Cash for Valley transition

The establishment of a Morwell Hi-Tech precinct is part of a $40 million State Budget transition plan aimed at attracting growth and industry to the Latrobe Valley.

In yesterday’s state budget, the government announced the funding towards diversifying the region’s economy.

While specific details about how the precinct would work on the ground remain unclear, it’s understood the facility would be built in Morwell.

Energy, Resources and Industry Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the project was still in its early stages, but would unite industry and secondary and tertiary education providers with the common goal of transitioning away from the brown coal industry.

The focus would turn to future industries, which may include food and fibre, transport, new energy and international education, subject to community feedback.

“It’s still all initial thoughts and nothing is set in concrete. It’s about establishing the best way for the Latrobe Valley to transition, and that is a discussion we will have with stakeholders and the community,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

The funding was part of a string of big-ticket items allocated to the Latrobe Valley in the budget, some of which had been announced in previous weeks.

The budget revealed the previously flagged technical school for Morwell will be constructed at the town’s Federation Training campus and will share in a statewide pool of $116 million.

Following through with a previous commitment to upgrade Morwell Park Primary School, the government allocated $7.8 million to the project; while the long-awaited performing arts precinct for Traralgon will receive $10 million.

Rail services attracted significant attention, including more than 170 extra off-peak train services on regional lines, $2.6 million to plan for track upgrades on the Gippsland line and investigating the viability of more car parking at Moe, Morwell and Traralgon train stations.

Latrobe City Council chief executive Gary Van Driel said more detail was needed to understand how the $40 million transition funding would be allocated and what it would mean for the Latrobe Valley, but it appeared to be another positive investment.

Voices of the Valley president Wendy Farmer said the government was investing in the Valley’s future.

“Our community has a proud history, and we have a lot to offer. Government support will help us realise our potential,” she said.

Nationals Member for Morwell Russell Northe said the business community had been crying out for an economic development fund that would provide support and assistance to them and create local jobs.

The opposition has pushed for the reinstatement of a program similar to the Latrobe Valley Industry and Infrastructure Fund – an initiative started by Labor and topped up by the Coalition, but ended in 2014.

Mr Northe said the budget was “a bit scant on the detail” of how exactly the new ‘Hi-Tech precinct’ would operate.

He said he hoped the program would help well-established businesses to grow as well as attract new businesses to the region.

Mr Northe said improvements to rail transport did not go far enough, as there was a need for more services in peak times and the funding for Gippsland track upgrades was for planning only.

He also expressed disappointment two advocacy groups Barrier Breakers and the Gippsland Carers Association also missed out.

The organisations have been forced to dip into their own fundraising reserves to pay for staff.