“There have been significant cracks identified in the mine [and] as a result of the flooding there is a risk to the mine being flooded and the impact of that would be significant,” Mr Merlino said.
“So we’ve been having detailed briefings through the security and emergency management committee of cabinet. We need to take swift action and the best way to take swift action is declaring this energy emergency.
“This means that remediation works, in terms of dealing with the risks of flooding, can happen as soon as possible.”
Energy Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the state’s electricity supply was secure, but the government needed to do all it could to avoid Yallourn going offline for months.
“I want to assure every Victorian that the advice that we have from the Australian Energy Market Operator is that there is more than sufficient supply of power to meet our needs,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.
“We are in a winter situation, where the demand for electricity is at its lowest. However, with this significant and unprecedented storm event that we’ve seen, we’ve seen a significant rise in water levels in the Morwell River. And that has presented itself as additional pressure on the walls of the mine, which, if they are breached, will mean that not just the mine, but the power station would be significantly curtailed, if not totally unavailable for months to come.”
Australian Manufacturing Workers Union organiser Steve Dodd, who is based in Morwell, said one of the embankments in the Morwell River diversion was the main concern.
“My understanding is they’ve got a massive crack in the river diversion that could threaten the mine with flooding,” he said.
The government’s emergency declaration will allow workers to divert the river away from the embankment, Ms D’Ambrosio said.
The emergency payments for households will be administered by AusNet, while the government said it was also in talks with AusNet about the payments it owes customers for the prolonged outages.
Mr Merlino said he had had “positive” discussions with acting Prime Minister Michael McCormack about splitting the cost of the new payments with the federal government, as well as a request for five Australian Defence Force planners to help with the clean-up.
“The initial request is for logistical and planning support but there will be further requests of the ADF for support on the ground,” Mr Merlino said.
Federal Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud told 3AW on Thursday he expected to call in heavy equipment to help clear trees and support electricity workers to access difficult areas.
“We got a request last night for five ADF planners who will go into the Dandenongs, Traralgon and the state planning centre,” Mr Littleproud said.
“They will help in the planning, and we have made numerous attempts to encourage the Victorian government to take up the offer of ADF support. We stand ready and poised to get out there and get moving.”
State government agency Bushfire Recovery Victoria would take charge of the clean-up, Mr Merlino said.
Victoria’s emergency management centre also warned Melburnians against rushing to areas battered by floods and storms once COVID-related travel restrictions are lifted.
Mr Merlino also fired back at suggestions he hadn’t been visible enough in the flood-affected areas of the state, especially the Dandenongs. Mr Merlino is the member for Monbulk and lives locally.
Mr Merlino said his family were without power for “a couple of days” and are still drinking bottled water after their home was among those whose tap water was contaminated as a result of the storm damage.
“That’s a pretty insulting question,” Mr Merlino said. “I live in the Dandenongs. I lived through the storm, I had scared kids in my bed during the storm like families across the Dandenongs.
“I’ve seen the damage every single day. I’ve met with the volunteers, and they told me some pretty incredible stories of bravery and saving people’s lives.
“I’m here every single day. I know the extent of the damage. That’s why I’ve been working very, very closely to make sure we have every support that we can put in place in terms of the clean-up.
“I know intimately the unprecedented nature of this damage, and the impact it’s having on my community.”
With Tom Cowie
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.