Assistance still available

THE Federal Government has confirmed a $200 million assistance package for regions hard hit by the carbon tax will remain open to the Latrobe Valley.

That news came yesterday from Federal Regional Development Minister Simon Crean following pressure from Valley leaders for government to affirm its commitment to deliver on the $200 million Regional Structural Adjustment Assistance Package, despite plans to close local power stations being shelved.

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester, in Federal Parliament recently, accused the Federal Government of propping up an “artificial surplus” by freezing government program spending including the $200 million RSAAP “which was meant to assist regions adversely affected by the carbon tax”.

Mr Chester said “not a cent of that package has been delivered”.

His claims were confirmed by Latrobe Valley Transition Committee board member Paul Buckley who told The Express it was “of concern” to the committee that the $200 million program might “not happen”.

“The (LVTC) committee’s advice is that money was not predicated on the ‘contract for closure’ – our advice is that (the program) recognises there will be a transition for the region and that ‘contracts for closure’ would only have impacted on the timing of this transition,” Mr Buckley said.

In a statement to The Express Mr Crean said the Federal Government remained “committed to working in partnership with all levels of government and local leaders to develop a plan for economic diversification, such as responding to the Latrobe Valley Transition Committee report.”

He said the RSAAP would “remain available to assist regions that may be significantly affected by the introduction of the carbon price.”

Mr Buckley earlier said the recent Federal Government announcement that it was abandoning plans to close brown coal power stations, some potentially in the Latrobe Valley, “essentially means we have more time (to transition) but it doesn’t mean there is any less need for support from the Federal Government”.

He said the Federal Government had been saying “for a while now” it would respond to LVTC’s report identifying future opportunities to diversity this region.

Mr Chester told Parliament Mr Crean had “admitted during the budget consideration in detail stage that the guidelines of the $200 million package had not even be prepared.”

He claimed the Federal Government had more recently said the funding was “always going to be contingent upon” the impact of any power station closures.

Government attempts to tie the two programs together were not consistent with what had originally been “promised”, he said.

Mr Chester presented a fact sheet to Parliament from the government’s Clean Energy Future website outlining the RSAAP, which he said made “no mention about the $200 million and the fund being contingent upon the ‘contracts for closure’ program.”