The most senior manager of the Hazelwood mine and power station has expressed “absolute regret” GDF SUEZ had not acknowledged the impact of the smoke crisis on the Morwell community earlier.
Taking the stand at the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry on Friday, GDF SUEZ assets manager George Graham was asked by board member Sonia Petering for the “one thing” he wanted to say to the Latrobe Valley community.
“It’s absolutely regrettable that we didn’t acknowledge, in an earlier fashion, the impact that we were having on the community,” Mr Graham said.
He said during the prolonged crisis, his personal attention had centred on Hazelwood’s internal workforce.
“We had a lot of people employed in trying to tackle the event … worried about their livelihood in terms of whether the business would continue,” Mr Graham said.
He said a decision about GDF SUEZ’s public communication was made to allow the Incident Controller to handle community engagement through a “consistent voice”.
“I think it was the wrong outcome because it portrayed that GDF SUEZ did not care about the community; that’s absolutely as far away from the truth as you could actually get, because we understand that the community actually is very close to us,” he said.
“I can guarantee that all of the staff of GDF SUEZ and their contractors, as well the support from all of the agencies and volunteers, our sole purpose was to get the fire out as soon as possible.”
Mr Graham was then asked whether GDF SUEZ had adequately recognised the risk of fire in the worked out batters of the mine, to which he replied “hindsight was a great thing”.
He said fire in the worked out batters – where risk to life and financial performance of the business were relatively low – “did not fit” in the operation’s high risk hierarchy.
“Following the events we’ve had now, the question is, should it? And the answer is, yes, it should, and it will, and that’s part of the reason why we’re making these suggestions,” Mr Graham said.
As part of his submission to the Inquiry, Mr Graham outlined a fresh list of extensive measures the company would commit to implementing, including enhanced fire training before next fire season, and wetting down non-operational mine areas on extreme fire danger days.