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Question: Power Outages

28 November 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:29): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Minister for Regional Development on the topic of power outages.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: At the height of the storm that hit South Australia last night, 14,000 people were left without power and over 5,000 South Australians were still without power at 10am this morning, mostly in regional areas. Some of the worst hit regions were the Barossa, the Lower Murraylands, the Mid North and the Flinders. Last year, the secretary of SA Unions, Dale Beasley, wrote an open letter to the Premier, the Hon. Peter Malinauskas, calling for a reversal of the privatisation of our energy network. In the letter he stated that, 'This model has seen under investment in maintenance and replacement of electricity distribution infrastructure.'

I asked the Minister for Regional Development about this matter back in September, and in the response to my question without notice that she has tabled today she stated:

The government believes that privatising the network by the then Liberal administration was a foolish decision which has resulted in sub-optimal outcomes for consumers. However, restoring the electricity network to public ownership would be a complex and expensive undertaking.

She goes on to state:

Any consideration of such a change would require thorough analysis rather than superficial thinking.

My question to the minister therefore is:

1. In light of her remarks, would she consider the Greens' push for a commission of inquiry into bringing electricity back into public hands?

2. What action has the minister taken to ensure that people in the regions have access to power during this storm?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (15:31): I thank the honourable member for his question. In terms of one part of that question, it is certainly the case that in the answer I provided to the honourable member, where I alluded to the advice received from the Minister for Energy in the other place, I stated there would indeed need to be a thorough analysis of any proposal to bring electricity back into government hands. We all remember of course how many problems have eventuated due to ill-conceived privatisation by a former Liberal government in this state. In terms of those sorts of steps, I am happy to refer that to the Minister for Energy in the other place.

In terms of the storm power outages, I am advised that, as the honourable member referred to, the storms did cause widespread power outages in addition to localised flooding. I am advised that approximately 155,000 lightning strikes were recorded, some 26,000 of those hitting the ground. Some of the lightning strikes hit electrical infrastructure, which caused damage. There was also damage from trees and vegetation falling on powerlines, and I am advised that this led to about 30,000 SA Power Networks customers being affected by an outage.

I am advised that SAPN mobilised additional crews and have been restoring power to most customers, and as of 10am today there remained approximately 5,000 out of those 14,000 customers who were still without power. SAPN prioritises work to protect public safety first, and then targets outages from the biggest through to single affected customers. I am further advised that the storm also affected some ElectraNet assets, but the transmission provider expected all lines to be in service by mid-morning, which is the most up-to-date information I have in that regard. Further, there was no loss of load from the transmission network.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:33): Supplementary: does the minister accept the analysis of SA Unions that privatisation has seen underinvestment in maintenance and replacement of electricity distribution infrastructure that has contributed to the power failure we have seen overnight?

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (15:33): I think the privatisation of the state's electricity assets by a former Liberal government was a disaster.