$10m for jobs growth

A $10 million State Government fund has been set up to attract new employment opportunities to the Latrobe Valley and help existing businesses grow.

The ‘Economic Facilitation Fund’ is part of the state’s overall $40 million fund for the Valley and is the first piece of detail revealed by the government since the money was included in this year’s budget.

“It could provide financial assistance, it may enable a business to form better networks, it might help a business to expand their trade opportunities and of course it is designed to help attract business into the area,” State Industry, Employment and Resources Minister Wade Noonan said in announcing the fund yesterday.

“It’s not… limited to just providing grants, it’s really about enabling all opportunities. It’s very much derived from the economic plans developed in the region.”

To help deliver the initiative, the government will double the number of Traralgon-based Regional Development Victoria economic development workers from four to eight using general budget funding.

The announcement came as Mr Noonan and Regional Development Minister Jaala Pulford met with Latrobe City Council, community and business representatives in Churchill yesterday to discuss opportunities to diversify the local economy.

“There were so many good ideas in the room, so many pieces of work underway,” Ms Pulford said.

“Whether it’s around the hi-tech precinct… or the great underlying strength to the local economy like having a really strong local water security, something not a lot of other regions can brag about.

“Also the council’s aspiration for this to be the engineering centre of Australia and the council have to be congratulated for their leadership in bringing people together.”

Mr Noonan said the government would make further announcements in the coming months about how the rest of the funding would be spent.

Latrobe City mayor Michael Rossiter said there had been enough plans and talk.

“It’s now time for action and something to be done,” Cr Rossiter said.

He said yesterday’s announcement and discussion was a step in the right direction.

“The community has been clear that they want local focus, local action, locally-led decision-making.

“The council feels that the state has listened and we’ll continue to lead and represent the community.”

He said council’s next move would be to collate information gathered at a council-run community forum last week where about 100 people discussed their ideas for a prosperous Latrobe Valley.

“There’s still a lot of advocating and work to be done in this area.”

Member for Morwell Russell Northe said the $10 million fund seemed to be a reinstatement of the previous $15 million Latrobe Valley Industry and Infrastructure Fund which was established by Labor and topped up by the former Coalition Government.

It was not renewed when the current government came to power and the Coalition has been calling for its return.

“I’d question why it wasn’t continued after the election, why we’ve lost 18 months,” Mr Northe said.

However, he said the government “seem to genuinely be listening to all sectors of the community”.

“I stood up this morning and made a point of saying that we all need to work together,” Mr Northe said yesterday.

“I want to be involved and engaged in the conversation and it should be bipartisan across all levels of government.”

The Greens called on the government to include a plan for transition away from coal as part of the diversification of the Latrobe Valley.