Power and communications outages expose unprepared State Government

The Opposition has labelled the State Labor Government’s response to extended power and telecommunications outages plaguing regional WA as an abject failure.

Opposition Leader Shane Love MLA said it was clear the State Government had not done enough to ensure power and communications were resilient and reliable.

“In 2024, reliance on communications for families to remain in touch, to share information about health and emergencies, and to keep businesses running is more critical than ever,” Mr Love said.

“It is of grave concern that we are now on our third day of a significant outage, impacting dozens of communities and tens of thousands of Western Australians, and neither the Government, Western Power or Telstra can provide an estimated restoration date.

“We are still yet to hear from the Premier about these significant outages, while up to 30,000 residents remain in the dark, figuratively and literally, about what support is available and when a solution may be in place.”

Mr Love said while he appreciated that crews were working hard to restore services, the Government had failed to make necessary improvements to the power grid years ago, leaving communities exposed in the event of a disaster such as that experienced this week.

“In March 2022, the Government ignored the opportunity to examine regional WA’s unique power issues, batting away a petition signed by over 2,000 regional residents calling for an independent review of Horizon Power and Wester Power’s regional operations,” Mr Love said.

“Instead, the Government pushed forward with a review into Christmas Power outages, which predominantly impacted Perth residents, and then failed to act on the recommendations of their own review.”

Mr Love said several recommendations of the review appeared not to have progressed since the review was completed in March 2022.

“Key among this were recommendations for more standalone power supplies and back-up generators, along with an independent expert review of Western Power’s fire risk management approach to allow swifter restoration of electricity supplies on high fire risk days.

“The review was also particularly critical of the Minister for Energy and Western Power’s communications with customers and stakeholders and called for them to be more proactive and transparent.

“Many impacted residents would agree that the Government has failed to live up to this expectation.” Mr Love said Kalgoorlie-Boulder residents were furious and felt forgotten.

“Goldfields residents are livid as they swelter through 40-degree days without access to power, limited water, and fuel for their generators, as the Government’s promised back-up gas turbine system has yet again failed to deploy.”

“While Kalgoorlie is a major regional city, it is also incredibly isolated, with residents having to travel hundreds of kilometres to access petrol and supplies amidst a virtually city-wide outage.

“It’s absolutely unacceptable that the gas turbine back-up was not functioning correctly, especially given the Opposition raised concerns about its unreliability two years ago, only to be ignored by an arrogant and Perth-focused State Labor Government.

“If 19,000 residents in the Perth suburbs were without power I can guarantee the Government would be pulling out all the stops, and the Premier would be fronting the media daily to provide updated and assurances.”

Mr Love called on the State Government to urgently commission an independent review of this week’s widespread outages.

“When Perth residents lost power over Christmas in 2021 the Government acted swiftly to deliver a review their response and to make recommendations for improvement.

“It’s only right the same level of fact-finding and reflection is considered for this outage, which has impacted more than 30,000 residents amidst bushfires, thunderstorms and a significant heatwave.”

Mr Love said the Government must also reconsider the appropriateness of a $120, one-off extended outage payment for impacted residents.

“Many residents have been without power going on 72-hours, and are expected to be without power for an indeterminate time to come.

“They have thrown out hundreds of dollars of groceries, purchased generators and additional petrol and lost income during a cost-of-living crisis.

“The $120 extended outage payment has long-been unacceptable by the community, and I would encourage the Government to recognise it is particularly unacceptable in the wake of a prolonged, multiday outage,” Mr Love said.

As of 10:00 am on Thursday, 18 January 2024 Western Power advised a total of 31,500 customers without power across the network.

According to Telstra,184 network sites, including 71 mobile base stations were impacted, affecting more than 10,000 customers.

More than 30 communities were classified as “communities in isolation” without access to Triple Zero Emergency Services.