Time to step up

When looking to train apprentices for his electrical business, lifelong Latrobe Valley resident Vin Key can not help but be concerned by the mindset of today’s local youth.

“Today there seems to be more pressures on kids, you can really see it coming through; kids here in 1970s and 80s didn’t have any real worry about their future,” Mr Key said.

“There was no fear of the future then; you had a job that you were going to everyday, and while it was not a lot of money… there was job security, and that meant the world.”

Fast forward three decades, and Mr Key, a former State Electricity Commission of Victoria Morwell mine worker, said regardless of the industry you were in, the concept of job security was well and truly a bygone era, demolished by the privatisation of the power sector.

“When the SECV was going through meltdown and getting rid of people, people weren’t thinking about the future of the region; it was all about themselves,” Mr Key said.

“I’d have people in my office at four in the morning with absolutely no idea what to do… it changed things forever.”

With the region facing another major structural change, the inevitable transition away from brown coal-fired generation, fast-tracked by the Federal Government’s desire to transition to a low carbon economy, the region’s stakeholders are pulling out all stops to put job security back into the equation.

Such is the flavour of the Latrobe Valley Transition Committee’s ‘Report to Government’ released on Monday with extensive input from local industry, businesses, unions, educators and government, it provides a major review into the Valley’s economic and social strengths and weaknesses.

After sitting in the development pipeline for 14 months, the report synthesised years of studies, outlining strategic directions for government to attract investment, sand transition the local workforce to new industries, both of which would require ongoing and extensive government support.

Regional Development Australia chair Richard Elkington, a former power industry executive and driver of the report, said the report was a great cause for optimism.

“Unlike anything we saw in the 90s, this report has been committed to and driven by our community leaders… it’s not written by bureaucrats, it’s been written by local stakeholders, who’ve all got something to lose here,” he said.

However, Mr Elkington said the mindset of the region’s biggest stakeholder, the people of the Latrobe Valley, could be its own worst enemy; a mindset clouded by a misplaced “sense of entitlement”.

Mr Key could not agree more.

“We need to turn this around and fight hard for ourselves here; decades of handouts have only promoted laziness for so many people that were out of work,” he said.

But when looking back over the last two decades, the semi-retired Mr Key can not help but be baffled by how things went so “terribly wrong” and how the mindset of upcoming generations changed before his eyes.

“Kids want to grow up like mum and dad, but when dad sits at home all day watching telly, how can you deal with that?” he said.

“I used to talk to kids about their future, but now I’ve stopped asking, and that scares me sometimes.”

However, Mr Elkington said he had the utmost faith in the region’s ability to step up to the challenge, a view he said was vindicated by the strength of recent turnouts at TAFE crisis meetings.