REX Jory shares an alarming tale of bureaucracy invading the sanctity of the home.
THIS is the extraordinary story of bureaucratic arrogance, bungling and incompetence. It is a frightening example of how the twin imperatives of time and money can corrupt to override sound judgment and trample on individual dignity and community rights.
It is also an example of the inability of authority, collectively or individually, to respond satisfactorily to rectify a blatant and deliberate act of lawlessness and public disregard.
That it occurred in an outer suburb of Melbourne is of no consequence. It could happen anywhere to anyone. I know the victim and can vouch for its authenticity.
For the protection of so many people, and possibly to ensure due process if there is ongoing action, I will simply refer to her as Jennifer.
The Victorian Government is installing digital electricity meter boxes in all homes and small businesses. These meters send quarterly readings direct to the electricity providers computer, eliminating the need for meter readers. The technology will eventually be adopted in South Australia.
Jennifer, who is seven months pregnant, recently received a letter which said her new meter would be installed on February 2 between 8.30am and 2.30pm. She was advised to make the house as cool as possible, turn off all refrigerators and freezers and any household computers on that day.
On January 30, three days before the contractor was due to install the new meter, Jennifer locked her wooden front door, popped her four-year-old daughter in the car seat and drove to the local shops.
She returned 2 1/2 hours later to find a blue folder on her front door containing a note: “Sorry we missed you. A new electronic smart meter has been installed on your premises.” There were details of the contractor, the installing technician, licence number, meter number and the date.
The old meter was inside so Jennifer assumed the new meter had been repositioned somewhere in the yard.
But when she looked the new meter had been installed inside. Someone had come into her house without authority while she out. A clear case of break and enter, of being unlawfully on the premises. Never mind the fridge, never mind the computer.
Jennifer rang the police who said that unless someone had been assaulted or something had been stolen there was nothing they could do. Jennifer said the contractor could have walked around the house assessing the value of jewellery, clothing, furniture and appliances. She suggested the police take the details of the incident and the contractors name in case there is a subsequent break-in.
They werent interested.
She rang the contractor who was concerned. The technician who installed the meter came to the house with a “team leader”.
The technician apologised but said he was able to force the lock on a side door with screw driver to gain entry. “It isnt a very good deadlock youve got there,” he said.
Jennifer said: “You actually broke in. You dont appreciate how I feel. I am horrified someone would do that.” They apologised and left.
She rang the Electricity Ombudsman who said she had a “pretty good case” and could expect a call from someone in higher authority from the contracting company.
At the time of writing she had heard nothing.”There are so many what-ifs,” Jennifer says. “What if I had left an elder relative or an older child at home alone? Im seven months pregnant. What if I had come home while the man was inside? What if we had an alarm system?”
Jennifer does not necessarily want the installing technician to lose his job. But she is rightly horrified that an electrical contractor believes he has the right to break into someones locked house to install a meter so that he can reach his daily quota.
It is contemptuous behaviour in a society which now puts a higher value on time and money than individual privacy, decency and safety.
And nobody gives a damn.