Latrobe Valley’s challenges ‘beyond politics’

RELATED COVERAGE: What attendees thought

When Latrobe Valley residents hear of another discussion about the future of the Valley’s coal-fired power industry, they could not be blamed for thinking it’s ‘just another talk’.

But participants of such a discussion – which involved Gippsland Nationals MPs, state party leader Peter Walsh and representatives from across the region – have been quick to suggest the conversation was constructive.

On Monday, State Member for Morwell Russell Northe met with Latrobe Valley’s major employers, unions, council and Nationals colleagues to focus on the aftermath of a Hazelwood closure.

“What are the plans for the hospital in the future, what are the plans for Australian Paper, Lion Diary, Gippsland Aeronautics, those larger employers?,” Mr Northe said.

“Where are they going to need their jobs and skills in the next two to three years and how do we provide a pathway for our local people to take up those job opportunities?”

Although the State Government was not party to the talks, Mr Northe said that was a conversation he intended to have.

He said a focal point of Monday was how business and industry could lead discussions surrounding future jobs and employment, along with the type of supports that could be provided by all levels of government.

State Employment and Industry Minister Wade Noonan said all levels of government had a collective responsibility to help grow the Valley’s economy and support jobs.

He highlighted the State Government’s $40 million package earmarked for the region, with $10 million to go towards jobs creation and economic diversification.

The Express understands Mr Noonan will visit the region today to announce the first grant recipient under the $10 million Economic Facilitation Fund.

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester said although no formal announcement had been made regarding a Hazelwood closure, he was calling on the parent company, Engie, to “be as up front as it possibly can be”.

“If there are plans to close Hazelwood, we need to know sooner rather than later so our community can get on with the job and make sure our interests are well-protected,” Mr Chester said.

An Engie spokesperson confirmed a representative attended the meeting, “just as we do to a range of community and other meetings”.

“It’s important that the Latrobe Valley community utilise all available forums to address the challenges of the energy transition,” the spokesperson said.

“As for Hazelwood’s future, no change – there has been no decision made.”

Mr Chester said it was important for the company to listen to the community’s concerns, which he said had “one hand tied behind our back at the moment, because we don’t know what the decision is”.

“But if a decision is to be made to close Hazelwood, then there’s going to need to be a very significant response from local, state and federal government and it’s going to cost a lot more than $40 million,” he said.

When asked of the Federal Government’s intention to further fund the region, Mr Chester said he had an “open mind”.