What attendees thought

RELATED COVERAGE: Latrobe Valley’s challenges ‘beyond politics’

Mary Aldred | Committee for Gippsland

The chief executive of the region’s peak body for industry, business and community organisations said there must be a “ready and quick response” to any official Hazelwood announcement. 

Committee for Gippsland’s Mary Aldred attended the Nationals’ meeting on Monday, which she said sparked important conversations with constructive, informed and representative views.

“I think it’s really important that business, community and industry have a voice in these discussions,” Ms Aldred said.

“We want people that are willing to work together and that was very much the spirit with which that meeting was put forward.

“It focused on the future, it very much focused on having a strategy ready to go and not getting caught on the hop if there is an announcement.”

Ms Aldred pointed out C4G’s strategic report, ‘Our Region, Our Future’, which indicates a major economic and employment overhaul in the wake of power plant closures. 

She said it was time to “face up to the sizable task ahead”, with the hard work set to begin once closure dates – if decided – were known. 

“Infrastructure and projects that hit the ground running have to be the immediate first step,” Ms Aldred said.

She said higher education, industry diversification and retraining opportunities were crucial. So too, she said, was investment in the region’s “winners” such as manufacturing and agribusiness.

But amid the discussion, Ms Aldred said the region was “moving away from carbon, not coal”, “so let’s not let that get lost either”.

Peter Williams | Australian Paper 

The chief operating officer of a major Latrobe Valley employer said the issues facing the region go beyond party politics.

Australian Paper’s Peter Williams said that was definitely the feeling in the room of Monday’s meeting, despite it being organised by the National Party.

“I would hope that all levels of government will pull together irrespective of the political parties involved to find solutions that work for Gippsland,” Mr Williams said.

Australian Paper’s Maryvale Mill directly employs 850 people, and has been part of the Latrobe Valley for more than 75 years.

Mr Williams said it could be a profitable and sustainable business as long as it continued to win back Australian market share and bring cost structures down to a more competitive level.

He said although the company had recently faced challenges of low-priced imports and a high Australian dollar, it had spent the last two years trying to become more sustainable.

“The next phase for AP will be one of stabilisation of the manufacturing process and renewal of the key manufacturing assets that will involve investment in replacement capital,” he said.

“That said we will always be looking to potential new areas to improve the business and securing resources that allow us to continue into the future.”

In the wake of speculation Hazelwood could close as early as April next year, Mr Williams highlighted the positive attitude of government representatives at all levels.

He said talk of potential projects in the region becoming a reality through government support was encouraging, and highlighted the possibility of infrastructure upgrades being brought forward.

Looking forward, Mr Williams said the challenge was in transitioning jobs while developing a competitive advantage for the region in areas such as coal- and fibre-based industries, health and research.