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Friday, 24 May, 2013

Former SP lines engineer exposes company’s failings

The Black Saturday bushfire class action trial has heard explosive evidence this week from former SP AusNet Senior Lines Engineer Anthony Walley, who revealed serious deficiencies in the company‟s management of its assets.

In his evidence, Mr Walley pointed to his own experiences with SP‟s inadequate systems, and highlighted an admission from SP‟s main data systems manager that the data on which SP based its asset replacement and maintenance strategy was shit.

Mr Walley, who was part of the core SP team involved in the Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission, has given evidence before Justice Jack Forrest all week regarding the lack of care the company showed towards the maintenance of its electrical infrastructure, the failure of part of which ultimately led to Victoria‟s most devastating bushfire.

In his evidence to the court, Mr Walley explicitly highlighted failings of SP AusNet‟s internal approach to asset maintenance, including:

  •   SP AusNet adopted a „run to failure‟ approach in relation to conductors

  •   There was internal pressure within SP AusNet to downplay risks so that they did not

    have to be elevated to Board level

  •   SP AusNet did not properly investigate the reasons why its assets were failing,

    including in high bushfire risk areas

  •   SP AusNet did not have crucial records of maintenance to its assets from before

    1999.

  •   SP AusNet did not apply vibration dampers to the Kilmore East line that failed on

    Black Saturday, in contravention of its own standards.

Rory Walsh, Senior Associate with Maurice Blackburn Lawyers which is running the case, says the court has heard some shocking evidence from a very senior officer of SP AusNet with first-hand knowledge of the company‟s practices.

“What Mr Walley has exposed to the court this week is that SP AusNet showed complete disregard to maintaining a safe network of power lines in high-risk areas, and that the company had an inadequate approach to maintaining electrical infrastructure, part of which failed on Black Saturday and cost 119 people their lives,” Mr Walsh said.

“Mr Walley has given crucial evidence for the victims of this fire, evidence that comes straight from the core of one of Australia‟s biggest electrical companies that exposes blatant failings in delivering electricity safely.

Put simply, SP AusNet didnt know the condition of its ageing power lines through which they supplied electricity through remote areas of high bushfire danger. In such circumstances, it was inevitable that the power lines would fail.”