Complete analysis of Gippsland ‘vital’

LATROBE City Council will continue to pursue significant federal funding for its own study on the local impact of the carbon tax despite a Victoria University report on the matter being released last week.

When asked whether the university report negated the need for further analysis by council, which is expected to cost “a couple of hundred thousand dollars” , Latrobe City Council mayor Ed Vermeulen said it did not.

Councillor Vermeulen said council’s proposed social impact study was “absolutely a good cause to proceed with”.

He said although VU’s report to Regional Development Victoria, ‘The Regional Effects of Pricing Carbon Emissions: An Adjustment Strategy for the Latrobe Valley’, had “very strong social aspects to it”, a more complete analysis, to include all of Gippsland, was “vital”.

The specific social detail sought by Council was limited in the VU report, Cr Vermeulen said.

“We really want specifics about what would happen to each town, what employment loss there would be, and particular percentages…we want detail on age profiles, alternative skills training for any future projects…there are an awful lot of aspects and, generally, there is far more detail required,” he said.

Council has so far obtained $20,000 through the Regional Development Australia Gippsland Committee for a “scoping” document, to precede a full analysis.

Any funding for a major study is likely to be allocated only if the Federal Government confirms a local power station will close as part of its ‘contract for closure’ scheme.

The government is expected to confirm by the end of June which power generators will negotiate to close under that scheme, which seeks to remove 2000 megawatts of coal-fired electricity generation by 2020.

“I personally don’t think the 2000MW will only come to the Latrobe Valley…but certainly we expect a significant part of it will be here,” Cr Vermeulen said, adding “then we will have an argument (for the report to be funded)”.

Meanwhile State Deputy Premier Peter Ryan said, although he believed the challenges currently facing the Valley stemmed directly from the carbon tax, the State Government had made important inroads into preparing the Valley for its impact.

The report made frequent links between the Valley’s existing disadvantage and privatisation of its power industry in the 1990s, which happened predominantly under a state Coalition government.

While Mr Ryan recognised the economic downturn, unemployment and ‘out migration’ from the region which had followed, he said the report also claimed the area had since “rebounded and is the process of recovery”.

He referred to population levels stabilising, growth forecasts and economic diversification.

Cr Vermeulen said the ‘rebound’ had been “patchy” and the Valley now had a “multi-stage economy” where “certain areas have done very well and there are some people with well paid jobs but, in our social demographic detail, there are some groups who have not done as well”.

He called for continued “very significant federal and state government support”.

“With better planning, lobbying and co-operation between governments we can do a lot better than we did in the 1990s and it is incumbent on us to do better,” he said.

Mr Ryan said to date the Federal Government had provided “no targeted regional development funding to the Latrobe Valley” but he was hopeful this would be “addressed in coming months”.

Cr Vermeulen said he believed the Federal Government was “waiting for the carbon tax to come out and then it will get into projects more deeply”.