Coroner calls for overhead powerline ban

Tony Keim

A CORONER yesterday slammed south-cast Queensland power provider Energex for its "haphazard" tree-clearing programme.

Ipswich coroner Donna MacCallum also recommended the State Government play an active role in long-term strategies to ensure all Queensland powerlines were laid underground.

Mrs MacCallum yesterday released her findings on the electrocution deaths of three Ipswich people when they came in contact with live powerlines felled by a tree during a storm early last year.

Julie Anne Summers, 27, and her three-year-old daughter, Erin Kate, died as they were clearing debris from the footpath outside their Wattle Street home on April 10 last year.

Neighbour Keith Paul Bateman, 30, a Telstra technician, was killed when he rushed to their aid.

Mrs MacCallum criticised Energex's auditing of powerlines overgrown by trees and in need of trimming.

"The system of relying upon the public and other similarly haphazard means of identifying problem areas should be discontinued," Mrs MacCallum said.

"Energex should ensure that all areas serviced by overhead powerlines should be subjected to a regular maintenance programme, including a regular tree trimming programme."

Mrs MacCallum also called on the State Government to play an active role in establishing plans to replace all Queensland overhead lines with underground networks.

,'Despite the cost, electrical suppliers have to look at undertaking a programme of putting lines underground ... it seems this is the only reasonably safe way of reducing fatalities," she said.

"The means by which this can be achieved has to be the province of government.

"Because it's so expensive should not cause it to be shelved. It is a challenge, but at the end of the day ... what price can be put on a human life?"

Other recommendations included an intensive campaign to warn of the dangers of downed lines in storms; educating environment groups to acceptance that the welfare of trees should not be put before public safety; and investment in alternative means of cutting power supply when lines are felled.

Energex said yesterday it accepted the coroner's findings and would continue to review vegetation management and public safety programmes.

However, a spokesman said Energex's $21 million budget had already addressed issues raised by the coroner.

"Vegetation management will remain a high priority within the Energex maintenance programme as will safety campaigns, particularly those that alert people to the dangers of fallen powerlines," the spokesman said.

"Energex already has ... a combined budget of more than $21 million this financial year and these programmes will be reviewed and changes made ... in line with the findings of the coroner."

Keith Bateman's father, Bevan Bateman, said the families of all three victims hoped the coroner's findings would prompt Energex to make substantial changes.

"I don't want any other family to have to endure what our family has," Mr Bateman said. "As the coroner said - what price can you put on a human life? My hope is that the powers-that-be stop this from ever happening again."

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