Budgets crush hopes

HOPES the Latrobe Valley’s exceptional circumstances in a low-carbon economy would be recognised in recent state and federal budgets have been crushed.

News that Latrobe Regional Hospital’s $65 million redevelopment bid had been overlooked by the Federal Government, on top of state budget cuts threatening local TAFE campuses and inaction from the Federal Government on Latrobe City Council’s early calls for low-carbon transition support, prompted frustration and outrage among local leaders this week.

“Patience” with governments was running thin and Latrobe City councillor Graeme Middlemiss said current Latrobe Valley Transition Committee work, and a council submission to the LVTC discussion paper, lacked vital detail. He said both should be pushing for a Latrobe Valley-specific fund with hefty government resources to secure specific new industries and jobs.

Latrobe City Mayor Ed Vermeulen and Latrobe Regional Hospital board chair Kellie O’Callaghan backed the call for a region-specific fund this week.

Cr Vermeulen said he wanted to see “anything right now that will make us a priority”.

He identified TAFE, LRH and the Morwell primary schools regeneration project as key areas demanding urgent government attention.

This week Latrobe City Council also unanimously adopted its submission to the LVTC, pushing for, among other actions, a $70 million Jobs Fund to replace the “2000 jobs” expected to be lost through power station closures under the Federal Government’s ‘contract for closure process’.

Though Cr Middlemiss said some of the document’s recommendations were “a step in the right direction” he called for immediate identification of new industries the Valley could secure, the establishment of a fund to facilitate that and staff appointed to “proactively seek those new jobs”.

Cr Middlemiss said the LVTC document contained “nothing new” and was rife with “old hairy chestnut” ideas, some that had “been around for 20 to 30 years and not produced anything”, which raised “false hopes”.

He said he wanted to see this region assisted in the same way Newcastle was following the closure of its steelworks, and mass job losses, in 1999.

“I have been there, to benchmark it against the Latrobe Valley, and the difference there is that it had a lot of money thrown at it,” Cr Middlemiss said.

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester said he “absolutely” agreed a specific Valley fund was necessary.

“We have had lots of ministers engage in conversations in our region but we would really prefer they come with a cheque book next time,” Mr Chester said.

“There have been good relationships developed but they (the Federal Government) have not actually put any dollars into the region,” he said.

“There is a crisis of confidence in the Valley that governments can help us overcome”.

“I understand the money from the (federal) regional adjustment package will flow in the second half of this year but there is no guarantee the Latrobe Valley will receive a significant share of that $200 million pool and, in any case, my expectation is that it would cost more than that total pool to fund the work required in our region.”