Kelly Vincent – 5AA Interview on the impact of power outages on people with disabilities

Andrew Reimer: Kelly Vincent, you were in my thoughts and certainly people with disabilities were in my thoughts during those hot weather conditions and the power outages because of the impact those outages have on people with disabilities especially when the weather is over 40 degrees.


Kelly Vincent: That’s right. Power outages and extreme weather are not convenient for anyone but they do have a particular impact on people with disabilities or other health conditions, particularly people who might rely on air-conditioning to maintain a specific temperature so that they don’t have seizures or have an exacerbation of their symptoms. If they have MS that can be a risk because if they get too hot they can end up hospitalised and that’s why the Dignity Party a few years ago played a role in lobbying for the medical heating and cooling concession, which we now have for people with a verified health condition who need to use heating or cooling longer than the average person can get a rebate to help with those costs. There are still a lot of issues, particularly with the power outages where people who might need that air conditioning or might even need the electricity for a ventilator to keep them alive so their lives and their health could really be at risk if they don’t have that. Or even things like, for example I heard from one constituent whose son is on a electric feeder and they couldn’t blend his food without the electricity so he was unable to eat for around 24 hours. We have a lot of concerns about these issues. The Burns Report that came out after the September storms and those power outages, the report recommended that the Government urgently act on putting a plan specifically addressing giving electricity back to people with recognised disabilities. After the September power outages I wrote to the Premier seeking some clarification on these issues and there was a definite lack of clarity around the information regarding where people should go if they do need access to backup electricity and they don’t have that at home. There was some really inconsistent and fairly sporadic information coming out and we’d like to look at things like providing backup electricity for people but we’d like the Government to at least provide a consistent source of information about where people should go.


Andrew Reimer: Can you just take a step back, you wrote to the Premier and you asked for information about recharging wheelchairs and all this sort of business, what sort of response did you get from the Premier?


Kelly Vincent: Well I wrote to the Premier on the 6th of December last year, on about the 14th I received a response from the Emergency Services Minister, Peter Malinauskas, acknowledging that he had received my letter and it had been forwarded to him under his jurisdiction as Emergency Services Minister. We received an acknowledgement letter but we’ve received no response to the question.


Andrew Reimer: Nothing, nothing?


Kelly Vincent: Not yet.


Andrew Reimer: Can I ask you and also when it comes to people with disabilities out there, how they felt when our Premier the other night on social media. He was basically saying he was answering all the tough questions when it came to the power outages saying there were 40,000 people without power, well there was something along the lines of in excess of 90,000 people. He was sitting there, air-conditioned comfort, air-conditioned office, doing this live feed and I was outraged at what the Premier was trying to do that particular evening.


Kelly Vincent: Well I have to say I haven’t received any specific feedback about that specific video that happened. I don’t think it’s too much to ask the direct questions about not just the power outages more generally but given that we were talking about a group of people that can be particularly vulnerable and at risk when power outages go out, I don’t think it’s too much – particularly because it was recommended by the report that came out looking into why these outages happened and what needed to be done, to specifically address this group that don’t have ready access to back-up electricity, they actually need it to maintain health, if not life. It’s not too much to ask a Premier or a Minister to address those particular questions. We’re not just talking about people going without access to their television or Facebook for 24 hours, we’re talking about people going without ventilators to breathe, without feed, even with being stuck in or outside of bed because you might need a hoist or maybe even to get on or off the toilet, these are people who are particularly susceptible.

Andrew Reimer: Dialysis as well.

Kelly Vincent: That’s a very good point. We need to look at the backup generator issue. We need the Government to put cohesive, coherent and consistent information out about exactly where people should go because between State and Local Government there seem to be some conflicting and rather confusing information.

Andrew Reimer: Considering you wrote a letter to the Premier in December, is it fair to say since we are now in February that it is possible that the Government don’t have any answers, there is no contingency plan when it comes to your request and what it is you’re asking?


Kelly Vincent: Well just to paint a picture, back in September when I was sitting in my office and the Dignity Party played a big role in making sure that we had Auslan (Australian sign language) interpreters available to interpret televised announcements about emergencies for deaf people, so it was a really big step forward. I was sitting in my office, it would have been about 6, maybe 6:30 in the afternoon and a government advisor comes and knocks on my door and says ‘quick, we need an Auslan interpreter.’ Now I was very happy to provide that contact and to make sure that a video could be made via Facebook. I’m very grateful to the interpreter that did that, but it’s not good enough for a government department to be relying on one particular Member of Parliament to provide that contact. That does paint a very clear picture that there maybe isn’t a comprehensive or cohesive plan going on here if we have government advisors running down the hallways of Parliament House knocking on doors and yelling ‘quick, we need to get something happening so that deaf people can know what’s going on’. It doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that the Government hasn’t been able to provide these services and that’s why we need these answers and we’ll continue to seek them and work with government whenever we have to to make sure that we keep people that are particularly at risk as safe as possible.

Andrew Reimer: When you do eventually get those answers can you come on air and share them with us, please?

Kelly Vincent: Absolutely, I’m very happy to when Parliament’s goes back the day after tomorrow and we’ll continue to pursue this and I’ll update you as soon as I can.