Pole repair row flares
TasNetworks may have wrongfully forced landowners to pay
THOUSANDS of Tasmanian landowners have potentially been unlawfully charged for expensive safety and repair work on their properties, exposing the State Government to claims for compensation, leaked legal advice reveals.
The Government and TasNetworks are now scrambling to resolve the uncertainty surrounding costly maintenance and repairs involving about 65,000 power poles, wires and other electricity assets on private property.
They have been warned to check whether it has been lawful to-date to be charging landowners for work such as bushfire prevention, flood repairs and other electrical work.
Recent legal advice to the Government, and a ministerial briefing note — both sighted by the Sunday Tasmanian — reveal such asset ownership and responsibility actually belongs to TasNetworks unless there is a contrary agreement with the property owner.
The ambiguity involving $250 million-plus worth of private power poles first surfaced last year when some landowners, including a Nubeena farmer with a $10,000 floodrepair bill for a pole and wire, disputed they owned and were responsible for the assets.
It is unclear how many landowners might be affected by the situation and how much they have spent on upkeep.
Figures released to the Sunday Tasmanian show TasNetworks, after identifying a concern, has notified Consumer Building and Occupational Services, part of the Justice Department, of an infrastructure issue on private land that has been forwarded to landowners and then “rec- tified” 4170 times since 2012.
CBOS records also show “480 issues are currently being progressed”.
A Justice spokeswoman said the department was continuing to examine the issue.
“TasNetworks maintain a program of ongoing inspection of all infrastructure which is part of or connected to its network, this includes the private infrastructure,” the Justice Department spokeswoman said.
“Where TasNetworks identify an issue with infrastructure they do not own, they advise Consumer Building and Occupational Services who then contact the owner to advise them of the need to undertake maintenance.
“Where the issue is a critical safety issue and the owner does not address it, CBOS has the authority to direct TasNetworks to disconnect the infrastructure to ensure safety.”