Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (14:46): My question is to the Minister for Energy and Mining. Has the minister met with SA Power Networks and the technical regulator to clarify how power disconnections are likely to impact homes and irrigators in the Riverland?
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS (West Torrens—Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Minister for Energy and Mining) (14:46): Yes, I have.
Mr WHETSTONE: Excuse me, minister—and with your leave and that of the house, I will explain, sir.
The SPEAKER: Order! There is an explanation that is to be offered.
Mr WHETSTONE: Minister, last night, myself—
The SPEAKER: Member for Chaffey, you have sought leave. Is leave granted?
Honourable members: Yes, sir.
Mr WHETSTONE: Minister, last night, myself, households, primary producers and irrigators in my electorate were advised via text message that their power may be immediately disconnected for several weeks, possibly months.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I share the member's concerns for this, and we have discussed it together personally. The member has my mobile phone number. He can call me any time he likes about these matters, in particular about individual disconnections, and I will follow each and every one up with SA Power Networks.
What we are doing—the Office of the Technical Regulator and SA Power Networks—is asking the OTR to double-check and triple-check every single time SAPN wishes to disconnect a cohort of energy users from the grid to make sure that their reasons are justified in the interests of safety. I have no doubt that the level of inconvenience the member is talking about is real and that the people he is advocating on behalf of have legitimate fears about being without power for months.
For example, there are a number of people who won't be directly impacted by the floodwaters who are being advised that because infrastructure that they are reliant on for power is on the flood plain and that they may be disconnected.
SA Power Networks have been told by the South Australian government, as have ElectraNet, that we want to do everything we can and we will do everything we can to try to not so much bend the rules but give exemptions where necessary where we can put in safety parameters that will allow power to be allowed to be kept on.
For example, there are currently about 50 lines across the river and the reason that SA Power Networks may choose to disconnect some people is that, as river levels rise, boating on the river could reach a mandatory height ceiling close to powerlines, and that means that there could be a danger of electrocution, so there are very real reasons. What we can do as the OTR and the Department for Infrastructure and Transport is put a cordon around that area to make sure that all boating facilities, all boating use, around that area are prohibited to try to allow those powerlines to be in use for longer. Ultimately, we reach a point where it might become impractical, so we are trying to find practical solutions to this.
I share the member's frustration. He is right to be annoyed at this. He is right to be angry at this because in the 21st century anyone going without power for prolonged periods of time is unacceptable. I agree. We agree. The member knows how his constituents feel. He is closest to them. We are doing everything we possibly can to make sure that we only turn power off where it is absolutely necessary.
But I do caveat that statement with this: there are going to be times when we are going to upset people because of the rules we have all uniformly put in place. When I say uniformly, I mean uniformly—all of us, unopposed, in this parliament. There are regulations and rules about electrical safety around live lines, transmission and distribution lines and they will be enforced.
Where we can find commonsense solutions to try to keep power on, we will. The Treasurer has put in a pool of money that SAPN can access to put in generation and of course we can also augment and move pumps, so we are doing what we can.
My very strong advice to the member for Chaffey is to contact SAPN or contact me directly as these scenarios come up. I give him this undertaking: I will work with you in a non-partisan way to make sure we can keep as many of your constituents on the grid, on power, for as long as possible. But there will be occasions when the member and I will have to give some disappointing messages to his constituents about power, and those members in this house who live in the Adelaide Hills know exactly what I'm talking about.
Mr WHETSTONE (Chaffey) (14:51): Supplementary to the Minister for Energy and Mining: minister, what power provisions for households will be enacted for my constituency living on life support systems who fear that their lives will be cut short should they lose power?
The SPEAKER: Member for Chaffey, that is not a supplementary question. It introduces new subject matter; however, the minister may choose to take it as a new question.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS (West Torrens—Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Minister for Energy and Mining) (14:51): I think it's a legitimate question and the member is right to raise it because there are people who live across South Australia who are on life support systems, and they rely on the regular supply of power in their homes. It's an appropriate question for him to ask and I'm glad he has asked it.
There are provisions currently in place and SA Power Networks have provisions where they can continue to provide power, if necessary, even by portable generation on properties where people have life support systems in place.
I understand that SA Power Networks and the Department for Health are working to coordinate to try to move people. Where that might become impractical and unsafe is where generators can get inundated and it's not appropriate or where some homes are not geared up to have that type of generation, but for most people who have registered that they have important life support equipment in their homes that cannot tolerate blackout there are provisions in those homes.
I ask the member that, if he knows of people in his electorate who have life-threatening situations where they require power to maintain hydration or levels of oxygen in their blood, he should contact me or SA Power Networks and we will move heaven and earth to make sure that those people are accommodated. We don't want anyone—anyone—to die as a result of this natural disaster.
This is a slow-moving freight train heading towards us. We know that there are substations that would have been inundated had it not been for bunds being built. We know that there is going to be power infrastructure that is going to be inundated. It is built to a standard. It should work, but things will go wrong. In natural disasters, things go wrong. We will do everything we possibly can that is within our power to make sure we can do everything we can. The important thing is that we keep the lines of communication open.
The member for Chaffey is in a unique position in this house: he knows his neighbours. He knows his constituents. He knows who they are. They know him. They have his number. He has our numbers. He has the Premier's number. He has my number. I assume he has the Minister for Emergency Services' number and the Deputy Premier's number. Call anytime night or day. We are ready to take those calls and we are ready to act.
This is a time when there is no Labor Party and no Liberal Party, there are just South Australians. We are here to make sure that every South Australian, no matter where they live or what constituency they are in, knows that the South Australian government is here for them. We will do everything we can, and the tip of the spear of that is the member for Chaffey. If he has people who come to him, come to us and we will act on your behalf because we want you to succeed here.
We want the member for Chaffey to do as much as he possibly can to help his constituency. He is now their point of call, so reach out to us, as is the member alongside him. Reach out. This is not a time for politics, and they know that. We are not saying that they are trying that. What we are saying—
Mr Pederick: I have reached out, as you know.
The Hon. A. KOUTSANTONIS: I know. The member for Hammond says he reached out. He did. He reached out about borrow pits to get clay for levees, and within 24 hours that situation was sorted, and I thanked him for raising it with me. The moment he raised it with me we fixed it, and that is how this parliament is designed to work.
Yes, it's adversarial. Yes, the opposition is designed to keep the government accountable and the government is designed to be accountable to the parliament, but at times like this in natural disasters it's every shoulder to the wheel—everyone.
I thank the member for reaching out—and we fixed it. There will be others, and there will be some phone calls that you make to us where we can't fix it. That is just the nature of a natural disaster, but I give you my undertaking that we are all doing everything we can to make you succeed.