ENERGY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (INFRASTRUCTURE PROTECTION) BILL 2009
Agreement in Principle
Debate resumed from 13 May 2009.
Mr BRAD HAZZARD
(Wakehurst) [6.09 p.m.]: The member for Upper Hunter will lead for the Opposition in debate on the Energy Legislation Amendment (Infrastructure Protection) Bill 2009. The continuous provision of energy is critical to the economic wellbeing of New South Wales. It is vital that the supply of gas or electrical energy should not be susceptible to interruption. The bill provides for changes that are designed to ensure the security and reliability of the energy distribution network. As the member for Upper Hunter will state, the Opposition is very keen to see stronger security and reliability of the State's energy supply.
The bill provides for obligations upon network operators, including Country Energy, EnergyAustralia and Integral Energy, to become part of a system in which they will have certain membership responsibilities and obligations. The Dial Before You Dig system will ensure that network operators provide very important information on the location of cables and gas pipes to assist excavation workers to safely carry out their duties. It does not matter what development takes place or where it takes place, it is critical for everyone to be able to find out where energy supply pipelines are located. This legislation provides for a Dial Before You Dig service in the hope that, by people knowing the location of energy infrastructure installations, damage to the energy distribution system will be avoided.
Mr ROBERT COOMBS (Swansea) [6.11 p.m.]: I support the Energy Legislation Amendment (Infrastructure Protection) Bill 2009 because I believe it will help to safeguard critical New South Wales infrastructure. Infrastructure of all types—roads, bridges, ports, airports and broadband networks—is critical to the success of modern economies. The Government is keenly aware of that, which is why it is rolling out a huge investment over coming years, working with the Commonwealth to secure even more investment in New South Wales infrastructure, reforming the planning system and the energy sector to promote private sector infrastructure investment, and overseeing the biggest upgrade of the electricity network in history. The bill will perfectly complement those initiatives. It seeks to safeguard critical energy infrastructure. By upgrading protection of our energy network, the reliability of electricity and gas supplies, as well as the confidence of the business community, will be significantly improved for all consumers.
This is the first element of the Government's five-point plan, which was announced by my colleague the Minister for Energy on 19 April 2009, to further secure Sydney's power supply. The bill does that in a number of ways that have been outlined by the Minister, but the aspect of the bill that I draw to the attention of the House is the obligations it places on network providers. The bill places obligations on building contractors, and that is fair and reasonable. As recent occurrences have shown, contractors clearly need more encouragement to behave carefully near network assets. But it is also fair and reasonable that network providers be required to do their bit. Network providers are businesses—in most cases, very large businesses—and it is not unreasonable to require them to maintain high quality databases on the location of their assets as well as an easily accessible system for making that information available to the construction industry.
The industry has established the Dial Before You Dig scheme for that purpose. Dial Before You Dig is an industry-funded information service for professionals, particularly building contractors, who are planning to excavate. It provides information to assist contractors to locate any underground network infrastructure in the vicinity of the proposed excavation. The bill seeks to add to the scheme to ensure it is as effective and efficient as possible. The key change in the bill that ensures effectiveness and efficiency of the Dial Before You Dig scheme is the introduction of two requirements that will be met by network operators. First, the bill requires network operators to become a member of Dial Before You Dig scheme. Second, the bill requires them to comply with their membership responsibilities.
The primary intention of these requirements is to ensure that the information available to Dial Before You Dig about the location of network assets is, first, more comprehensive because it will include all electricity and gas network operators and, second, more accurate and up to date. Alternatively, if the necessary information on a location is unavailable to Dial Before You Dig, network providers will be required to deliver the required information in a timely way. The bill will make the Dial Before You Dig service more comprehensive by requiring all network providers to join the scheme. This means it will cover all of New South Wales and all the network assets in New South Wales. The bill will create an incentive for network providers to ensure that the information held by Dial Before You Dig is accurate and current: Contractors who call Dial Before You Dig and who have followed instructions will be protected from prosecution in the event that they damage any network assets.
In conclusion, I urge members to support the bill because it is important legislation that will minimise disruption to the people and economy of New South Wales and help to protect the value of the billions of dollars in investment that have been made in the past as well as the further investment that is about to be made under the Minister's five-point plan. It is a balanced approach that recognises the need to minimise impacts on the construction industry while at the same time improving the level of protection of energy network assets. It balances these competing needs by placing obligations on contractors to follow industry guidelines and obligations on network providers to make sure that accurate information is available to contractors in a timely way. For the reasons I have stated, I strongly support the bill. I urge my fellow members to do the same.
Mr GEORGE SOURIS
(Upper Hunter) [6.18 p.m.]: It is with pleasure that I lead for the Opposition in debate on the Energy Legislation Amendment (Infrastructure Protection) Bill 2009. I thank my friend and colleague the member for Wakehurst who commenced debate on behalf of the Opposition. I state at the outset that the Opposition will not oppose the bill. The legislation was announced by the Government following recent blackouts in Sydney. It is the first part of the Government's five-point plan to improve the security of power supply in New South Wales. The Opposition supports moves to improve the security and reliability of the State's energy supply by reducing the risk of damage to underground powerlines and pipelines from excavation works. But of course the Opposition wonders why that has not been done before. The Opposition does not support the Government constantly shifting blame for its own incompetence in managing the State's energy infrastructure.
In many respects the bill creates new rules and regulations in an area that really requires many million dollars of investment. The way to consider securing the State's electricity future is by investing in its infrastructure. The rules provided by the bill are not a substitute for investment in infrastructure. The Government's blaming the first of the central business district energy network failures on a backhoe operation that took place 10 years ago is indicative of its failure to take any responsibility for its own actions. The Government has ripped $11.4 billion out of the State's electricity system and has failed to reinvest any of it to ensure that our power supply infrastructure has kept pace with population growth and industry needs. The chickens have now come home to roost. The obsession with dividends has resulted in a shortfall in infrastructure investment. We saw the consequences of that with the recent central business district blackouts, which caused chaos in the city.
After 14 years of neglect, it is time the Rees Government improved our electricity system by substantial investment in infrastructure. Although the Opposition supports the bill, we ask that the Government impose further requirements. Those requirements are that industry engage in discussion on the merits of using warning tape above all power cables; that it is a condition that civil contractors have a representative on the New South Wales Dial Before You Dig board; and that training on the correct use of Dial Before You Dig is compulsory for all building contractors, excavators and persons required to use this service. As I said, the Opposition will not oppose the bill. However, we ask the Government to consider our suggestions. This bill is not the panacea for the security of our electricity system. The only way we can ensure security is by substantial direct investment in infrastructure.
Mr ALAN ASHTON
(East Hills) [6.21 p.m.]: I support the Energy Legislation Amendment (Infrastructure Protection) Bill 2009. Many communities rely on a secure supply of gas as a component of their total energy needs. With this in mind, I am particularly supportive of the bill. It is critical that underground gas pipelines receive the same level of protection as that given to underground electricity cables. The bill proposes amendments to the Gas Supply Act 1996 similar to those proposed to the Electricity Supply Act. Some weeks ago work was required to be undertaken outside my electorate office as a result of electricity supply problems. The appropriate authorities turned up to do the work but could not find the old plans that show the electricity supply to my office.
They had to undertake digging and contacted the Dial Before You Dig service to get the appropriate information. It was not available. The old blueprints probably had been lost umpteen years ago. As a result, the chemist shop and the dry cleaners across the road were out of action for almost two days because of disruptions to their electricity supply. The problem in this case related to the age of the infrastructure. It is acknowledged that some infrastructure is old; however, some is not. But we must have a reliable Dial Before You Dig service, otherwise people may take the view that they can do a small job in a hurry if they do not use the service. That can cause great problems, as we have seen.
The bill will improve the security and reliability of the State's energy supply by reducing the risk of damage to underground gas pipelines from excavation work. Other speakers in this debate will no doubt refer to electricity. The member for Upper Hunter referred to the security of the electricity supply. All we can do is reduce the risk of damage. Members who have served on local councils would know that a great deal of the services infrastructure in New South Wales is underground; sewer pipes, gas pipes, electricity cables and broadband cables are underground. People might say that a cable or pipe was laid in line with that tree or that pole. But things change; boundaries and fences are moved. It is important that we do all we can to mitigate against any interruption to gas pipelines and electricity cables.
The bill imposes new requirements on network operators in New South Wales and on people undertaking excavation work, such as building contractors. These new requirements include, first, requiring network operators to belong to Dial Before You Dig and comply with the membership responsibilities. In the past I have been comforted by the Dial Before You Dig stickers on workmen's utilities and EnergyAustralia vehicles. But they do not mean much if the service is not used. Network operators will be required to provide information on the location and type of underground gas pipelines to assist excavation workers to work safely and without damaging the network. We must keep in mind that this information is not only in relation to maintaining gas and electricity supply. Any hit on a gas pipeline has the potential to cause the loss of many lives, as well as significant damage to property and infrastructure. Second, the bill requires correct procedures to be followed prior to commencing excavation work, including obtaining information from the Dial Before You Dig service about the location and type of underground gas pipeline and complying with the regulations on excavation procedures.
Third, the bill requires all persons to notify network operators in the event of causing damage to their gas networks, with a penalty to apply for knowing non-compliance. This will allow network operators to take remedial action at an early stage and will minimise the costs of repairing any damage and any subsequent disruption of gas supplies to customers. I support the bill, and I urge all members to support it also. I am pleased that the Opposition has indicated it will support the bill, although it has raised some issues. The bill is an important additional step in providing further protection to the State's gas networks. No-one suggests it is the solution to every problem we may face. Energy supply interruptions are inconvenient and costly. These legislative amendments will strengthen our ability to provide secure gas supplies to the communities that rely on them. I commend the bill to the House.
Mr JONATHAN O'DEA
(Davidson) [6.26 p.m.]: The Energy Legislation Amendment (Infrastructure Protection) Bill 2009 has the purpose of further strengthening the ability of the Government and, in turn, supply authorities to protect electricity and gas supply lines. It attempts to put more teeth into protecting services infrastructure. The relevant amendments will be incorporated into the Electricity Supply Act 1995 and the Gas Supply Act 1996. These services, together with water, sewer and telephone, are spread across the State and intertwined with other built infrastructure in our communities. They are not in a defined space and cannot be constantly watched or fenced off. As such, the Government and its authorities need to put in place procedures, regulations and sanctions, such as fines, to reasonably protect this infrastructure.
The care of services at the coalface involves engineers designing projects and the construction methods of foremen and workmen on site. Yesterday I witnessed an example of a foreman and workers acting responsibly with an excavator at Lindfield station, which is in my electorate of Davidson. A small digging machine was gently scraping the bottom of a hole. Two workers were on their knees intently watching the bucket. They detected something hard and proceeded very carefully. A worker yelled out that it was only a tree root and the digger continued in earnest. I will outline some considerations that the Government must bear in mind, in addition to making these laws. These matters are part of the role of Ministers and senior departmental officers in minimising supply disruptions.
Electricity supply authorities must maintain sufficient supply circuits to each area to ensure alternative routes of supply. No area should be supplied by only one circuit, except in extreme circumstances and then only out of business hours. If a circuit is out of use due to external factors, at least two other circuits should be operational. In areas such as the lower Blue Mountains that are prone to lightning strikes, more circuits should be available. In recent years extreme major supply disruptions lasting days, even weeks in some areas, occurred in New York and Auckland. These cities were reliant on too few routes of electricity supply by privately owned companies. I understand a further result of the New York blackout was an increase in hospital births some nine months later.
The Sydney central business district had three power outages, including a major power outage, on three separate days in late March and April this year. The Government has not provided any clear and full explanation for these outages, just talk of failsafe mechanisms and faults in power cables. Do the real reasons involve a lack of sufficient supply routes, lack of maintenance or insufficient protection of cables? Closer to home at Belrose, in my electorate of Davidson, there were 10 power outages from Christmas Eve 2008 and into the first three months of this year. This was unacceptable, especially when the longest outage lasting many hours was due to equipment failure.
The Government must be open and issue reports on electricity and gas supply routes, and identify the weak links in the supply chain. It needs to allocate sufficient funding to upgrade these weak links. Dial Before You Dig is an industry-funded service that assembles and collates information on services locations, and is a single point of contact for designers and construction personnel. This is an appropriate concept but it must be appropriately funded and staffed by technical officers so that it never becomes a token or unreliable service. Collating the huge amount of civil and electrical information statewide that changes every day is an enormous job.
The Government must ensure that the performance of Dial Before You Dig is periodically audited for reliability of information. The price of failure can be far in excess of the cost of a fine. The Government should also monitor supply authorities to ensure that they have suitable education programs to educate builders and contractors about their responsibilities before digging. On some occasions no amount of recorded information will be sufficient and authorities will need to carry out field investigations to determine what is in the ground. Recently a person in my electorate of Davidson recounted an example of such investigations that occurred 10 years ago at a railway site in Lee Street, Railway Square, where there were 150 years of services in the ground, many of which had been discarded. The problem was to determine which services were still in use and which were obsolete. This was no Dial Before You Dig site; it required costly, careful field work. There are numerous similar sites still in Sydney.
The Government, through its oversight of authorities, must ensure that a conservative approach is taken to supply infrastructure and that sufficient funds are available for field identification of existing services. The Government and its authorities need to supply construction contractors with accurate details of services in a locality to prevent an accidental cutting of supplies. Supply authorities should ideally remove discontinued or unused services from the ground so that workers have more respect for services found and take adequate care and protection. The Government also needs to ensure that authorities have procedures and funds in place for the removal of such unused services. Having said that, the Opposition does not oppose this bill.
Mrs JUDY HOPWOOD
(Hornsby) [6.32 p.m.]: The purpose of the Energy Legislation Amendment (Infrastructure Protection) Bill 2009 is to amend the Electricity Supply Act 1995 and the Gas Supply Act 1996 to make further provision for the protection of electricity and gas infrastructure. The objects of the bill are:
(a) to enable network operators to require persons carrying out excavation work near electricity works or gas works to modify or cease the work if the excavation work would cause damage to or interfere with the electricity or gas works, and
(b) to enable network operators to recover compensation for damage to electricity works and gas works in certain circumstances, and
(c) to place a condition on licences and authorisations held by network operators that they belong to a designated information provider, and
(d) to enable regulations to be made in relation to the provision by network operators of information relating to underground electricity power lines and underground gas pipelines, and
(e) to make it an offence for a person to carry out certain excavation work without first contacting a designated information provider to obtain information as to the location and type of underground electricity power lines or underground gas pipelines in the vicinity of the proposed work, and
(f) to make it an offence for a person to carry out certain excavation work in contravention of the requirements of the regulations in relation to the carrying out of the excavation work, and
(g) to make it an offence for a person to fail to notify a network operator after becoming aware that the person's actions have caused damage to the operator's underground electricity power lines or underground gas pipelines, and
(h) to increase the penalties for the offence of unauthorised interference with electricity works or gas works.
The background to this bill is directly related to the massive blackouts that the central business district has endured in recent months. Obviously, it is too little, too late in relation to the need to improve and maintain infrastructure provision across New South Wales and, indeed, in my electorate of Hornsby, which regularly experiences blackouts. A couple of years ago the Galston and Dural area had the most crippling blackouts and brownouts, with homes, service provision and businesses severely impeded. There was a huge campaign to encourage the Government to ensure that essential expenditure in this area was provided. I am pleased to say that the community spoke out so loudly that the Government allocated $30 million worth of expenditure in the area and a major substation is being constructed at the moment.
However, the rest of my electorate is still suffering from a lack of infrastructure. I concur with the statement by the member for Upper Hunter that the Government has ripped $11.5 billion out of the electricity system because of its amazing obsession with dividends—dividends that go into the Government's coffers but not to improve and maintain electricity infrastructure. Recently when I was in Brooklyn I received further reports of regular brownouts and blackouts in the area. Also, over the past few years a number of blackouts have extended from Berowra and all the way to Hornsby. Frankly, I am sick of the excuse that a blackout was caused by dew on some equipment or a branch falling on power lines. I suppose that makes the point that, in terms of Dial Before You Dig, more underground protection must be provided.
Some parts of my electorate are dense with trees; it is a bushland shire and trees do fall across power lines. However, more expenditure is needed to provide residents and businesses alike with the services and electricity supply that they deserve in 2009. The Coalition is supporting this bill but I reiterate the suggestions made by the shadow Minister. The industry should be engaged in discussions about the merits of using warning tape above all power cables, it should be a condition for civil contractors to have a representative on the New South Wales Dial Before You Dig board, and there should be enforced compulsory training for all building contractors and excavators on how to correctly use the Dial Before You Dig system.
Mr ROB STOKES
(Pittwater) [6.38 p.m.]: The purpose of the Energy Legislation Amendment (Infrastructure Protection) Bill 2009 is to amend the Electricity Supply Act 1995 and the Gas Supply Act 1996 to make further provision for the protection of electricity and gas infrastructure. Underground cables and pipelines are not often thought about but society relies heavily on them. They are the assets that provide essential services for our hospitals, emergency services, businesses and households. It does not matter whether a person is digging a shallow trench for minor landscaping works or carrying out major excavation for an inner-city construction; serious damage, destruction and injury can occur from a collision with a pipeline or an underground cable.
The reality is that underground cabling can be as shallow as 50 centimetres below the surface. With modernisation and construction taking place across New South Wales, it is imperative that appropriate measures be taken to ensure that the likelihood of injury and disruption is reduced. In my electorate of Pittwater, the end on the peninsula of one of the trunk routes out of the central business district is particularly vulnerable to disruptions in supply. I grew up in Pittwater and it was not uncommon to have the hurricane lantern come out at night-time, even though we are not all that far from the city.
There has been a range of incidents, damage and near misses throughout my jurisdiction. The member for Davidson also spoke about overseas jurisdictions where there have been explosions in gas mains and high-voltage electricity cables that have come into contact with excavation works. In many cases, workers have been very lucky to escape with their lives and the incidents have caused substantial disruptions to essential services and resulted in huge costs to those responsible. It is therefore essential that this amendment be introduced. We need these changes to ensure that New South Wales underground assets are protected; that workers undertaking excavation work are protected; that accidents and disruptions to services are reduced; that all those involved in any form of excavation, including plumbers, builders, landscapers and homeowners, utilise the services provided by Dial Before You Dig; and that all operators who own New South Wales underground assets provide comprehensive information on their underground networks.
Therefore, I am pleased to note that this legislation will ensure that contacting Dial Before You Dig is a compulsory requirement before any excavation work is carried out; that network operators will have to provide information on the full extent of their underground networks; that network operators are notified of any damage that occurs so that immediate restoration work can take place—and I note that in my community of Pittwater there have been some lengthy delays in restoration work—that network operators are informed of any proposed works, enabling them to prevent potentially damaging excavation work from commencing; and that appropriate penalties are put in place to help ensure that any unauthorised interference with underground infrastructure is prevented.
The bill outlines what are essentially commonsense measures that will provide assurance for homeowners and businesses, that will reduce the likelihood of accidental injury and disruption to essential services, and that will provide more detailed information for those undertaking excavation works. Accidents involving gas pipe disruption can also place a huge burden on emergency services, which are the ones called to fix up the mess. Mr Barney Fenasse, one of the station commanders at Narrabeen fire station in my community of Pittwater, informed me that call-outs to accidents involving gas pipes occur on a regular basis and take up the valuable time and resources of New South Wales Fire Brigades. He believes that this is caused by lazy builders, plumbers and landscapers not taking the time to seek advice before commencing work. He believes that making it mandatory to contact Dial Before You Dig would reduce the demand on emergency services, reduce the dangers posed to lives, and encourage responsible practices.
This is legislation that is well overdue and, if introduced earlier, could have prevented countless numbers of incidents, including both major and minor disruptions that occurred recently in residential streets. A constituent in my community of Pittwater is unfortunately an example of how this legislation would have assisted if introduced earlier. The gentleman resides in Narrabeen and his home sustained substantial damage from a gas explosion caused by contractors accidentally striking a gas pipe outside his property. Fortunately the explosion did not injure him. However, he faced the substantial inconvenience of having his house repaired as well as enduring the lengthy process—which lasted more than three years—of seeking compensation from those responsible. Had legislation been in place requiring the contractor involved to seek information about the location of the underground pipes, this situation could have been avoided. This amendment will help ensure that such damaging accidents are less common and will help to protect workers, businesses, homeowners and network providers against the essential yet highly dangerous infrastructure that exists beneath the surface. Although it is overdue, I support the amendment and this legislation.
Mr PETER DEBNAM
(Vaucluse) [6.43 p.m.]: I make a brief contribution to debate on the Energy Legislation Amendment (Infrastructure Protection) Bill 2009. Obviously it is a critical bill and, as Opposition speakers have said previously, we are a little surprised not to have seen these provisions before. I suppose everyone assumed that this type of legislation was in place, when clearly it was not. Energy infrastructure is absolutely critical; it is also very complex. Our entire economy and, indeed, our lifestyle depend upon it. It is very important that it be managed properly and that incentives be in place for people to do the right thing. But it is a mutual obligation to do the right thing: there is not just an obligation on private contractors or the public when they are dealing with the energy network; there is also an obligation on the Government.
Last week in the middle of my electorate we suddenly lost electricity, gas and water supplies. There will be questions asked for some time as to how that happened. The bill contains the words "Dial Before You Dig", but I believe in the case of infrastructure in New South Wales it is important also to speak about "fix before it collapses". Time and time again in this State over the past decade we have seen not only across the electricity network but also in water and road infrastructure that the Government simply has not put resources into maintaining that infrastructure. I believe it is vital in this debate on the importance of energy infrastructure that we acknowledge also that it is critical that the Government does the right thing in terms of maintaining the system.
In my electorate last week part of Victoria Road in Bellevue Hill disappeared down the hillside. The cause appeared to be a water leak next to the road under the footpath. Surprisingly, after the road disappeared down the hillside more and more people said that they had seen the water bubbling from a water leak for a number of days. Then we heard from Sydney Water that it had visited the site at least once, if not twice, in the three days before the road collapsed. I have asked the Government a number of questions about this incident and I ask it again in relation to that critical infrastructure: What reports were made on the concerns about water bubbling up from the leak? What was done about any such reports? When did Sydney Water visit the site and what did it decide to do about it within the system, because this collapse happened over a number of days?
When we talk about obligations in relation to energy infrastructure it is important to realise that the Government has a critical obligation to carry out maintenance and, once a defect becomes apparent, do something about it very quickly. It was just a matter of luck that no-one was killed in the recent collapse, which occurred about 50 metres from apartments on one side and shops on the other. Thank goodness nobody was killed. But there are many questions to be answered about the incident. I hope in its budget planning over the next two weeks Treasury will provide funding for compensation, which the bill states that private operators are required to offer. I hope that Treasury is considering compensating Woollahra council for the excellent job it has done since Thursday of last week in repairing the damage.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE
(Lismore) [6.47 p.m.]: I make a contribution to debate on the Energy Legislation Amendment (Infrastructure Protection) Bill 2009, which amends the Electricity Supply Act 1995 and the Gas Supply Act 1996 to make further provision for the protection of electricity and gas infrastructure. In April the Minister for Energy announced a five-point plan to improve the security of the electricity supply. This followed a massive blackout in the central business district. The first point of the plan was this bill to change the Electricity Supply Act 1995 to provide greater protection to underground electricity cables. The aim of the bill is to improve the security and reliability of the State's energy supply by reducing the risk of damage to underground powerlines and pipelines from excavation works. The bill will make it compulsory for all network operators to belong to Dial Before You Dig. We asked the Minister's office how many companies were not members because I thought nearly every contractor was a member of Dial Before You Dig. The member for Vaucluse referred to the road collapse in Victoria Road, Bellevue Hill, which is typical of what happened in the recent northern New South Wales floods.
Ms Lylea McMahon:
What's this got to do with it?
Mr THOMAS GEORGE:
The floods damaged powerlines and I am trying to explain to the Parliamentary Secretary through you, Mr Acting-Speaker, what happens in floods. Exactly the same thing happened in Lismore when a section of the road, together with services, was completely washed away in the floods. Again, it was not the fault of the community. Part of the road in the middle of the main thoroughfare to the local council chambers and to Goonellabah village slipped away before our eyes. The newspaper reported that five minutes earlier the Minister for Emergency Services crossed that road and was lucky not to be involved.
Ms Lylea McMahon:
Point of order: I ask that the member be drawn back to the leave of the bill.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE:
Through you, Mr Acting-Speaker, the Parliamentary Secretary has no practical experience in these matters. I referred to this incident because a power pole went down the chute with the road, resulting in a loss of power. Electricity went in underground cables off the pole—that is what the incident has to do with the bill. Will the Parliamentary Secretary please stop showing her ignorance?
ASSISTANT-SPEAKER (Mr Grant McBride):
Order! I will extend a degree of latitude to the member for Lismore.
Mr THOMAS GEORGE:
I refer to infrastructure. During the recent floods contractors were called out at 10.00 p.m. to restore electricity. They could not ring Dial Before You Dig at that time of night. What do operators in country and regional areas do in those circumstances? I have spoken to contractors who were placed in that situation who said that by restoring power they could have affected Telstra lines or other cabling. If they do not know in emergency situations where those things are located it is a problem for them. I place that on record. The Opposition suggests that there is a need to engage the industry about the merits of using warning tape above all power cables. It also suggests that there should be a condition on civil contractors to have a representative on the New South Wales Dial Before You Dig board so that experienced people are able to update the system and respond to contractors' needs. Finally, compulsory training in how to use Dial Before You Dig correctly should be enforced for all building contractors, excavators and persons required to use the system. As the shadow Minister indicated, the Opposition will not oppose the bill.
Ms LYLEA McMAHON
(Shellharbour—Parliamentary Secretary) [6.52 p.m.], in reply: I thank members representing the electorates of Upper Hunter, Davidson, Hornsby, Pittwater, Vaucluse, Lismore, Swansea and East Hills for their contributions to this debate. For the benefit of the member for Upper Hunter, the industry established Dial Before You Dig, and until recently it has been effective. However, due to careless and rogue operators, incidents of power outages have occurred. The Energy Legislation Amendment (Infrastructure Protection) Bill 2009 reinforces the industry scheme and sends a clear message to contractors who are not prepared to take the necessary steps and preparation to ensure that they do their job properly without damaging State energy assets. An independent national body, the Australian Energy Regulator, approves investment in infrastructure. Recently the New South Wales Government committed $16.7 billion over five years through that process.
The Government is happy to take on board the Opposition's suggestions for consultation with industry and the use of tape as part of its regulatory process. The member for Davidson referred to the network's reliability. The Government has imposed stringent reliability conditions on network business, requiring 99.98 per cent reliability by 2016, which equates to just 105 minutes on average per year. More than $1 billion will be invested in meeting the enhanced reliability conditions. Networks are required to publish annual reports on the performance of their networks. EnergyAustralia has undertaken a full investigation into the city outages, and the Government has already committed to making the findings public. I advise the member for Vaucluse that the causes of the water-induced collapse in Bellevue Hill are still under investigation.
The Government is committed to improving the security of energy supplies in New South Wales. Recent power interruptions in the Sydney central business district have reinforced the importance of this issue, and the Government's five-point plan is a clear demonstration of its ongoing commitment. The plan put in place measures to strengthen legislation and inject investment to ensure that the integrity of energy networks is preserved. The amending bill is a critical step towards implementing the five-point plan. The bill provides for improved security and reliability of the State's energy supply by reducing the risk of damage to underground powerlines and pipelines from excavation work. The amending bill will preserve the network's integrity by giving network operators the ability to serve notice on people who they suspect may have damaged their assets. Under these provisions, network operators will be able to serve written notices that require proposed work to be modified or stopped, or they may apply for an injunction to prevent excavation work.
In support of this, the bill increases the maximum penalty for the offence of interfering with electricity works from two to five years imprisonment. The maximum fine for individuals will rise from $11,000 to $22,000. For corporations, the maximum penalty will be increased from $220,000 to $440,000. These penalties send a strong message that interference with the electricity network will be viewed very seriously. Importantly, in support of prevention provisions, the amendments introduce a statutory indemnity for Dial Before You Dig and authorised officers of network operators. The indemnity will ensure that Dial Before You Dig can operate effectively under the legislative amendments without incurring any civil monetary liability for an act or omission in the exercise of its statutory functions.
The amendments extend the statutory limits on civil liability to authorised officers of network operators. Provided those officers are acting in good faith, the personal liability of authorised officers will be removed and will instead lie against the network operator. These indemnities are an important means of ensuring that both the Dial Before You Dig organisation and authorised officers of network operators can perform their statutory roles effectively. Similar indemnities already apply in relation to the exercise of functions under the national electricity law. The statutory indemnity will not apply if the act or omission is done in bad faith or as a result of negligence. The bill amends the Electricity Supply Act to place new requirements on network operators, such as EnergyAustralia, Integral Energy and Country Energy, and people undertaking excavation work, such as building contractors.
The amending bill will require network operators to belong to the Dial Before You Dig scheme. Dial Before You Dig was established to assist anyone planning excavation work to locate underground infrastructure that may be affected by excavation activities. Network operators will be required to comply with the Dial Before You Dig requirement to respond to excavators with information on the location and type of underground electricity cables and gas pipelines near the proposed excavation work. For contractors, the amending bill requires those undertaking excavation work to follow correct procedures prior to commencing their work. The amending bill will facilitate the recovery of the costs and expenses associated with the damage to networks. A court will be given the discretion to order the payment of costs incurred in preventing or mitigating damages to networks. The legislation is crucial. It will allow the Government to protect the State's electricity and gas networks. I commend the bill to the House.
Question—That this bill be now agreed to in principle—put and resolved in the affirmative.
Motion agreed to.
Bill agreed to in principle.
Passing of the Bill
Bill declared passed and transmitted to the Legislative Council with a message seeking its concurrence in the bill.