Latrobe Valley appears to be budget winner

This year’s state budget appears to have upheld virtually all of Labor’s promises to the Latrobe Valley with multi-million dollar investments in construction and refurbishment projects.

The Kurnai College Morwell campus will get a $7.8 million upgrade, the Morwell Schools Regeneration Project will receive $10.45 million, $1 million will go to Latrobe Community Health Service’s proposed dental lab and the long-awaited Gippsland Logistics Precinct will get $10 million.

The government has boosted its funding to the impending reopening of the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry from the $1.5 million promised to almost $5 million.

It cited extra costs associated with expanding the inquiry’s scope to look at the rehabilitation of all four Victorian mines.

More than $25 million will be spent on implementing all of the inquiry’s recommendations.

However, the budget has drawn a mixed reaction from community groups, with some saying the government could have allocated more for the Valley.

Advance Morwell chairman John Guy said although he was pleased with the amount of funding Morwell had received, he was disappointed at the lack of communication surrounding the budget.

“We wrote to various ministers some time ago requesting details about where the technical school would be built and when the primary schools would be built,” Mr Guy said.

“We’ve received no reply, which is a bit disappointing.

“We’d just like to see some clarification regarding those projects.”

The government has allocated $12 million for planning to establish technical schools across the state, including one in Gippsland.

However, the budget does not specify which Gippsland town the school would be built in.

Upper house member for Eastern Victoria Harriet Shing said prior to the election, Labor committed to building the school in Morwell.

“Morwell was determined to be one of the locations that could really benefit from a collaborative model of education that invites industry, employers, schools and the community to have flexible education options but also combine training to give young people every opportunity to fund and secure the jobs that they want,” Ms Shing said.

Traralgon Community Development Association president Axella Johannesson said the town had been forgotten in this year’s budget.

“We’re always happy to see funding for hospitals and schools, but it seems that we’ve been forgotten in this year’s budget – unless the plans to upgrade level crossings include ours as well,” Ms Johannesson said.

She highlighted the absence of funding for the Gippsland Regional Aquatic Centre, which was promised by the Coalition before it lost government in last year’s election.

“The people of Traralgon have been asking for an indoor heated pool for decades. In addition to being of value to families and our championship swimming club, such a facility would draw swimming events to the region, which would be of benefit to local businesses, especially those in hospitality.

“We are, however, pleased that the children of Morwell will enjoy much-improved school facilities, as an educated society benefits everyone. However, we would like to have seen families in Traralgon receive some benefit from this year’s budget.”

Member for Narracan Gary Blackwood welcomes the announcement of three extra maternity beds for the West Gippsland Hospital in Warragul, along with the statewide $200 million Hospital Bed Rescue Fund.

He said many WGH patients were from Moe, and it was important to also continue support for Latrobe Regional Hospital to service the whole area.

However, Mr Blackwood noted his disappointment no funding had been allocated to Albert Street Primary School in Moe considering record education spending across the state and eight years of lobbying efforts.

“(The Coalition) promised to provide $2 million for Albert Street Primary School, including upgrades to classroom and security fencing for the school, and there have been major issues for some time for students and staff.”

Moe Traders Association president Christine Waterhouse said the lack of state budget funding for Moe did not surprise her, considering the town always had to fight for government commitments.

Ms Waterhouse said the town was still jubilant to see stage one of the Moe Rail Precinct Revitalisation Project due to be completed in February 2016 and it was too early to be disappointed about funding for stage two.

Member for Morwell Russell Northe said he was disappointed the Latrobe Valley Industry and Infrastructure Fund – which aimed to help the region diversify its economy – had not been continued by Labor.

“I’m very concerned about the lack of business support and therefore job opportunities,” Mr Northe said.

The $15 million fund ran out last year and Mr Northe estimated it had helped create 880 new jobs in Latrobe and Baw Baw shires.

Ms Shing said Labor’s $250 million Regional Infrastructure Development Fund would drive industry and innovation throughout regional Victoria.

“This budget is about giving every opportunity to families in Gippsland and throughout regional Victoria to achieve their full potential,” Ms Shing said.

The budget also includes $3 million towards a new emergency services hub for Morwell, which would expand the scope of a pending $5 million fire station for Morwell by the inclusion of an upgraded ambulance depot.

Subject to securing a suitable site, work will begin in January 2016 with the hub to be delivered in January 2018, according to the government.

It remains unclear whether the Latrobe Valley has been included in broader emergency service funding, as promised prior to the election.

The budget includes funding for 450 additional career firefighters across the state, but the locations are yet to be determined. Labor promised Morwell and Traralgon stations would be included.

All new recruits are set to be trained in Emergency Medical Response, however the deployment locations are yet to be finalised. Labor promised the rollout of EMR training and capabilities at Morwell and Traralgon.

The other Labor emergency service promise was prioritisation of the Valley for specialised safety equipment to fight coal mine fires.

“Earlier this year the Latrobe Valley became the first region in Victoria to receive two compressed air foam units. The advanced foam technology is especially critical in a coal mine region such as the Latrobe Valley due to its ability to reduce smoke, heat and ash,” an emergency service spokesman said.