Region’s future mapped

After more than a year of heightened calls for Latrobe Valley assistance, the State Government has delivered its official response, launching a much-anticipated ‘roadmap’ which will guide all future Victorian policy strategies and funding decisions in the region.

The Latrobe Valley Industry and Employment Roadmap launched yesterday, along with $6 million in new funding for the region, is the State Government’s comprehensive response to ongoing calls to guide the region through its transition away from power sector dependence.

However, the report’s delivery has put further pressure on the Federal Government to reveal how it will assist the Valley through future impact of the carbon pricing policies.

Speaking to about 100 regional stakeholders at Latrobe Regional Airport yesterday, Regional and Rural Development Minister Peter Ryan said the roadmap was proof the State Government “had done a lot to enhance the future of this region”.

Included in the plan are a set of strategic directions aimed at playing to the region’s industry and resource strengths and opportunities, while guiding the transition of the workforce to a more diversified economy.

This included an assurance retrenched power industry workers would receive funding to retrain in other sectors, such as forestry, alternative energy, food processing and agriculture.

Gippsland Trades and Labour Council secretary John Parker said while a raft of reports had been delivered by government and other stakeholders in the past, this was the one by which Valley workers could hold future State Government actions to account.

In June, Mr Parker told The Express “he would be out on the streets shouting” if the roadmap did not deliver tangible outcomes to create job opportunities in the region.

“This is the document over the next four years by which we can expect all tiers of government to drive our economy and make changes to it,” Mr Parker said yesterday.

Shortly after the roadmap’s official launch, the hot question circulating the room was how much funding the Valley would receive from the Federal Government’s $200 million regional assistance package, to be allocated to regions “adversely affected” by carbon pricing policy.

Mr Ryan said it was now time for the Federal Government to “step up” and show the Valley how it would be assisted through the direct impact of the carbon tax’s imposition.

“We are quite rightly confident that we can attract the lion’s share of that amount of money … but it is important that the Federal Government makes clear as soon as possible its intentions,” Mr Ryan said.

Mr Ryan reiterated previous criticism the $200 million amount was insufficient, and said the share Latrobe Valley received would be considered as an initial “down payment”, with the expectation of more to come.

Latrobe City Council chief executive Paul Buckley said the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the Federal Government’s ‘contract for closure’ process, which could see a Latrobe Valley power station closed by 2020, was “disappointing”.

“The longer it takes to get some certainty around that, the longer it takes for us to create a clear path to prepare for it… but the only indication that’s been given to us is that (the announcement of power stations contracted to close) could still takes some months.”

The Express understands Federal Regional and Rural Development Minister Simon Crean will visit the Valley next week for talks with the Latrobe Valley Transition Committee, to consider its recent ‘Report to Government’ document and the State Government roadmap.

However, by time of going to print questions to Minister Crean’s office regarding ‘contract for closure’ and the regional assistance package remained unanswered.

“We are very keen to see this resolved quickly, so we would hope with Crean coming down on Monday, we’ll be given some idea of when that formal response will be,” Mr Buckley said.