Freight capacity needed

CONCERNS inadequate freight capacity in Gippsland could jeopardise opportunities to secure investors keen to do business here have been raised with the State Government by regional leaders.

Last week Deputy Premier Peter Ryan met with local government, business and community leaders at the Gippsland Local Government Network Forum and the Committee for Gippsland Business and Industry Briefing, where he was asked to prioritise freight infrastructure spending in Gippsland.

After the forum Mr Ryan said the State Government’s recently launched Latrobe Valley Industry and Employment Roadmap was a “long-term plan for growth in response to the impacts from the national carbon price on energy intensive businesses” and identified, as one of its “long-term infrastructure objectives” support for the Gippsland Freight Strategy – “the region’s vision for managing the diversifying economy and growing freight task”.

Speaking to The Express about the forum, Latrobe City Mayor Ed Vermeulen said while he gave Mr Ryan “credit for listening to us”, there was no indication yet of anything other than ‘in principle’ support for a freight strategy which the mayor claimed was vital to luring investors to the region.

Mayors and chief executive officers from Gippsland’s six councils attended the forum and Cr Vermeulen said Mr Ryan was advised there was “some sense of urgency now” around Gippsland’s freight capacity.

“We had discussions about developing the GIFT (Gippsland Intermodel Freight Terminal proposal) and how this might pick up new opportunities and also fit into existing (practices) with semi (trailers) going to Melbourne from Gippsland; for example, Patties Foods has so many semis that go to Melbourne every week.

“There needs to be cooperation with freight operators to look at how rail can complement semi-trailer based freight companies,” Cr Vermeulen said.

He said numerous possibilities for clean-coal based activities in the Valley “all involve freight” and though some of those plans were more “medium-term” in nature they still “immediately throw up the freight issue”.’

Cr Vermeulen said he also knew of one international company “ready to go now, subject to finalising negotiations” which had expressed concern about “the freight aspect” of the region.

“So this was stressed to Mr Ryan and he (and his government) are all aware of it,” he added.

Calling for an immediate injection of infrastructure funds to the region by governments, Cr Vermeulen conceded he had a “totally different view than the current State Government” about how to stimulate the economy.

“I think its an old fashioned economic school of thought that you tighten the reigns when things are not good and all modern economists agree, but I know they are going for balanced budgets for fear of being criticised.”

Mr Ryan said the Roadmap strategy aimed to “identify priority areas for investments in infrastructure and regulatory reforms to facilitate access between Gippsland and other areas.”