Close ties emerge over terminal

Chris Hingston

POWER companies were privy to the behind-the-scenes state government approval process for the Brunswick Terminal Station expansion and suggested plans to approve the development months before it was publicly announced.

A government spokesman has defended the close ties between the Department of Primary Industry and power companies as “appropriate”.

Documents released under Freedom of Information have shed further light on the approval process for the $271 million terminal station expansion.

In February this year, Planning Minister Matthew Guy announced he had rezoned the land to allow the upgrade, overturning a Moreland City council decision to block the development.

Residents opposing the terminal station slammed the decision to rezone the land, saying earlier this month it was the approval option that most restricted resident input into the decision.

The new documents, released to Brunswick MLA Jane Garrett under Freedom of Information laws, include emails and letters between DPI, the Department of Planning and Community Development and power company CitiPower and Powercor Australia.

The documents include notes from a briefing from power companies and the Australian Energy Market Operator to high-ranking state government officials in October last year – while the planning application for the larger terminal station was still before Moreland council. The briefing documents predict that, no matter what the council decided, the issue would likely go to VCAT “causing unacceptable delays” and suggest how the government could intervene.

The documents ask what the government would need in order to “facilitate a prompt decision if asked to call-in the matter”. They also outline the importance of the work to ensure the security of power supply.

A later email from DPI staff asks the power companies and AEMO for their letter to Mr Guy backing the terminal upgrade, saying: “We’ve prepared a letter of support from our end for our minister, but it would be clearly desirable to see what we’re supporting!”

Energy Minister Michael O’Brien then wrote to Mr Guy in November last year, requesting he “call-in” the plans for the larger terminal, days before Moreland council rejected the upgrade.

Then in early January, CitiPower and Powercor Australia wrote to DPI asking for an update on the “proposed rezoning of the site”, two weeks before the rezoning recommendation was put to Mr Guy for approval.

Ms Garrett said the documents showed a “deeply embedded relationship” between power companies and the government.

“It is outrageous,” she said.

Merri Creek Residents Group member Chris Black said the findings confirmed residents’ “worst fears”.

“The collaboration between the government and the power companies was so strong,” she said.

She said council and residents had been shut out of the approval process.

CitiPower and Powercor Australia spokesman Hugo Armstrong said the level of communication with the government was not unusual.

“It would be irresponsible of the government not to be working closely with the electricity supply industry,” he said.

DPI spokesman Alex Wilson said it was appropriate for the department to maintain a working relationship with all parties to ensure Victorians had access to “safe, reliable and affordable power”.