Sharkie seeks answers about December blackout

Sharkie seeks answers about December blackout

Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie will be questioning authorities about poor communication and a lack of planning in the wake of the blackout that left parts of the Adelaide Hills without power and phones for more than four days in late December.

The NXT MP has written to the head of SA Power Networks (SAPN) and the Federal Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield, seeking answers about why the electricity outage took so long to fix, why residents were given “unrealistic and inaccurate” messages about reconnection times and what the Government was doing to ensure access to communication with the roll-out of the power-dependent NBN.

Ms Sharkie and the NXT Team are also seeking to boost compensation for residents affected by extended power outages and to increase penalties on power companies if the length of a blackout is due to inadequate staffing and resourcing levels.

A Bill is expected to be introduced into the SA Parliament in February to implement the changes, with a safeguard that the costs involved in the increased compensation and penalties must not be passed on to consumers.

“My office has been inundated with stories from constituents who went without power for between two and up to five full days,” Ms Sharkie said.

“Some of these towns such as Mylor, Echunga, Uraidla and Macclesfield don’t have access to mains water and rely on a power supply to run the pumps for their water tanks and sewerage systems so this has serious public health implications.

“Many didn’t have access to mobile or landline phones or the internet so they were isolated, a major issue for households with vulnerable members who live in a high risk bushfire zone.

“Exacerbating the problem were the multiple, inaccurate text messages about reconnection times residents and business people were receiving from SAPN, when they could get access to information.

“Businesses and residents lost thousands of dollars in produce because they delayed obtaining generators or transporting refrigerated food goods based on messages that power would be returned within hours rather than the reality of several days.

“More seriously, some people suffering from diabetes who need to refrigerate their medication came close to experiencing medical emergencies because they relied on SAPN messages about being reconnected."

Ms Sharkie was among the 200 Hills residents who packed the Cotton Memorial Hall in Mylor on Thursday night (January 12) to discuss the blackout and to work on an action plan to make their communities more resilient.

Besides brainstorming local strategies, residents at the meeting also called on their Local, State and Federal Government representatives to investigate why they were left without power and communication for so long and what was being done to improve response times and information exchange in the future.

“It was a really positive meeting with representatives from all levels of Government and SAPN and Telstra in attendance and we were all there to listen and contribute,” Ms Sharkie said.

“I think SAPN in particular left the meeting with a really good understanding of how isolated many parts of community were during that outage and what a prolonged period that was for everyone.

“Another issue that came out was the switch over to the NBN and what that is going to mean for communications in the future because there was an acknowledgement that we could lose landline connection for long periods during blackouts.

“I will be attending the follow-up meeting at Mylor in about six weeks’ time and I will be working to bring answers to the questions my community has asked.”