Unions question Longford gas disaster inquiry


By Susan Price
and Ben Reid

MELBOURNE — The sincerity of the intentions of the state Liberal government's royal commission into the Longford gas disaster is being questioned. The fire at the Longford plant in September left much of Victoria without gas supplies for almost two weeks.

The commission will only consider the immediate cause of the fire. It cannot consider if changes to the gas industry, including cuts to health and safety standards, contributed to the disaster.

The Longford plant is owned and operated by the Esso corporation. It is the only part of the Victorian gas industry operated by private industry. There is widespread concern that the privatisation of other parts of the industry will result in similar disasters as the quest for profits leads to cost-cutting measures.

Dean Mighell, state secretary of the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) commented: "Our members, who are maintenance workers at Longford, want to know the truth because they don't want to be subjected to such a disaster again.

"Our fear is that the commission will not have the depth and scope to find out what led to the incident. Was it the result of lack of maintenance or a lack of safety inspections? Was it changes to the plant regulation laws by the state government?

"Our members want representation and they've asked the union to act on their behalf. Of course, Esso will have countless millions of dollars to pay barristers to get a good result. How do non-profit organisations like unions match that?"

Mighell said the CEPU is demanding that the government allow the unions to make submissions to the commission and provide all parties with the legal resources to do so.

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