believed prevention was the most important factor in fire management.

“Fuel control on private and public property is vital,” he said.

“Private owners, local councils and the State Government must all work together and local communities must be empowered to address fire risk and develop resilience.”

The Parkerville fires reinforced the importance of Western Power’s planned maintenance program and its primary focus on network safety, Ms Shaw said.

Last week more than 200 people met in Mundaring to discuss the proposed fire sale of Western Power, organised by the Electrical Trades Union.

ETU branch secretary Les McNaughlan said he was concerned WA Treasurer Mike Nahan had stated that Western Power was a drain on the State’s finances.

Previously Mr Nahan has said the retail market, presently run by Synergy, would be opened up for competition.

Swan Hills MLA Frank Alban said last week a final decision on privatisation would not be made until after the 2017 election.

“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.

Country residents are concerned that subsidies, which keep their bills at the same cost as city dwellers, would be increased under privatisation.

“The State Government has not made the case for privatisation.

“There is no proof that selling Western Power will lower our power bills or improve the State’s financial position.

“The increased risks to the local community from poor maintenance are simply unacceptable,” Ms Shaw said.