SP AusNet email admits property access could be a “showstopper”

15 October 2013
The Kinglake Kilmore-East Black Saturday bushfire class action has today heard evidence today that internal SP AusNet emails had stated that "the property owner relationship could be a showstopper".

One of the landowners on whose land the test spans were erected, Blanche Beel, gave evidence yesterday that SP AusNet did not inform her at any time that they were accessing her land for the purposes of gaining evidence to be used in the class action.

The Supreme Court has also heard evidence today that Freehills lawyer Ruth Overington issued instructions via email to SP AusNet regarding what information the company should provide to landowners, on whose land the company was erecting test conductors to use in their defence of Victoria's biggest class action.

The three bullet points of information, which Ms Overington described as the "suggested message to be conveyed to the neighbouring landowners", stated that SP AusNet is conducting tests "to help identify a variety of variables which impact on the performance of its network equipment".

There was no mention of the class action - which the Court heard evidence today was the sole purpose of the tests - in the proposed information to go to the landowners.

The court also heard today that the three bullet points of information provided by Freehills were then circulated internally by Graham Karutz of SP AusNet in an email which stated: "Regarding information to be provided to property owners, the following brief dot points were provided by the solicitor and give nothing away".

Martin Hyde, Class Actions Principal at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers which is acting for the plaintiff, says the evidence given today paints a bleak picture of what was happening behind the scenes.

"Given that SP AusNet, in its own submissions, has acknowledged that its defence of the class action largely depends on the scientific evidence gleaned from their field test, it is little wonder the company is deeply concerned about the impact on its case if the evidence from the field test is ruled to be inadmissible because it was obtained unlawfully," Mr Hyde said.

In March of this year Associate Justice Derham made a ruling in which he indicated that he did not consider that SP AusNet had the statutory authority to enter the land for the purposes of establishing a field test for use in this litigation.