Traders want clarity

Traders and business people across the Latrobe Valley are shaking their heads in frustration due to little-to-no clarity surrounding the region’s power industry.

Rumours about a closure date for Hazelwood power station and mine have circulated for years.

But in the wake of further speculation that surfaced on the front page of The Age on 24 September, the Valley’s business groups want solutions.

“Certainly in my mind, Hazelwood’s closing – it’s not ambiguous, it’s not going to be there in 10 years even in the best of circumstances,” Morwell Traders’ Ray Burgess said.

“The fact that it’s closing means we’ve got to try and make the best of that.

“The last thing we need as a community, a district and a region as Latrobe City and Morwell more specifically, is to have this thing close with 1000 jobs gone like that.

“(There are) two reasons for that – one is it will have an immediate and powerful impact on the economy and then it will also have an immediate and powerful impact on the region’s psychology.”

Mr Burgess said the community, Latrobe City Council and governments needed to work with Hazelwood’s parent company, Engie, “to make sure the thing goes on for a few more years”.

He said any closure – no matter how soon – would not only affect the Valley, and “breathing space” was needed to try and recruit new industries.

“We need to create, develop, encourage, introduce industries that have a compatible skill requirement to a lot of the people we’ve got and utilise that,” Mr Burgess said.

Regardless of a closure date, Moe Traders Association’s Susan Broadbent called on all levels of government to place workers, contractors and small businesses as their main priority.

She said there were mixed feelings among traders and media speculation did not help.

“We have got a lot of sensible voices out there, representing the community, so we’ve just got to be guided by them and listen to the right people,” Ms Broadbent said.

Traralgon Chamber of Commerce vice president John Groen said the future of the region was a huge concern.

“Anywhere where you have huge job losses will affect employment and spending in our stores,” Mr Groen said.

He called for a gradual shutdown rather than an immediate one, along with more consultation, information and support.

“If it’s going to happen, tell us, sort it out, put a plan in place and let us work together.”

Little detail is known about the $40 million fund aimed to diversify the Latrobe Valley economy, five months after it was announced in the 2016-17 State Budget.

But Mr Burgess is remaining positive.

“We have to be optimistic; we have to look to a better future. If we don’t, well what’s the point?” Mr Burgess said.

“We have to look for a solution.

“We can complain about what’s happened to us and complain about injustice and complain about a lot of things, but we need to work to get an answer.

“(We need to) put our energy into getting an answer, not go on about how badly off we are.”

Engie has repeatedly said no final decision regarding a Hazelwood closure has been made.