MacKenzies dispute role in clash over Ausgrid power poles

STITCHED UP: Robert MacKenzie has disputed claims he was involved in a scuffle with an off-duty Ausgrid worker.

STITCHED UP: Robert MacKenzie has disputed claims he was involved in a scuffle with an off-duty Ausgrid worker.

POLICE are investigating claims the son of Port Stephens mayor Bruce MacKenzie was involved in an alleged attempted theft and assault. 

But Robert MacKenzie, the 47-year-old business partner of his sand-mining millionaire father, claims he is being “stitched up” by “people who hate my family”.

Police in Raymond Terrace received reports on Sunday, September 11, that Robert MacKenzie and his son, James, had allegedly been spotted by an off-duty Ausgrid worker loading discarded power poles onto a truck off Nelson Bay Road.

It’s understood the Ausgrid worker – a 40-year-old man – stopped to confront the two MacKenzies about what they were doing with the poles, which were worth as much as $10,000.

When Robert MacKenzie told him they had permission from “EnergyAustralia”, the worker began to take photos of the two men, at which point, it’s been alleged, a “scuffle” broke out.

Officers are still investigating, and charges have not been laid, but Mr MacKenzie angrily refuted claims they had been doing anything illegal.

He told the Newcastle Herald he had spoken to Ausgrid workers who had been removing poles on Nelson Bay Road the week before. They had told him he could take the discarded poles, something he said was “common practice” when the energy firm replaced them.

“The old poles are good firewood,” he said. “They go well in my pizza oven.”

Mr MacKenzie denied there had been an assault, saying that his son, James, had “brushed the guy’s hand” while trying to stop him taking photos.

“The guy was taking photos and James just said ‘that’s enough photos now’,” he said. “He took his hat off to sort of cover his face and as he’s done that – his finger has literally brushed the guy’s hand holding the phone.

“Then the guy’s said to James ‘touch me again and I’ll break your f---ing nose’.”

Both Robert MacKenzie and the Ausgrid worker called police.

A spokesman for Ausgrid confirmed the matter had been referred to police, but would not say whether the men had permission to remove the poles.

“Our network operates 24 hours a day, and contains live electrical equipment that can cause serious harm or death,” the spokesman said. “We take security and safety on the network very seriously. All work on and around the network must be done by trained and authorised personnel.”​

Ausgrid workers have been replacing power poles in Port Stephens for some weeks, and Mr MacKenzie said a number of people in the area had been helping themselves. “I can guarantee you we weren’t the only ones taking them, it does [Ausgrid] a favour, they can’t do anything with them,” he said.

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