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TasNetworks - Threatened Birds

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Friday, 2 December 2022

Tags: Threatened Species, TasNetworks, Wedge-Tailed Eagle, Native Wildlife

Dr WOODRUFF - A question for the Chair, Minister. TasNetworks has done a lot of work protecting birdlife. It is in a lot of TasNetworks material; there is a lot of stuff online about protecting rare birdlife. We welcome that. You have also had a lot to do with Raptor Refuge which along with BirdLife Tasmania and people like Nick Mooney are Tasmania's loudest advocates for the many threatened birds that are killed by TasNetworks' infrastructure, or damaged and unable to return to the wild. You signed an MOU with Raptor Refuge in 2016. How is that going at the moment?

Mr BARNETT - From the Government's point of view, we take these matters seriously, and from their response I know TasNetworks likewise take seriously. Clearly, for policy-related matters at a high level, I am more than happy for the Chairman to respond or for the CEO to assist the member.

Mr GILL - I thank you for your question, because I have been in the industry in Tasmania for nearly 45 years. I have seen the cycles of environmental approach, and I am very strongly for making sure the electricity sector operates in as sustainable a manner as it can. I advocate this not only in Tasmania, but all around the world.

One thing I am pleased about is the way that TasNetworks focuses on, in particular, the birdlife that we have sought out. We have done so much. If you drive around Tasmania you can see all the flappers on the lines these days. We are looking at trying to make more changes to how we adjust that infrastructure. We look very hard. We are probably discovering more incidents than we would like, but discovering them helps us then modify our approach to this.

In the board meetings, you will be interested to know that the safety of our people, and then environmental safety matters, are the first topic on our agenda every time we meet. That is the level at which the organisation takes this. I will let Seán talk about the relationships we have with a number of providers across the state.

Dr WOODRUFF - I am just interested in the raptors' future.

Mr Mc GOLDRICK - Thank you for the question. We are going to be spending $1 million per annum for the next five years to mitigate impact. We have mitigated over 110 km of power lines in 2021 22 alone. We work with a range of providers, TMAG, UTAS, including Dr James Pay, who does some excellent work, Raptor Refuge and other refuges around the state. We are going to continue that.

We had a memorandum of understanding in place with Raptor Refuge. We have pulled back from that in recent months, but we are going to make sure that we continue with Raptor Refuge in terms of the bird impacts, and bringing birds that have interacted with our network to them for rehabilitation. In the past, we have sponsored a number of things for Raptor Refuge. We will continue to do that across the sector, with significant investment in years to come, as we are determined to minimise and mitigate the impact we have on threatened bird species.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. Minister, Raptor Refuge has been doggedly working for almost a decade, almost entirely with voluntary effort, to save, rehabilitate and home damaged raptors. They have developed an app called Proof Safe that records bird deaths. It logs the species, the geocoded locations, photographs, autopsy results, TasNetworks' infrastructure that has killed birds. They set up a 1800 RAPTOR (727 867) phone line. They staff that themselves 24 hours a day so people can report dead or injured birds - birds that you might bring to them.

According to Raptor Refuge, they've had about 500 calls to the 1800 RAPTOR number this year alone. Why doesn't TasNetworks promote that bird safe service in any of your promotional materials or online? I have looked quite thoroughly. I can't see it. It is certainly not on your website. It is not on any promotional material.

Mr McGOLDRICK - I commend Raptor Refuge for the excellent work they do in this regard. They are very good at promoting their line. We do direct people. We ourselves use the line when we need to. We work with all sorts of refuges around the island - at least two others that I know of. We are supportive of what they've done. It is a remarkable effort by them and they are to be commended.

Dr WOODRUFF - Why don't you promote them?

Mr Mc GOLDRICK - They are excellent at their promotion. We feel there is a space for their advocacy, and they take best care of that. We work with their board and their management to make sure that we are interacting properly with them, but there's a separate space for their advocacy. We work with other utilities in this space - internationally as well - to understand the impact. We have our job to do, they have their job to do.

Dr WOODRUFF - This is an operational matter, minister. It is up to you, but it's probably easier for the CEO to answer. You have a big picture of an eagle on TasNetworks landing page on the website which tells people how you are protecting wildlife. It encourages people to call 132 004 to report bird deaths and injuries.

I tried calling that number myself and it gave me an automated selection. The options were: 1 for current power outages, loss of supply; 2 for an electric shock or tingle or an immediate life-threatening emergency or to restore power; and 3 for other power supply issues including cable, PI alarms or a faulty street light.

It didn't include an option for reporting dead or injured wildlife, or provide another button to encourage people to leave a message at all. Why not? It looks to me like it is a lot of PR for TasNetworks on the front page but there's nothing behind it. Why isn't there an option for reporting dead and damaged birds?

Mr McGOLDRICK - Just to be clear, we get a lot of reporting through that line. Indeed, in the recent year, due to a significant advertising campaign on social media in particular, we have gotten a lot more reporting, which we are happy about, because we then understand the impact our network is having on various different species and we can mitigate appropriately. It also allows us and tunes in for work we are doing with Dr James Pay at UTAS to focus our efforts and those areas where mitigation is likely to be more successful. We have frequent reporting on it. People do use that number to report, but I'm happy to look into it some more and see if we can add an option on that line.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. How many calls have you had to that number in the last year and what do you do when people call about an injured bird? What do you tell them to do?

Mr McGOLDRICK - We tell them to preserve the remains.

Dr WOODRUFF - What about a live injured bird?

Mr McGOLDRICK - We would work with the nearest refuge in the particular geographic area for them to go and take the bird from the party who has identified the situation. They would bring it to the refuge and work to see if they can rehabilitate the bird.

Dr WOODRUFF - In the south that would be Raptor Refuge, the whole of the southern part of the state.

Mr McGOLDRICK - Absolutely, and in the north we have other providers as well.

Dr WOODRUFF - Okay. You didn't explain why you finished the MOU with Raptor Refuge.

Mr McGOLDRICK - On occasions we must make decisions with respect to what is best for us from a policy point of view. We have had a good relationship with Raptor Refuge. We have a slightly different relationship now and over time we are going to be changing things. That does not mean to say we won't be working with Raptor Refuge and other bird refuges to make sure we're dealing appropriately with birds that are injured and investigating appropriately any deaths that occur, regrettably.

Dr WOODRUFF - You are no longer supporting the service that cleans up your mess? After a decade? It doesn't fit your priorities.

Dr WOODRUFF - Chair, thank you. Minister, this is likely to be operational to the CEO. Mr McGoldrick, I am very disappointed to hear that you've stopped the MOU with the Raptor Refuge. When you signed it in 2016 the MOU said that it 'would provide support to Raptor Refuge to continue undertaking their excellent work rescuing and rehabilitating injured raptors', and for TasNetworks to provide regular updates on how it is delivering against its threatened bird strategy which aims to materially reduce 'our impact on threatened Tasmanian birds'.

You used to provide a pittance of $13 000 to Raptor Refuge for all the work they do to protect birds and to run their phone line and the recovery app and care for the raptors at their wildlife refuge. Can you talk about the next three years and what you are planning on doing? I understand there was to be a $50 000 a year commitment to Raptor Refuge.

Mr BARNETT - Thank you for the question. CEO?

Mr McGOLDRICK - Our commitment to mitigating our impact on threatened bird species remains very solid. We are committing over $1 million per annum for the next five years.

Dr WOODRUFF - Sorry, to Raptor Refuge?

Mr McGOLDRICK - No, to mitigating the impact of our network on bird species. That is both physical work on our network, but also collaboration with a number of different academic parties and international parties. We will continue to work with refuges, including Raptor Refuge, with regard to the impact that we have if any bird is injured and its rehabilitation.

We are shifting our policy and we're changing things because I believe we have a better way of doing things on our network associated with redesigning parts of our network, improved mitigation, further studies through academia about which areas on this wonderful island we need to mitigate more heavily. We are doing a lot of work.

I'm very happy that refuges, Raptor Refuge and others, play their role in this. That is fine and long may it continue. I applaud them for their commitment and work. As a business we can more directly impact by looking at our physical assets and looking at our policies and procedures.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. Chair, Mr McGoldrick you have 20 000-odd kilometres of distribution lines. About half of that, 10 000 kilometres, is high-risk for birds. You have mitigated about 3 per cent of those at best estimate. Three per cent of your network that kills birds on a regular basis is mitigated and you have made a decision with a $39.75 million profit to cut the pathetically small amount of money that you have been contributing to the volunteer effort to care for raptors damaged from your infrastructure. Can you please explain to Tasmanians who care about birds why you are doing it?

Mr McGOLDRICK - First of all I repeat our commitment to mitigating the impact on threatened species remains. Our policy, our approach, the tactics we use will change as we learn more and more. We have substantial assets -

Dr WOODRUFF - The question is why.

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, can you please stop interrupting the minister or the CEO when they are answering your question.

Mr McGOLDRICK - We have over 15 000 kilometres of high-voltage distribution lines, 4900 kilometres of low-voltage lines. Those are the lines that are most impactful. Our transmission lines mostly don't impact bird species at all. It is that distribution line.

This is a volume game. That's why last year we did 110 kilometres. That's why we're spending $1 million per annum over the next five years to further mitigate our impact. That's why we're funding research through UTAS to make sure we're focusing on the correct areas. That's why we're very keen to understand the nature of the species here and we're working with closely with environmental scientists to focus our efforts and get a bigger bang for our buck.

With the greatest respect to refuges, they're only one part of our policy - and that's after the fact. I'm more interested in getting ahead of the curve here and making sure that these iconic species, which are wonderful on this island, have absolutely the best mitigation possible on our network.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, or possibly the CEO. Mr Mc Goldrick, your website says:

75 per cent of reported electrocutions of large birds of prey occur when they contact two or conductors mid-span.

Replacing our current flat conductor alignment with a triangle or 'delta' configuration minimises the risk of electrocution.

I cannot table these, but I will pass them to Mr Mc Goldrick, if you would like to have a look at them. They are a series of photographs taken on South Bruny - Sharps Road - about eight months ago, right on the edge of the water.

The first photo shows a brand-new power pole that was erected with a configuration that is essentially designed to kill birds. There are no flappers, no bird perch, and there is no delta configuration which TasNetworks makes such a big deal out of in its puff material about protecting birds. At the base of the brand-new pole is a dead white-bellied sea eagle - a very threatened bird. How could such a thing possibly have been constructed again, after decades of TasNetworks killing and promising to put new poles and to retrofit poles to make them bird-friendly? How could that possibly have happened?

Mr Mc GOLDRICK - A regrettable incident, indeed. One that was brought to my personal attention.


Mr Mc GOLDRICK - We took a great deal of time and effort to examine this particular instance, because that was on an area of Bruny Island that we did not heretofore understand - or any of our studies indicate - that there was likely to be bird activity at that level.

You can see that we have actually installed a perch on the pole at the top there, but that was not sufficient to mitigate. It is a complex connection, but we have looked at that and we have learned from that incident.

I still hold to the fact that we are constantly learning here, improving our designs, improving our responses. That is what a good network business does in these instances. I am very sad to see that happened, but we are determined as an organisation to learn and improve.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, to Mr Mc Goldrick again, I put it to you that that is misleading information to pretend that you did not understand that South Bruny, right on the edge of the sea, would be the premium spot for the threatened sea eagle. I also draw to your attention that this was brought TasNetworks attention by Raptor Refuge. Isn't the real reason why that you have defunded Raptor Refuge and torn up the MOU that has been in place for six years because they are, in their words, 'pain in the arse'. They annoy you constantly by bringing to attention all the things you say you'll do, but you never actually do. I am not going to withdraw that.

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, order.

Mr McGOLDRICK - I'm happy to respond. One of the things I do love about not just Raptor Refuge, but many of the individuals that I meet here in Tasmania and who talk about this issue, is the passion involved, the determination, the graft. I applaud them. I have no problem with that whatsoever. I have no problem with any institution or induvial pointing out where we have got things wrong, because that's always an opportunity to learn.

So, very far from the case that I would have torn up any document in a fit of annoyance because somebody has brought some uncomfortable issues to our attention. That's not how we operate as a business. That's not how I operate as an individual. I am happy to say that the passion that's involved in these will allow us to learn and improve.

The overall goal here is to mitigate the impact of our assets which are necessary and deliver a critical service and mitigate the impact on all sorts of species, but particularly threatened birds. So, it is not a case that this was a knee-jerk reaction because we were annoyed about something. This is a shift change. All I can tell you is that we were not happy with the event, but happy that it was raised with us so that we could learn from it.

Dr WOODRUFF - If you are to be sincerely believed, maybe you'll reconsider the MOU arrangement, because that would be a sign of sincerity.

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, thank you.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, to the CEO probably, 30 years ago the bird mortality and power assets project report was commissioned by the Hydro Electric Commission. That was just prior to when the HEC was broken up into three parts. It was commissioned with Parks and Wildlife and the Australasian Raptor Association nearly 30 years ago. It has an extensive review of the scientific literature, 460 papers; it details maps of outages around Tasmania that were caused or attributed to avian events in a period beforehand. There are detailed technical specifications for bird safe configurations for the commission's/Transend's/TasNetworks' work to save the threatened species that were identified as being killed in very large numbers from infrastructure.

A phase two report which is substantial, nearly 400 pages, gives that detailed action plan. It includes a recommendation to replace all existing bird-hazardous power line configurations, structures and equipment with economically feasible bird-safe designs by a target date at the end of 2006.

Mr McGoldrick, it's nearly 16 years since the target for bird-safe configurations, bird-proofing of the high risk network was to be completed but TasNetworks has only done 3 per cent. What are your KPIs to carry out the replacements that your company promised to do 30 years ago?

Mr BARNETT - I will pass to the CEO, but I repeat the answer that was delivered earlier, which is $1 million a year that TasNetworks invests in mitigating measures to support those threatened bird species. That is not insignificant. I know that TasNetworks takes it very seriously, as does the state Government. I will ask the CEO to respond.

Mr McGOLDRICK - Thank you, minister, and thank you for the question. Ninety-seven per cent of all of the instances of bird interactions causing outages and causing harm to raptors occur on our distribution network, but only three instances since 2015 were actually on our transmission network. So the bulk of it -

Dr WOODRUFF - We're talking distribution?

Mr McGOLDRICK - Yes, the bulk of it is on distribution. Distribution is a volume game. We have tens of thousands of kilometres of distribution assets all over the island in every street, almost in every paddock, so it is quite an extensive network and a very dense network in places. As we have worked through the years, and I acknowledge the report, and that and many other studies mean we are standing on the shoulders of each other in terms of learning and constantly improving and targeting where we go, but it is not possible to completely mitigate everything rapidly. It takes decades to go.

We have worked through a series of studies that focus on the particular areas that we need to put mitigation on. When we have an incident, we mitigate that. When we have detailed information coming from academic studies and information such as this we go to those areas and we mitigate, but it is extensive process. We need to coordinate with outages, we need to make sure we even coordinate through live line working. We're doing everything we can to move the dial here.

It is not an insignificant commitment. I am personally very committed to this. We will spend that $1 million per annum and it will be on real hardware and changes that I know will have a positive impact. I'm very interested in this, but I have to balance it with my responsibilities with regard to safety, security and reliability of the network and customer service.

I balance all of these things and, as I have said, we are very committed to doing this. We have some world-leading specialists who are focused on this. We have great innovation in the technology we are using, not just the designs but also the different techniques we're using. We are investing in tracking the species as well. All that work is going on and will continue and we have a five-year strategy in place to move this forward. I want to double the positive impact we can have in those years.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. I don't accept that you can't put more money into it or have more detailed action plans because if Transend/TasNetworks had started on this 30 years ago it would have been done. So the issue is the lack of KPIs and a hard target. You made $40 million profit last year as a company. So on top of dealing with safety, security and reliability, you can afford to put more effort into some critically endangered birds that your wires and poles are killing on a regular basis.

Will you consider putting some targets in for next year's annual report, reopening the MOU with Raptor Refuge and recommit to funding the work they do, which is just a small but an important part of caring for the birds that your company's lines kill and maim?

Mr McGOLDRICK - We're very committed to our tracking bird species strategy. We have such a strategy. It has been endorsed by the executive and is in full implementation. We are wholeheartedly committed to that -

Dr WOODRUFF - Is that published?

Mr McGOLDRICK - and you will see the results in the coming years.

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, please let the CEO finish answering before you ask another question.

Dr WOODRUFF - I'd appreciate minimum information about whether we can access that.

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, please let the CEO finish before you ask another question.

Mr McGOLDRICK - It is a serious commitment that is monitored at executive level every month and reported in our performance report, as are all interactions with threatened species, through to the board. It is something that we have a significant concentration on and we monitor it constantly. Every interaction is tracked and reported on. I'm happy to demonstrate to you that that commitment from the board and oversight and governance from the executive team and through our professionals in this space is ongoing. It is a strategic approach. We are committed to it and it will continue.

Dr WOODRUFF - Minister, would you mind asking the CEO whether he could table that strategy so that Tasmanians can see what it is he is talking about?

CHAIR - Dr Woodruff, we can't table documents here.

Dr WOODRUFF - Okay. Is that document publicly available? If not, could you please put it on your website?

Mr McGOLDRICK - Happy to do so.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you.