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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2017 Week 11 Hansard (21 September) . .

Page.. 4072..

The insertion of clause 41D makes the utility responsible for vegetation management near powerlines on unleased land in the urban area. This includes street trees and trees in parks and reserves. Amending the act will create a regulatory change event for the utility, allowing them to apply to the Australian Energy Regulator to pass the cost of urban area tree management through to customers. This will be a minor increase in an electricity bill of approximately $9 to $10 a year for an average household. Some trees are dangerously close to the powerlines and require outages to prune them back to within acceptable clearances. The utility is confident that after a transition period of three to five years, the trees will be in a much more manageable state and costs will reduce, as outages will not be needed.

The creation of these new provisions mainly relates to establishing areas of responsibility. It is also important that tree maintenance work undertaken by the utility and its contractors is of a high standard and that clearances are not the main bushfire prevention measure. I consider this would be best achieved through the creation of a technical code under the act, which will be developed with wide stakeholder engagement and overseen by the Conservator of Flora and Fauna.

The technical code will work alongside the Tree Protection Act and the Nature Conservation Act to establish standards for the quality of tree pruning. The utility is strongly in favour of increasing minimum clearance distances and has proposed amendments to the Utility Networks (Public Safety) Regulation 2001 to increase distances significantly in some areas.

Instead, the technical code will require the utility to assess high bushfire risk areas of the network and propose alternative methods of reducing those risks, such as undergrounding cables, aerial-bundled cable or fault-finding technology. In preparation for the technical code, a strict liability offence provision has been created for failing to comply with a requirement of the code.

Madam Assistant Speaker, the Utilities (Technical Regulation) Amendment Bill 2017 increases public safety through amendments which address the risk of fire caused by trees near powerlines, an ongoing concern due to recent interstate bushfires caused by powerlines. It provides the basis for a prescriptive technical code which will further increase bushfire safety while making sure that the environment is considered first and foremost. I commend the Utilities (Technical Regulation) Amendment Bill 2017 to the Assembly.

Debate (on motion by Ms Lawder) adjourned to the next sitting.

Utilities Legislation Amendment Bill 2017

Mr Rattenbury, pursuant to notice, presented the bill, its explanatory statement and a Human Rights Act compatibility statement.

Title read by Clerk.

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