New ‘guide’ for Valley’s future

A NEWLY released report into the Latrobe Valley’s economic future has found regional governance is “ad-hoc and fragmented” and called for a new, funded body to help steer “revitalisation”.

The report, commissioned by the Federal Government months ago as part of the Valley transition process, was undertaken by RMIT University’s Centre for Sustainable Organisations and Work.

One of the report’s nine authors, Professor Peter Fairbrother, told The Express yesterday he expected the report’s key findings would be used to guide future Latrobe Valley-related government policy, regardless of which political party was in power.

Among those findings was that the long term viability of Gippsland’s four crucial sectors – coal and energy, forestry and timber, oil and gas and agriculture – required “greater clarity” about who was “responsible for the economic revitalisation of the Latrobe Valley region”.

This would ideally be achieved via a funded (per capita levy) Regional Economic Development Commission to develop partnerships between Gippsland’s local government areas, local employers and non-government entities, Professor Fairbrother said.

The report said a new REDC would secure funding, facilitate “inward investment” and develop “linked economic sustainability programs across the region”.

It said the Gippsland Local Government Network should take steps to “empower such a Commission”.

Professor Fairbrother said the region currently suffered some “chaotic” responses to issues vital to its future and the RMIT report differed to the many other reports on the region’s future by exploring the relationship between its four key sectors.

“When you look at them this way you see… they are implicitly tied together and compete with one another for labour, land and water and rely specifically on transport arrangements which has resulted in chaotic and overlapping transport infrastructure,” he said.

Transport emerged as an issue of vital importance to the Valley’s future and the report called on all governments to develop a “business case for transport alternatives”, including ‘intermodel hubs’ as a matter of urgency.

Without an integrated “multi-sector infrastructure program”, the report warned it was unlikely the Valley could “engage in effective structural adjustment”.

Professor Fairbrother said another recommendation called for “at least one biomass facility”, that could use forest waste, metropolitan waste and agricultural waste, to be established in the region.

He said industry had responded positively to those suggestions during the report’s consultation phase.

Report contributor Claude Rioux, an international forestry program advisor from Canada, “argued, with compelling evidence, that if you establish a commercial but leading edge biomass facility, the first ever in the country, you bring everything to do with it into your region”, Professor Fairbrother said.

“But you can’t do it by wishful thinking and accepting that the market will take care of it all,” he said.

The report author welcomed news the Federal Government had recently committed $150,000 to a Gippsland Workforce Development Plan, saying the plan would fit with a recommended “skills policy” in the RMIT report.