Ministers’ loss felt

THE loss of two Federal Ministers with ties to the Latrobe Valley will challenge efforts by local leaders to keep the Latrobe Valley firmly on the federal agenda.

The recent ALP leadership spill triggered the sacking of Federal Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government Minister Simon Crean and the resignation of Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson from their senior cabinet positions.

Both ministers were Victorian-based and had visited the Valley on numerous occasions in the past year to meet with key stakeholders over matters of economic diversification in the region and future uses for brown coal.

Mr Ferguson has been replaced by Western Australian MP Gary Gray, who has worked as a corporate manager for a petroleum company, while Mr Crean’s successor is New South Wales MP Anthony Albanese who has held the portfolio before.

Mr Albanese will be assisted by new junior Minister for Regional Services, Local Communities and Territories Catherine King, a Ballarat-based MP.

Last week Ms King’s office confirmed to The Express she would replace Mr Crean as the Federal Government’s representative on a Latrobe Valley joint ministerial taskforce for the transition of the Valley’s economy.

Latrobe City Council chief executive Paul Buckley said council had not been formally advised of the government’s decision to assign Ms King to the LV taskforce and would seek “some clarity on how the arrangement will work”, adding he didn’t believe the Latrobe Valley Transition Committee had been advised either.

“We understand Minister Albanese deciding to delegate to Minister King and we would be more than happy to work to establish a relationship with both…we were quite comfortable with the relationship we once had with Mr Albanese and are confident we can work with him again and we would be keen to brief Minister King as soon as possible on the work of the transition committee and council’s priorities in terms of transition and regional development,” Mr Buckley said.

Asked whether regional leaders would need to renew efforts to convince the Federal Government of the Valley’s plight, Mr Buckley said “not so much from scratch, but certainly we had a very good working relationship with Mr Crean who was instrumental in signing the Memorandum of Understanding (for the local taskforce) so the timing is not perfect and obviously we would have preferred to carry that understanding through from Mr Crean… but the reality is, it is now with this minister and we will work through that.”

Mr Buckley said he had never met Mr Gray and council had enjoyed “a relationship with Mr Ferguson that was very strong and open” but added he expected the broader federal policies supporting sustainable uses of brown coal would be supported by Mr Gray.