Saffin condemns ‘gifting’ of power poles by stealth

LISMORE MP Janelle Saffin has called on NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, who leads the Nationals in Government, to reverse the NSW Government’s policy of ‘gifting’ private power poles to farmers and rural landholders.

LISMORE MP Janelle Saffin has called on NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, who leads the Nationals in Government, to reverse the NSW Government’s policy of ‘gifting’ private power poles to farmers and rural landholders.

Ms Saffin has moved a motion in Parliament condemning this unconscionable policy where the corporatised Essential Energy shifts the legal and cost burden of fixing faulty private poles and overhead lines to thousands of country people across NSW.

“How could Mr Barilaro, the self-appointed hero of the bush, and his fellow long-serving Nationals MPs on the North Coast, let this unfair policy slip through without a word of protest?” Ms Saffin asked.

“I can understand the Liberals sticking it to farmers and rural landholders, but where were the Nationals when their constituents needed them? Where are they now for that matter?”

Ms Saffin steps up her campaign against the policy as more outraged landholders are coming to her after being notified that they are the proud owners of one or more power poles and face maintenance costs of up to $7000 per pole to make them safe.

Responding to a barrage of questions on notice from Ms Saffin late last year, NSW Minister for Energy Matt Kean confirmed that Essential Energy had written to 699 landholders in the Lismore Electorate since June 2018 to inform them of their obligations.

Of these landholders, 414 of them had been informed by Essential Energy that a routine inspections had identified maintenance requirements on private poles or private overhead lines.

Ms Saffin said it was a case of the Government blindsiding country people who for decades had never had a clue that they owned power poles because Essential Energy and their forerunners had always taken care of maintenance of this essential public infrastructure.

“Sometime in 2018, the Berejiklian-Barilaro Government slowly and stealthily started to ‘gift’ these poles to the people,” Ms Saffin said.

“This Government did not make a major policy announcement, nor did it consult with the public as far as I can tell.

“Coalition MPs, including those long-standing ones here on the North Coast, appear to have let it go through without a murmur.

“And then bang, people woke up to the rude shock of PP signs on their power poles and wondered what it all meant.”

Ms Saffin said she had kept on file a January 2015 letter from then NSW Minister for the North Coast Duncan Gay MLC boasting that the Nationals had negotiated to keep Essential Energy (the regional part of our electricity network) 100 per cent publicly owned.

“Where does this policy of ‘gifting’ power poles – i.e. shedding legal responsibility and maintenance costs from the public purse to people’s back pockets – leave the Nationals’ commitment?,” she asked.

“I think it leaves it in tatters, all credibility shot to pieces.”

Thursday, 20 May 2021.

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