Diversifying through transition period

The stark employment challenges faced by the Latrobe Valley were realised by a government department head recently, as she walked down Hotham Street, Traralgon.

Department of Planning and Community Development Gippsland regional director Jane Oakley overheard a worker chatting about being home on his 10-day break from his fly-in fly-out position in northern Australia.

“It’s not until you see it happening that it really hits home; we have a very skilled workforce that is attracted by other organisations interstate and globally, and we run the risk of losing that,” Ms Oakley said, speaking to a room of business and industry representatives on Tuesday.

Such challenges faced by the region were thrown open for discussion at the Gippsland Industries in Transition conference over the past two days, as the region’s dominant and emerging industries and businesses discussed their visions, ideas, and questions for the region’s future.

Organised by the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council at Kernot Hall in Morwell, a range of speakers from agriculture, forestry, education, and government departments openly shared their potential strengths and weaknesses and their roles in diversifying the region’s economy to a low carbon future.

GTLC secretary John Parker said while much work had been done in the region to prepare for the future, the event was about identifying shortfalls in what most stakeholders realised and appreciated needed to be a unified strategy.

Latrobe City Mayor Ed Vermeulen said while a vast and diverse industry representation and turnout boded well for the region’s future, he was “very aware” of community perceptions of such events as “talkfests”, which would test the patience and interest of Latrobe Valley residents.

“We don’t want to bombard people with this, but people need to know that we are on the case, and the extent to which we can influence support in the area; it’s about taking a unified message to government about what our priorities are.”

Mr Vermeulen said considering the recent influx of announcements regarding the State Government’s intentions to utilise the brown coal resource, the region could get “a little too preoccupied that (brown coal) was our only way forward”.