Yallourn fire was ‘sabotage’

The detective heading a seven-month police investigation into a suspicious fire at Yallourn Power Station during a fierce industrial dispute has revealed the cause as a “clear case of sabotage”.

Latrobe Crime Investigation Unit’s Detective Sergeant Alan Rumble said the 21 June high voltage circuit board fire, which tripped power generation offline, was the result of direct “criminal interference” with electrical equipment.

“This was an extremely dangerous act and it could have been fatal for the person involved, not to mention the people put at risk who put out the fire; Victoria Police are taking this matter very seriously,” Sgt Rumble said.

He said one or more people with “knowledge of plant processes and equipment” – who also possessed approved access to the circuit board area – were likely responsible for the incident.

Sgt Rumble said the interference was confirmed as sabotage by an independent expert team brought in over the course of the investigation.

While Sgt Rumble could not reveal further information, so as not to jeopardize “intimate” investigation proceedings, he said police had spoken to a “large number of people involved in the management, operation and maintenance of the station”.

“The information supplied to us suggests more than one person may have been involved in the incident, and multiple people have knowledge of it – we are appealing for those people to come forward,” he said.

The circuit board fire occurred about 9.25am, 30 minutes after worker representative unions were officially emailed notification by Yallourn owner-operator EnergyAustralia of its intentions to lock out its 75-strong operator workforce.

Represented by the Construction, Forestry, Energy and Mining Union, the operators, which later became known as the ‘Yallourn 75’, had begun power generation bans as part of industrial action amid a prolonged enterprise bargaining impasse.

The timing of the fire gave rapid rise to suspicions of possible sabotage, an insinuation which has rigorously and consistently been denied by CFMEU members.

When told of the police appeal for public assistance, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union organiser Steve Dodd said the alleged sabotage was completely outrageous and deeply disappointing.

“I’ve never heard of anyone deliberately sabotaging any power station infrastructure from the inside in my entire career,” Mr Dodd said.

“It’s just outrageous, to be honest – I’m disappointed that someone in the power industry could stoop to that level.

“Just in terms of occupational health and safety, this is a very serious allegation of an action that has put people at risk.”

An EnergyAustralia spokeswoman said the company would not comment while police investigations were underway.

CFMEU mining and energy president Luke van der Muelen declined to comment on the allegation without talking with police about the matter.

“If a credible police investigation suspects sabotage as the cause of the electrical fault … then I believe we should all wait to see this report before commenting,” Mr Van der Muelen said.

The Electrical Trades Union, which represents electrical workers at the station, also declined to comment.

Anyone with information regarding the incident have been urged to phone Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.