A positive outlook for Latrobe Valley

Creating a positive image for the region, opportunities for young people and entering a ‘resilience’ phase post-mine-fire are some of the hopes community leaders hold for 2016.

It’s a year that will see the conclusion of the re-opened Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry, a continued focus on economic transition, and some major Latrobe Valley events expected to attract thousands of people.

They include a world-ranked masters slalom event at Lake Narracan in March and the AUSTimber conference in April which will attract experts from wood manufacturing and forestry, along with industry stakeholders from across the world.

The Valley will also make up part of the cycling course for the Herald Sun Tour next month.

Latrobe City mayor Michael Rossiter said these events would put the region “in a good light” and attract investment.

He said this year council would continue to encourage community feedback and had planned multiple trips to Canberra to lobby the Federal Government.

“A bit of work will go into that. We’ll start identifying who we’re going to be seeing and what we’re targeting,” he said.

“The problem we have here is there’s so much uncertainty around with the paper and coal industry, (it’s about) trying to remove this doubt and get some certainty back in the area and once I think we can do that, we can move forward.”

Another challenge for council will be the impact of rate capping. Cr Rossiter said council would continue to look at where efficiencies could be made in the hope of offsetting the effects.

However, he took an optimistic view of the year ahead.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done. I think we are heading in the right direction and it’s positive,” Cr Rossiter said.

The Morwell and District Community Recovery Committee is hoping to transition to a ‘resilience’ committee in February.

It wants to focus on developing tailored emergency response plans for different sections of the town.

Committee chair Carolyne Boothman said this would be similar to the plans in place in small towns and the various neighbourhoods of Morwell could each develop emergency response plans unique to their needs.

“It’s got to be bigger than fire preparedness, we’ve got to be prepared for whatever occurs,” Ms Boothman said.

“We would work with neighbourhoods about different scenarios and where should you go and how are we going to look after people when they get to that site.”

Ms Boothman said the committee was looking at different funding options to progress the idea.

She said residents surveyed by the committee had shown resilience and great ideas about how to improve things like health and education in the area.

Latrobe Regional Hospital board chair Kellie O’Callaghan said she would like to see the region build on its strengths, the greatest of which was its people.

“We need to create opportunities for them to have even greater pride in their community, to afford them the opportunities to be our future leaders, business people, entrepreneurs and professionals,” Ms O’Callaghan said.

“I hope that this community will trust in its inherent strength and work together to bring about great outcomes for all.”

Committee for Gippsland chief executive Mary Aldred said she would like to see a focus on driving the aspirations of young people in the Valley in higher education.

“I think FedUni has really cemented itself and there’s a real opportunity to do that,” Ms Aldred said.

“I’m very optimistic because even though we’ve got some big challenges ahead, I think the opportunities we’ve got far outweigh the challenges.

“We’ve got a tremendously talented, highly skilled and available workforce, resilient dynamic communities, we don’t have all our eggs in one basket, we’ve got a great diverse economy that is very interlinked. We’ve got a strong export focus which is going to be very important.”