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ETU Media Releases

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Closure of Essential Energy depots at Trundle and Peak Hill will leave community with reduced services

Paul Lister - Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The closure of Essential Energy depots at Trundle and Peak Hill next month, with specialist workers redeployed up to an hour away in Parkes, Narromine and Condobolin, will result in reduced services and slower emergency response times, the Electrical Trades Union has warned.

Regional electricity distributor Essential Energy this week confirmed that as part of an ongoing series of cuts to employee numbers and regional depots, the two facilities in Trundle and Peak Hill will close their doors from September 4.

Last Tuesday, ETU representatives met with Member for Orange Philip Donato to discuss the local depot closures, with the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party MP expressing his shared concerns regarding the impacts of ongoing Essential Energy cuts.

“At the moment, when a car hits a telegraph pole, wind brings down power lines, or a house catches fire, local crews are available at Trundle and Peak Hill to respond, including after hours,” ETU assistant secretary Justin Page said.

“From next month, emergency services will be forced to wait for up to an hour for power to be isolated, as Essential Energy instead deploys crews from Parkes or Forbes.

“This delayed response not only impacts on the ability of emergency services personnel to do their job, it puts the safety of the public at risk and will result in services taking longer to restore.

“You can’t close two depots, relocate the workers and their specialist equipment to another town, then claim the local community won’t receive lower levels of service.

“It’s obvious that when the lights go out, or a catastrophe strikes, the people of Trundle and Peak Hill will be forced to wait longer before assistance arrives, it’s as simple as that.”

Mr Page also hit out at the National Party, saying they had turned a blind eye to cuts that saw more than 1,400 regional jobs axed from Essential Energy during the 2015-16 financial year alone.

“Before the last election, the National Party claimed they had ‘saved’ Essential Energy, but since then we have seen more than 50 local depots shut down and huge numbers of specialist workers lost,” he said. “It’s now absolutely clear that the Nationals lied to the public.

“Already this year, Essential Energy has closed depots at Moulamein, Grenfell, and Gundagai, as well as a major call centre in Queanbeyan, while management told the Fair Work Commission they plan to axe half of their remaining regional workforce in the next few years.

“This situation is absolutely unsustainable and will leave communities across regional NSW suffering with second-class electricity supplies.”

Union issues urgent safety ban after Essential Energy heavy vehicles found to be operating over legal weight limits

Paul Lister - Thursday, June 08, 2017

The Electrical Trades Union has issued an immediate ban on the towing of pole trailers by borer trucks, involving more than 100 heavy vehicles based at Essential Energy depots across the state, after up to 10 per cent were found to be breaching Roads and Maritime Services legal safety limits, putting drivers and the public at risk.

The safety issue was uncovered last Thursday, June 1, when an Essential Energy borer truck fitted with a crane used to dig holes and lift new power poles into position was found to exceed the legal safe weight limit for its front axle while being checked on a public weighbridge. Further examinations found 1 in 10 of the company’s borer truck fleet breached heavy vehicle safety limits, in particular when they were towing jinker trailers to transport power poles.

The ETU wrote to Essential Energy management the following day seeking an immediate action plan to address the serious safety issue, warning that it was not only putting workers and other road users at risk, but could also result in the drivers being fined more than $2,200 for operating an overloaded vehicle.

Essential Energy’s General Manager for Safety, Human Resources and Environment refused to issue a safety warning to staff, telling the union: “we have decided we will not issue a safety alert as it does not apply to the majority of our fleet or depots.”

ETU NSW secretary Dave McKinley said the union was left with no choice but to today (June 8) issue a fleet-wide ban on the use of Essential Energy borer trucks towing jinker trailers after discovering that days after the company was made aware of the serious safety issue, a potentially overweight vehicle was driven 360 kilometres from Inverell to Ballina.

“Days after admitting that 10 per cent of their fleet of borer trucks were potentially in breach of the safe weight limits imposed by RMS, Essential Energy not only refused to issue a safety alert to staff, but they had one of these trucks driven hundreds of kilometres, putting the safety of workers, other road users and the general public at risk,” Mr McKinley said.

“The RMS imposes strict legal limits on heavy vehicles precisely because of the substantial danger an overloaded vehicle poses to everyone on the road.

“The fact that Essential Energy was not only operating numerous vehicles that breach these legal limits, but that they refused to issue a safety alert to workers after the union uncovered the issue, shows a complete disregard for their legal obligations, the safety of their workforce, and the general public.”

Essential Energy this afternoon accused union members of carrying out unprotected industrial action by refusing to use the unsafe vehicles, with the company’s industrial relations manager threatening to take legal action in the Fair Work Commission unless the safety ban was reversed.

“Essential Energy’s failure to put in place a safe system of work that complies with the rules of the road left the union with no option but to impose a ban on the use of all borer trucks towing jinker trailers until Essential Energy can guarantee that these vehicles are operating legally and safely at all times,” Mr McKinley said.

“Instead of acting to ensure their fleet is safe, Essential Energy are instead devoting their resources to threatening legal action against the union and their own workers for simply demanding a safe workplace.”

‘Code Warm’ response to electricity supply threats will do little to counter six years of government mismanagement

Paul Lister - Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The introduction of a ‘Code Warm’ protocol by the Berejiklian government, aimed to have the public sector reduce electricity demand during extreme weather, will do little to address the impact of years of mismanagement that have drastically reduced energy security for the people of NSW.

The Electrical Trades Union said the privatisation of electricity generation, transmission and distribution assets had stripped the NSW Government of the ability to directly address the threat of large-scale blackouts.

The union also highlighted the fact that several privatised power stations had been shut down by the new owners, reducing the state’s baseload power supplies in an attempt to drive up the prices their remaining power stations can achieve.

ETU secretary Dave McKinley said announcements such as the ‘Code Warm’ protocol were little more than window dressing and would do little to address the underlying issues.

“In February this year, NSW residents narrowly avoided large-scale rolling blackouts in the midst of a heatwave,” Mr McKinley said.

“The only reason the lights stayed on was that power stations in neighbouring Queensland and Victoria produced huge amounts of electricity that was transferred to NSW, while the state’s largest industrial power user had their supplies forcibly cut.

“With climate change, we know that weather events like this one are becoming more common and more extreme, yet the NSW Liberal and Nationals have spent the last six years selling off the generation and transmission assets that are vital to keeping the power on.

“Among the examples of government mismanagement is the sale of Wallerawang power station, near Lithgow, in 2014 to Chinese-owned Energy Australia. One of the first actions of this new private owner was to mothball the power station, which was capable of producing 1,000 megawatts of baseload power, to increase the profitability of their other generation assets.

“As a result of this sale and closure, the state’s electricity supplies were substantially reduced and our ability to address periods of peak demand was lost.

“While the Liberals and Nationals promised electricity privatisation would mean lower power prices, what we are increasingly seeing is less reliability and higher prices as profit-hungry foreign investors seek to maximise the return from these essential services rather than acting in the interest of the people of NSW.

“The Berejiklian government needs to admit that their claim that the private sector are better placed to provide an essential service like electricity was wrong, and start the process of directly investing in the power generation and distribution resources we need to keep the lights on in future.”

Staffing cuts delay power restoration for bushfire ravaged communities of Uarbry, Leadville and Cassilis

Paul Lister - Wednesday, February 15, 2017
The restoration of electricity services to North West communities ravaged by a huge bushfire on Sunday could take a week or more, with local power workers warning that recent cuts to staffing numbers have drastically reduced their ability to replace damaged infrastructure.

The Electrical Trades Union said members at the NSW Government-owned electricity network operator Essential Energy reported that the bushfire that claimed more than 30 homes had also destroyed 280 power poles and damaged hundreds of kilometers of power lines.

ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley said residents returning to fire ravaged areas around Uarbry, Leadville and Cassilis faced being without electricity for days to come as a reduced number of maintenance crews worked around the clock to restore services.

“This is a massive repair job by any standard, but exhausted power workers have told the union their efforts to restore electricity services to these regional communities has been made substantially harder due to massive staffing cuts implemented by the NSW Government,” Mr McKinley said.

“Essential Energy crews have been sent from as far away as the Riverina and North Coast to assist with this repair work, but even with these additional resources there simply aren’t enough workers on the ground to restore power quickly following a natural disaster of this scale.

“The National Party has been caught with its pants down by this fire which has exposed as false their repeated claims before the 2015 election that they had saved Essential Energy.”

Mr McKinley said major Essential Energy depots in nearby regional centres such as Dubbo, Mudgee, Parkes and Forbes had lost up to a third of their workforce in recent years, while the company had just commenced a further 600 job cuts across the rural and regional power network.

“Since the Liberals and Nationals took power in 2011, we’ve seen the number of front-line electricity workers at Essential Energy slashed,” he said.

“Regional electricity customers pay some of the highest electricity prices in the country, so it shouldn’t be unreasonable for them to expect an appropriate number of workers will be available to restore power following bushfires and other natural disasters.

“Our members are doing their best to get power restored as quickly as possible, but with the scale of the damage — and the number of poles that need replacing — it may take up to a week.”

The union said local Essential Energy workers were upset by the pace of the response, saying they felt let down by the decisions of management and the NSW Government to drastically reduce workforce numbers.

“The distress of many victims of this bushfire has been amplified by delays with power restoration,” Mr McKinley said.

“While this is clearly the fault of Essential Energy management and the NSW Government, who are responsible for slashing regional electricity jobs, that doesn’t make things any easier for front-line workers.

“The union is encouraging Essential Energy management to at least seek to mitigate the problem by calling on the new owners of Ausgrid — which has depots just half an hour away — to send additional resources to assist with restoring power to these regional communities as quickly as possible.”

Thousands of NSW residents face blackouts as forecast electricity demand surges ahead of supply

Paul Lister - Thursday, February 09, 2017
Thousands of NSW power consumers may be forced to endure blackouts this afternoon after the national electricity market operator warned of a looming power shortage as heatwave conditions cause demand to far outstrip supply.

The Australian Energy Market Operator has issued a warning that between 3pm and 5.30pm this afternoon NSW faces a shortfall of 419 megawatts of power even after importing large amounts of electricity from neighboring Victoria and Queensland.

Unless additional generating capacity can be found, AEMO may be forced to repeat the load shedding order that saw 90,000 homes in South Australia have their power supplies cut earlier this week.

The Electrical Trades Union said the NSW Liberals and Nationals were directly responsible for this looming power crisis as a result of the privatisation of electricity generating assets in 2014.

ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley highlighted the case of Wallerawang power station, near Lithgow, which was previously capable of producing 1,000 megawatts of baseload power but was closed down shortly after being purchased by Chinese-owned company Energy Australia.

“In 2014, the NSW Liberals and Nationals privatised our state’s publicly owned power stations,” Mr McKinley said.

“One of the first actions of these new private owners was to close Wallerawang, resulting in a substantial reduction to available electricity supplies and severely limiting the state’s ability to meet peak demand.

“If Wallerawang was still operating today, we would not be facing the load shedding and forced power blackouts that the national energy market operator is forecasting.

“The Liberals and Nationals told everyone that electricity privatisation would mean lower power prices and better services, but what we are likely to see today is the clearest possible evidence that the people of NSW were lied to.

“Electricity is an essential service, but when profit-hungry foreign investors take control of our public assets, they put their own interests ahead of the people of NSW, with consumers left to pay the price.

“South Australia is currently facing the same problem, with a lack of investment by the private sector in new base load electricity generation meaning higher prices for consumers and reduced reliability during times of high demand.

“We are now facing the potential for an east coast power crisis because privatisation has failed to deliver the promised outcomes.

“The current challenges in NSW have nothing to do with renewable energy generation and everything to do with private companies exploiting their power in a monopoly market while the people of NSW and South Australia are left to sweat it out.”



SOURCE: Australian Energy Market Operator forecast evening of 9 February - NSW 418MW undersupply or equivalent to 400,000 homes, https://www.aemo.com.au/Electricity/National-Electricity-Market-NEM/Data-dashboard#operational-demand

Nationals must demand regional job protections as part of renegotiated coalition agreement with new Premier.

Paul Lister - Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The National Party is being urged to demand that regional jobs and services at Essential Energy be protected as part of a renegotiated coalition agreement with incoming NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, with the Electrical Trades Union describing Mike Baird’s departure as a unique opportunity to save thousands of quality jobs in the bush.

The call follows Nationals leader and NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s statement that the existing agreement between his party and the Liberals was a blank piece of paper, with everything up for debate.

Electrical Trades Union secretary Steve Butler said that while Mr Barilaro’s new found courage opposing forced council amalgamations was a welcome start, the National Party must go further to stand up for the interests of regional communities by protecting regional jobs.

“During the next three years, the NSW Government-owned regional electricity distributor Essential Energy plans to halve its workforce, from 3,200 employees to just 1,600 by 2019,” Mr Butler said.

“This plan will cause untold pain to regional communities as quality jobs are lost, specialist workers are forced to move away with their families, less money is spent with local businesses, and far fewer front-line workers are available to carry out maintenance and emergency response work.

“This is the perfect opportunity for Mr Barilaro to demonstrate the truth to his claims that every policy is up for debate and that the Nationals will no longer ‘accept the crumbs from the Liberal party table’.”

Mr Butler said the coming weeks provided an unprecedented opportunity, with a new Premier, a cabinet reshuffle, and a renewal of the coalition agreement between the Liberal and National parties.

“Since coming to power in 2011, the Nationals have overseen the loss of 1,400 regional jobs at Essential Energy,” Mr Butler said.

“Now they are pushing ahead with plans to make a further 1,600 regional workers redundant by 2019.

“Essential Energy remains 100 per cent owned and controlled by the NSW Government, meaning Mr Barilaro can and should demand the protection of these jobs as a condition of the National Party’s ongoing support.

“Saving these jobs would provide clear evidence that the National Party has truly learnt from the Orange byelection and will no longer rubber-stamp decisions in Macquarie Street that run counter to the interests of regional workers, their families, and broader communities.

“The alternative — continuing to support this ideological push to outsource jobs — would expose Mr Barilaro and his National Party colleagues as being unwilling or unable to adequately represent the interests of regional NSW in the parliament.”

NSW Government collects $28.1m dividend from Essential Energy as management slashes 600 jobs

Paul Lister - Thursday, December 08, 2016

Analysis of the annual reports of publicly-owned regional electricity distributor Essential Energy has revealed the NSW Government took $28.1 million in dividend payments from the company during the same period management was arguing the company needed to slash 600 jobs to remain profitable.

Essential Energy management told the Fair Work Commission it required permission to forcibly axe 600 jobs to remain profitable, yet the company’s financial reports reveal an operating loss of $1.2 million was only recorded after accounting for the $28.1 million dividend payments to the NSW Government.

The documents also show a dividend payment of $58.7 million was provided to the NSW Government during the previous 2014-15 financial year.

Senior managers enjoyed substantial pay rises over the past year while frontline workers have faced an uncertain future, with acting Chief Executive Officer Gary Humphreys having his total remuneration jump 40.3 per cent to $764,353 in the 2015-16 financial year.

Meanwhile, head of Customer and Corporate Services Caroline Hungerford pocketed a 7.8 per cent pay rise to $337,706, the salary for the Chief Financial Officer position jump by 5.7 per cent to $357,876, and Safety, HR and Environment chief David Nardi took away a 4.4 per cent pay rise, with a package of $331,250.

The Electrical Trades Union, which carried out the analysis, said the company’s annual reports also confirmed that since the Liberal National Coalition came to power in 2011, job numbers at the state’s largest regional employer had been reduced from 4600 to 3200, while the number of Essential Energy locations had been cut by nearly a third, from 147 in 2011 to 100 in 2016 (see table over page).

“Essential Energy management stood before the Fair Work Commission and argued that to remain profitable the company needed to slash up to 1,600 regional jobs,” ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley

“What they didn’t tell the industrial umpire, or the people of regional NSW, was that this was only the case because the NSW Government has been continuing to demand multi-million dollar dividends.

“Had this dividend not been paid, Essential Energy would have produced a $27 million profit last financial year — enough to fund the jobs of about half of those who are now being axed.

“The year before, that figure was more than double that amount, with the dividend payment enough to cover the wages of every single regional worker who is now being forced out the door.”

The company’s annual report concluded that financial outcomes had actually been better than expected, stating that this was the result of: “lower than budgeted (number of) employee’s during the year.”

“The fat of the matter is that these regional jobs could be saved by the NSW Government, but their addiction to dividends from this publicly owned utility is preventing that from happening,” Mr McKinley said.

“If the NSW Government returned these dividend payments, the company would be able to save hundreds of regional jobs.”

Essential Energy granted approval to forcibly axe 600 regional jobs across NSW

Paul Lister - Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Publicly owned electricity distributor Essential Energy has today been granted permission to slash 600 regional jobs across NSW following a decision of the full bench of the Fair Work Commission, with forced redundancies expected to commence within weeks.

The decision also removed any restriction of forced job cuts from 1 July 2018, allowing an unlimited number of highly-skilled power workers from rural and regional communities across the state to be axed.

The written decision also revealed that Essential Energy management intends to use outsourcing to carry out further cuts, with the company’s eventual target seeing in one in every two jobs go, allowing the size of their workforce to be halved to 1,600 employees by the 2019 financial year.

The FWC rejected a submission from power unions that no redundancies occur before the Christmas New Year period, allowing Essential Energy to move on redundancies within weeks.

The decision will permit NSW Government-owned electricity distributor Essential Energy to:
- make up to 600 staff forcibly redundant by 30 June 2018;
- have an unlimited number of additional workers leave the company during the same time period if they accept a voluntary redundancies;
- make an unlimited number of staff forcibly redundant from 1 July 2018; and
- replace regional employees with outsourced contractors.

The FWC made the decision despite admitting that its ruling could be expected to have a substantial impact on workers and regional communities, with the written determination stating:

“In the case of Essential Energy, the effects are magnified because of the specialist skills of many of the employees involved, the location of Essential Energy’s depots in country towns scattered throughout NSW, and the scale of redundancies that have already occurred and will likely occur in the future...

“Employees located in country towns will find it difficult to obtain alternative work, either of a comparable standard or at all, in their current locations… Job opportunities are generally limited, and jobs involving the specialist skills of electrical tradespersons formerly employed by Essential Energy are virtually non-existent...

“It is likely that many redundant employees will have to relocate themselves and their families in order to obtain alternative employment. This will necessarily have direct personal effects on employees and their family members in having to change their house, community and school. It may also have effects on smaller towns in terms of the loss of income able to be spent locally and a possible diminution in community involvement.”

The Electrical Trades Union and United Services Union, which together represent the majority of Essential Energy workers, slammed the decision and urged the NSW Government to intervene.

ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley said his union had made multiple attempt to contact new National Party leader John Barilaro, by phone, email and SMS, but so far had received no response.

“This is the time for the National Party to finally stand up for regional NSW and to demand an end to the wholesale axing of quality jobs by publicly-owned organisations across the state,” he said.

“Today’s decision means that, within the next two years, up to 1,600 highly-skilled power workers who live and work in regional NSW could be without a job.

“The economic and social impact of such huge job cuts — which will tear hundreds of millions of dollars out of the economies of rural communities — will be untold human suffering in the communities the National Party claims to represent.

“This is our challenge for John Barilaro: show that the National Party has learnt from the Orange byelection, stop towing the Baird Government’s line, and demand that this publicly-owned company not press ahead with these wholesale job cuts.”

ETU Organiser Justin Page said the ETU were also seeking an assistance package from the NSW Government to provide help for any Essential Energy workers that lose their jobs, including with retraining, small business advice, and recognition of skills and training.

“This decision is one of the biggest blows to employment in regional NSW that has ever occurred,” Mr Page said.

“John Barilaro is now facing his first challenge in his new role as National Party leader and NSW Deputy Premier, and that is to stick up for regional workers and communities directly impacted by this decision.

“The NSW Government, as the owner of 100 per cent of Essential Energy, has the power to intervene and save these jobs.

“All that is needed is for John Barilaro and his National Party colleagues to demand that their coalition partners in the NSW Government put the interests of regional communities ahead of their attempts to squeeze profits out of public companies.”

First test for new Nationals leader John Barilaro as FWC rules on Essential Energy plan to slash regional jobs

Paul Lister - Wednesday, November 23, 2016

New Nationals leader John Barilaro will today face his first opportunity to defend regional jobs and services, with the full bench of the Fair Work Commission handing down a long-awaited decision that may allow the publicly-owned electricity distributor to make hundreds of workers forcibly redundant.

Mr Barilaro’s predecessor Troy Grant repeatedly failed to intervene after the NSW Government-owned company took the unprecedented step of applying to unilaterally terminate an existing workplace agreement, which would allow it to remove existing job protections, as well as cutting pay and conditions.

The Electrical Trades Union said the former leadership of the National Party had repeatedly failed to stand up to their Liberal masters in Macquarie Street, with cuts to jobs and services contributing to the shock defeat of the party in the Orange byelection.

The union highlighted written media releases from Mr Barilaro ahead of the 2015 election, saying his new position as party leader and Deputy Premier meant it was time for him to put these pledges into action.

The statements include: “I support lower electricity prices, but I will always lead the charge in protecting local electricity jobs” (9/3/2015), and “a key priority for this government is about creating and securing local jobs” (17/3/2015).

ETU deputy secretary Dave McKinley said the decision, to be handed down at 10.30am in Sydney, was the first test of whether the National Party under the leadership of John Barilaro would fight to protect regional jobs.

“Before the election, John Barilaro talked a good game, making firm promises that he would lead the charge to protect regional jobs,” Mr McKinley said.

“This week, with all the power that comes from being Deputy Premier and leader of the National Party, he has chance to put those words into action.

“If, as feared, the Fair Work Commission opens the floodgates to forced redundancies at Essential Energy, we could see hundreds of highly skilled jobs lost from regional NSW.

“The NSW Government, as the owner of 100 per cent of the company, has the ability to act and save these jobs. All that is missing is the political will.”

Mr McKinley also urged Mr Barilaro to meet with power workers and their unions to discuss the impact of job cuts, outsourcing, reductions to maintenance, and privatisation, all of which were harming the regional communities the National Party claims to represent.

“This is Mr Barilaro’s first chance to show that the National Party has learnt from the Orange byelection result and that they are willing to listen to their constituents and use their power within the NSW Government to defend regional jobs and services,” he said.

“If Mr Barilaro fails this test, delivering more of the same behavior of his predecessor, he simply guarantees the community backlash against the National Party will only grow by the next election.”

NSW at risk of widespread power failure similar to South Australia due to massive staffing cuts

Paul Lister - Thursday, September 29, 2016

The axing of more than 2,600 front-line power workers since 2012 has left NSW at risk of falling victim to similar chaos to that experienced in South Australia during the past 24 hours, the Electrical Trades Union has warned.

The union said cuts overseen by the state and federal governments over the past four years had drastically reduced the number of skilled workers available to respond to major incidents, natural disasters and wild weather, leaving the public at risk of lengthy power outages.

ETU assistant secretary Dave McKinley said the number of front-line power workers across NSW had shrunk by a quarter since 2012, leaving the state increasingly vulnerable to the kind of extreme weather event that struck South Australia.

“What has occurred in South Australia in the past 24 hours could easily happen in NSW,” Mr McKinley said.

“While it is impossible to prevent network damage caused by wild winds and extreme weather, the ability to restore power for consumers is dependent on having the skilled workers available to respond.

“In NSW, we have seen more than a quarter of the entire workforce slashed in the last four years, including 1,385 workers at Ausgrid, 446 from Endeavour Energy, and 800 from Essential Energy.

“When the next disaster inevitably hits, this loss of skilled workers will have a devastating effect on response times and the speed at which power can be reconnected, particularly in the event of a state-wide natural disaster.

“The situation had been exacerbated by the NSW Government’s decision to respond to a recent ruling by the Federal Government’s energy regulator by further slashing the number of front-line power workers.

“The people of NSW have been hung out to dry by the NSW Government, with these massive cuts inevitably going to lead to major disruptions when future disasters strike.”

Mr McKinley said the union was urging NSW power companies to send immediate assistance to South Australia, in the form of workers and specialist equipment.

“Right now, our focusing needs to be on helping the people of South Australia by diverting all available resources and skilled labour to assist with restoring electricity services,” he said.

“The union is calling on the NSW distribution and transmission network companies to provide urgent assistance to our neighbours in their time of need.

“We are also urging them to take a good hard look at the resources they have available moving forward so they can ensure they have the skilled workers and specialist equipment needed to respond to similar events when they occur in NSW.”


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