Valley’s good news

A SERIES of multi-million dollar good news announcements have come Latrobe Valley’s way this week, and are expected to boost confidence across a range of sectors in the region.

Today the Federal Government announced $11.65 million to three “priority” Valley projects, including the long-awaited Moe Rail Precinct Revitalisation Project and a new university training clinic and dental prosthetic laboratory to be built by Latrobe Community Health Service on its existing Churchill site.

The news comes just two days after State Higher Education and Skills Minister Peter Hall launched major education projects valued at $15 million set to see key new course offerings from Gippsland’s new university entity next year.

The latter announcement, which secured $4.6 million from the State Government on top of commitments from education provider partners and several high profile businesses, would help create a new “regional engineering hub in the Valley”, Mr Hall said.

It would also see the return of the Bachelor of Information Technology to Gippsland and the arrival of other business and accounting-related courses.

Meanwhile regional stakeholders welcomed the approval of funding submissions put before the Federal Government as part of the Valley’s “economic diversification” efforts.

Federal Regional Services Minister Catherine King told The Express the allocation of $7.5 million for the Moe revitalisation project, $4 million to the LCHS project and $150,000 for a Gippsland Workforce Development Plan – added to $3.3 million already given to a railway revitalisation project in Warragul – meant the Federal Government’s $15 million Latrobe Valley diversification fund was now spent.

Ms King said the projects came on top of numerous previous announcements including a $50 million Energy Brix restructuring package, a $70 million carbon capture and storage project and $3 million for Latrobe Valley airport upgrades.

She said the recent submissions, coupled with her own site visits in Churchill and Moe, had convinced her of the merits of the Latrobe Valley Transition Committee’s priority projects, and the capacity for all of them to generate jobs in the region.

LVTC member and Latrobe City Council chief executive Paul Buckley said today’s news was “very satisfying” as the committee had been “very keen to make sure these particular announcements came through prior to (the federal government) entering a (pre-election) caretaker period”.

He said LVTC intended to embark on pre-election discussions with the Federal Government and Federal Opposition to assess “what sort of support we can expect in the future, more broadly”, particularly as the Valley’s power generation industry faces an early move to an emissions trading scheme and an end to a government compensation package by 2016.

Ms King contended the Valley would not face “any additional burden” in the immediate to shorter term from a move away from the existing carbon tax to an ETS and said the billion dollar compensation package had been “bought forward to assist energy generators”.

She said, more broadly it would come as “no surprise” to the local community “there is a need to generate other jobs outside of the (power) generation sector” and it was incumbent upon the LVTC to “build strongly on its strategic role” by continuing to look at leveraging future funds from existing pools and undertaking further workforce planning.

Mr Buckley said LVTC wanted to see a “flexible diversification fund” for the region supported by the Federal Government, in the same vein as the State Government’s Latrobe Valley Advantage Fund.

Ms King said the $15 million just allocated “was that fund” but also indicated the next round of the Regional Development Australia Fund had also seen submissions from Gippsland councils and offered further potential opportunities.

RDA Gippsland chair Richard Elkington told The Express submissions to the $250 million RDAF round five closed this week and if local submissions were successful it was possible projects which had previously failed to secure RDAF funding might do so this time around.

The Gippsland Aquatic Centre was one such project, failing in its bid for $15 million from RDAF round four.

Mr Elkington said all of LVTC’s advice, and projects, so far put to the state and federal governments, had been “endorsed”, whether funded or not, and he believed an action plan was now necessary to see them implemented and funded.

“There might not be a clear funding square right now but we have to work on finding one,” he said.

Mr Elkington welcomed money for a regional workforce plan which he said was vital to helping all key sectors of the regional economy plan for the skills, training and resources they would need to grow in the future.