Council’s call for help

LATROBE City Council has called on local State Government politicians to help it advance the prospect of attracting new and expanded government offices to the region.

Though Latrobe City Council mayor Ed Vermeulen recognised council could not rely on a large-scale concentration of public services to offset potential power industry job losses in the Valley, he said it would still advocate for further jobs created in the sector.

Cr Vermeulen was speaking with The Express after a visit to the region by Federal Energy, Resources and Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson, when the minister appeared to pour cold water on council’s identified goal of securing decentralised government jobs.

In council’s ‘Securing our Future’ document, which seeks to identify ‘low-carbon transitional immediate opportunities’, the “decentralisation of Victorian and Australian Government Departments” is highlighted as a possible employment generation project aimed at diversifying the local economy.

The document said up to 250 jobs could be created this way but the support of the federal and state governments would be required.

Before he met with council last week, Mr Ferguson told The Express that “frankly… moving more public sector servants to the Valley” was not going to be its “long-term future”.

He said the region’s future was in the diversification of its domestic and coal export opportunities as well as aeronautics, food manufacturing, agriculture, pulp and paper and “building the university”.

While Cr Vermeulen said Mr Ferguson had proved himself “remarkably co-operative and approachable”, decisions about decentralising Federal Government offices would not necessarily fall within his portfolio.

Though Mr Ferguson has, on a past visit to the Valley, praised the way Newcastle expanded its economic base following the closure of its BHP steelworks in 1999, it has been recognised that its recovery was, in part, assisted by the relocation of CSIRO to the city in addition to significant government assistance for a range of port-related expansions.

Research into the decentralisation of core government services also shows the former Bracks State Government moved 200 employees from the State Revenue Office to Bendigo and 40 per cent of the SRO was also moved to Ballarat in 2001-02.

In 2006, the State Government also announced the relocation of the Transport Accident Commission headquarters from Melbourne to Geelong, reportedly creating 850 construction jobs in the process.

In announcing new satellite offices of the Department of Premier and Cabinet for Ballarat and Bendigo mid last year, Premier Ted Ballieu said this was the first step in delivering on its pledge to “bring government closer to the people of regional Victoria”, with future expansion to other regions flagged. Cr Vermeulen said while the decentralisation of government jobs had been identified by council as one avenue to replace some of the jobs expected to be lost in the event of any power station closures in the Valley, council was not pinning its hopes on that happening on a large-scale.

“There is an awareness from government though that some relocation is desirable and we are advocating that it should happen here,” he said.

“I think the National Party state MPs are ideally placed here to support us on this particular issue,” Cr Vermeulen said.

“We would be very happy to continue working with them to see this happen; particularly in Moe… which is best suited to that.”

State Member for Morwell Russell Northe said while “everything is on the table” and discussions had taken place “about what opportunities might exist in the future with regards to State Government departments increasing or looking prospectively to bring new departments to the region”, he was not aware of any existing plans.

Mr Northe said discussions had taken place with Deputy Premier Peter Ryan, who was aware that “if any opportunity arises we want the Latrobe Valley to be considered”.

“We have, as a working group, suggested these discussions be conducted as part of the state/commonwealth negotiations on the future of the Latrobe Valley,” Mr Northe said.

In the meantime, Cr Vermeulen said council was preparing to intensify its lobbying efforts on the Federal Government to secure $3 million for Latrobe Valley Airport upgrades, enabling GippsAero to expand its business locally.