Valley funds reduced

CONFIRMATION the Latrobe Valley can now expect an average of less than $2 million per year over six years in Federal Government support for the region’s transition to a cleaner economy will force a rethink on local priorities.

Buried somewhere in the most recent federal budget papers was a figure of $15 million, to be spread over six years, for the Valley’s structural adjustment as it moves to a low-carbon economy, according to Latrobe City Council chief executive Paul Buckley.

He said he assumed $3.35 million already announced for the Warragul Railway Station Precinct in February would come from the $15 million.

Mr Buckley also sits on the Latrobe Valley Transition Committee which formed to respond to the challenges of a transition, including the impact of the carbon tax, which numerous experts agreed would see the Valley hit harder than any other region in the country.

Until recently the LVTC, which has formally put a series of recommendation for local support to the Federal Government, had hoped the lion’s share of $200 million originally slated for structural adjustment would be spent in the Valley, Mr Buckley said.

The Federal Government recently claimed the $200 million was specifically set aside for regions expected to see power generators close under its now-abandoned ‘contracts for closure’ process.

Key regional leaders disagree and this week Mr Buckley said LVTC’s advice to government about this region’s needs “was not predicated on a contract for closure process”.

“Although that (condition) had been mentioned by some former ministers, there was no indication in the Clean Energy Package that the money was tied to this, it was all about transitioning to a low carbon future,” he said.

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester agreed, saying the contracts for closure condition was “a caveat they added on later, just to get out of it”.

The government’s Clean Energy Future website refers to “assistance to support workers, regions and communities that remain strongly affected by carbon pricing after other forms of assistance have been provided”.

It does not mention contracts for closure.

Mr Buckley challenged the Federal Government’s justification for reducing support, when it inferred regions had not suffered unduly as a result of the carbon tax.

He said the carbon tax had “had a significant impact already on investment in the region, and investment confidence”.

“We have seen a range of projects that are really on hold as a result of uncertainty in federal policy at the moment and a number of those were put on hold in direct response to the introduction of the carbon tax,” he said, declining to name individual projects.

Mr Chester said the government also failed to account for “how the original ‘contact for closure’ policy destroyed confidence in this region and we are only just now showing the green shoots of recovery”.

“The Federal Government should be there, in partnership with us, to help with that recovery but now that money doesn’t exist,” Mr Chester said.