Where are the jobs?

Unemployment rates in the Latrobe-Gippsland region are going against the trend of other regional cities in Victoria.

Rates in Bendigo, Ballarat and Shepparton are falling below the national average to five, 5.9 and 3.5 per cent, respectively. These figures are based on a three-month rolling average.

However, Latrobe-Gippsland’s unemployment rate has jumped by about four per cent in the past year.

“The issue is we’ve had 18 months of nothing (since the current Labor State Government was elected),” State Member for Morwell Russell Northe said.

Mr Northe said the State Government had “invested substantial funding” into other regional centres, but this wasn’t the case in Latrobe.

“In the meantime it is obvious to see through the Australian Bureau of Statistics we have had a loss of full-time jobs in the region,” he said.

The nation’s latest job figures, including the month of April, were released by the ABS last Thursday.

The unemployment rate for Latrobe-Gippsland now stands at nine per cent, up from 8.2 per cent three months ago and 5.2 per cent in April last year.

In a release the State Government sent to media outlets last week, Treasurer Tim Pallas described the unemployment rates as “great news for regional Victoria”.

The release highlighted Bendigo, Ballarat and Shepparton’s falling unemployment rates, but did not mention Latrobe.

In a statement supplied to The Express, Mr Pallas said the State Government had prioritised regional Victorian jobs in its 2016/17 budget.

“The Gippsland Latrobe region is no exception,” Mr Pallas said.

“The 2016/17 Victorian Budget delivered the highest regional infrastructure investment on record, investment which is helping regional cities to be home to the industries of the future.

“This includes $1.6 billion to improve public transport and roads in regional and rural Victoria – a priority in being able to better connect jobs, people and communities.”

This year’s budget included $24.2 million for the Victorian Energy Efficiency and Productivity Strategy and $12.4 million to help transition from brown coal to renewable technology.

It also involved $40 million specifically for the Latrobe Valley to diversify its economy, including a new ‘hi-tech precinct’ in Morwell.

Mr Northe has called for more detail about how that $40 million would be spent.

“If the State Government has transition funding allocated, we ask them to urgently expend it on economic development-style programs for local businesses,” Mr Northe said.

“It is absolutely critical – we have to buck this trend of where we have seen escalating full-time unemployment in the region.”

He said it was difficult to pinpoint one single factor influencing growing unemployment in the area, but suggested there was a lack of business confidence.

“The last thing I want to do is talk down our economy,” Mr Northe said.

“We have some very positive, innovative people who are doing terrific things in the small to medium sector.

“But my own personal view is that because of the uncertainty in our larger employers – energy, timber, aviation and agriculture – at the moment, without State Government-supported programs, (that) can circumvent business confidence.”

Mr Northe reiterated his calls for the former Latrobe Valley Industry and Infrastructure Fund – established to create jobs and leverage private sector investment – to be re-instated.