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An independent Victorian senator has accused the Federal Government of neglecting a Latrobe Valley economic transition over the past three-and-a-half years.
Senator John Madigan said there had been no leadership, interest or action from the Federal Government on “the single most important challenge facing the Latrobe Valley region”.
Mr Madigan referred to responses he received to a series of questions he submitted on notice at Senate Estimates in February.
The answers revealed the Federal Department of Environment had not consulted with Latrobe City Council about issues arising from future power station closures in the Valley; the department had not taken any actions to facilitate or assist the Latrobe Valley region with economic transition; and it had not committed funds to help “ameliorate” the negative impact of power station closure.
“In addition to the Federal Government’s own neglect on transition matters, there is no joint approach by federal, state and local levels of government,” Mr Madigan said.
Nationals sitting Member for Gippsland Darren Chester said Latrobe Valley economic transition was not the Federal Department of Environment’s area of responsibility and the Coalition’s record of advocating for the Latrobe Valley “couldn’t be clearer”.
“The Coalition listened to the Latrobe Valley community by fighting against Labor’s contract-for-closures; and we listened to the community when they voted against Labor’s carbon tax,” Mr Chester said.
“As the Federal Gippsland MP, I have regular face-to-face meetings with Latrobe City Council, the power stations and community groups about the future of the Latrobe Valley’s power industry.
“I get regular feedback from these groups about the Latrobe Valley’s economy, the four major energy producers, as well as our other major employers such as Australian Paper, the health industry and Lion Foods in Morwell.
“My community engagement does not have a start and end date – it is something that is ongoing.”
When asked whether he supported a bipartisan approach to Latrobe Valley transition, Mr Chester said Labor and the Greens wanted to “speed up the demise of the Latrobe Valley power industry”, but the Coalition had a “more responsible” approach.
“I will work with anyone who has the best interests of our community at heart but I won’t be taking orders from city-based politicians who have no idea about the harm they are causing with their reckless comments and policy commitments,” Mr Chester said.
Latrobe City chief executive Gary Van Driel said council would like to see a Federal Government financial commitment to transition.