SP AusNet took legal advice that left bushfire victims in the dark

16 October 2013
The Supreme Court has heard evidence this morning that electricity company SP AusNet obtained specific advice from Freehills as to what to tell landowners before it put up 'dummy' conductors for its defence of the Kinglake-Kilmore East Black Saturday class action.

The evidence comes on the closing day of testimony and arguments about a pivotal point in Australia's biggest ever class action - over whether or not the evidence that underpins the defence of SP AusNet be thrown out for being obtained unlawfully.

Yesterday the Court heard and saw evidence that internal SP AusNet emails had stated that "the property owner relationship could be a showstopper".

Today the Court heard evidence from Senior Associate lawyer at Freehills Ruth Overington, that even though she knew that landowners were group members in the class action, she provided a checklist of information to SP AusNet for use with landowners, that excluded the fact that the tests were for the purpose of SP AusNet's defence of the 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".

The court also heard this week 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 solicitorand give nothing away".

One of the landowners on whose land the test spans were erected, Blanche Beel, whose house burned down on Black Saturday, gave evidence this week that SP AusNet did not inform her at any time that they were accessing her land for the purposes of the class action.

Ms Beel told the Court that she would not have allowed the test to be put up on her land if she had known that it was to be used to gather evidence to be used against her and the other group members in the class action.

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.

It is expected that Justice Jack Forest will reserve his decision.