Employment blame game

A SHARP jump in Gippsland’s unemployment rate has led to accusations the State Government has failed to use the Latrobe Valley Advantage Fund effectively.

At the end of a week of political turmoil for the Coalition State Government, State Member for Eastern Region Matt Viney said it had failed to drive investment through the LVAF “in the right direction” despite the government’s insistence key components of that fund had helped expand local industries and create jobs.

Australian Bureau of Statistics January data showed the Gippsland jobless rate had risen to its highest level since May 2012, hitting 8.3 per cent, up from 6.7 per cent in December 2012.

The most recent Victoria-wide unemployment figure is reported as 5.4 per cent.

However, unemployment statistics have long been inconsistent and December quarter labour force statistics from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations instead showed an unemployment rate of 4.2 per cent for Gippsland.

DEEWR has yet to release December quarter small area labour market figures for the Latrobe Valley, but the most recent data available showed Moe’s unemployment rate was eight per cent, Morwell’s was 8.5 per cent and Traralgon’s was 4.4 per cent, giving an average jobless rate for the Valley as 6.4 per cent, still higher than the state average.

Mr Viney said ABS figures made it clear there were 24,600 less jobs in Gippsland now than there was when the State Government was elected two and a half years ago under former Premier Ted Baillieu, meaning an average of 900 jobs per month had been lost across the region, compared with 600 new jobs per month when Labor was in government. He claimed since the State Government had taken over the LVAF, first set up through the former Labor Government, “we have actually seen more jobs lost… so they have spent not enough or it has been spent in the wrong direction”.

“Maintaining jobs in this economy requires continuous attention to detail, to create an environment where manufacturing and forestry and various service industries are supported and nurtured and it simply hasn’t happened, the government has been asleep at the wheel,” he said.

State Member for Morwell Russell Northe contested Mr Viney’s interpretation of the data, saying it failed to account for those who had changed jobs, retired or moved from the area and did not include new jobs.

“That data is volatile and I don’t accept Mr Viney’s comments on it,” Mr Northe said.

However he conceded “my sense of the region is things are very difficult and tight”.

Mr Northe referred to an additional injection of $5 million he said had bolstered the LVAF to a total of $15 million still available to the region through its regional growth fund and industry and infrastructure funds.

“These seek to support businesses here and retain and create new jobs in the future,” he said.

Mr Northe, however, argued the former Labor government’s spending had left Victoria in poor economic shape and maintained, despite some claims the state had officially slipped into recession last week, economically “we are absolutely on course” and “sensible fiscal management” meant Victorians would be “pleased with the outcomes” of the next May budget.

Mr Northe said the carbon tax had impacted negatively on local jobs, and the unemployment rate was affected by other local factors including a decline in labour at the Wonthaggi desalination plant.

Mr Viney conceded “of course” the carbon tax would impact on the Valley but said it should be “used as an opportunity to attract investment into other areas of electricity generation”.