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Former police chief to lead blackout review

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The State Government has announced an independent review into last week’s state-wide power blackout, to be led by former SA Police Commissioner Gary Burns.

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Opposition Leader Steven Marshall has been calling for an independent review since last week.

Today, Premier Jay Weatherill said the review would investigate the circumstances of the blackout and the adequacy of the state’s “prevention, preparedness, response and recovery plans”.

The blackout and its aftermath have prompted widespread concerns – and speculation – about the appropriateness of South Australia’s electricity generation mix, as well as questions about the maintenance and resilience of electricity infrastructure. Twenty-three transmission towers were knocked out by high winds, leading to the shutdown of the entire state’s electricity grid.

While power was restored relatively quickly in the city, it did have some tragic consequences, with 12 families losing frozen embryos at a fertility clinic that relied on power from Flinders Medical Centre. The FMC’s back-up generator failed during the blackout.

Some regional centres, including the major industrial city of Port Lincoln, were without power for days, and major industries are predicting multi-million-dollar costs as a result of the shutdown.

Weatherill said Burns would “seek to identify deficiencies” in South Australia emergency management arrangements and recommend changes.

He would provide an interim report to the Premier as soon as possible.

The Australian Energy Market Operator is conducting its own inquiry into the reasons for the statewide blackout.

Weatherill said “there are always lessons that can be learned from an extreme weather event such as this, so it’s important there’s a thorough, independent review”.

“Gary Burns is a highly-respected South Australian and I’m confident he will diligently examine the circumstances surrounding this storm and its aftermath, identify any shortcomings and recommend areas for improvement,” he said.

Burns was promoted to commissioner in 2012 and retired last year.

The Opposition is concerned that the inquiry won’t deal with “fundamental questions about South Australia’s fragile electricity system”.

“The inquiry announced today is too narrow and will fail to address the critical questions being asked by many South Australians,” said Opposition employment spokesman Corey Wingard.

“This inquiry needs to be a genuine independent inquiry – not the Weatherill Labor Government covering their backsides.

“We need to get to the bottom of what happened last week.

“South Australians were put in danger when the state-wide blackout occurred.

“Employers across the state have experienced massive loss as a result of the power going out and some of the state’s largest employers are still without enough power to operate.”

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