Ringwood bomb scare highlights power supply security concerns

Today’s bomb scare at a Ringwood electricity sub-station shows once again the continued failure of the Brumby government to act to improve the security of our electricity supply system and other critical infrastructure.

Concerns are made even greater by reports that the electricity company in question was unable to get in contact with the Victoria Police counter-terrorism unit, as agreed protocols require, because the relevant police officer was in Queensland and the mobile phones of other designated police contacts went unanswered.

This apparent extraordinary breakdown in counter-terrorist communications comes despite the Auditor-General warning in January that Victoria’s terrorism response system is ‘confusing to agencies and hinders coordination’.

The Victorian Liberal Nationals Coalition warned following the Auditor-General’s report that: Labor’s failure to introduce proper response systems means if a terrorist attack were to target a power station, train line or dam, our response could be undermined by poor coordination and a lack of leadership. (Media Release, 21 January 2009)

“The Brumby Government policy’s on terrorism threats seems to be ‘out of sight, out of mind’,” Shadow Minister for Energy and Resources Robert Clark said.

Today’s incident also follows a series of invasions of electricity supply generators by environmental extremists, which threaten to cut off power supplies and cause widespread blackouts.

The latest of these invasions was at Hazelwood power station on Saturday, and follows previous invasions last year at Loy Yang on 3 September and Hazelwood on 6 November .

“These invasions highlight the need to improve security at power plants and substations to protect not only against extremist protestors, but also against terrorism, vandalism and theft of wire and other crucial components,” Mr Clark said.

”The government needs to help, rather than hinder, power companies to upgrade security. The government also needs to introduce clear offences with tough penalties for those who invade vital infrastructure, rather than allow them to treat existing trespass laws with contempt.

“I raised these problems in Parliament in December last year. Unfortunately, while the Minister criticised those who invade power facilities, he seems to have done nothing since then to improve power supply security.”

“Victorians are fortunate that the object involved in today’s scare turned out not to be a bomb. However, what happened today shows how inadequate our power supply protection arrangements would be in the face of a real and serious threat,” Mr Clark said.