Meaty boost for abattoir

A Trafalgar abattoir has been named the first recipient of funding under the government’s $10 million Latrobe Valley jobs fund.

The fund, part of the state’s $40 million Latrobe Valley Economic Development Program, seeks to support job creation in the Latrobe, Baw Baw and Wellington local government areas.

Premier Daniel Andrews on Thursday revealed Victoria Valley Meat Exports would undergo a $1.2 million expansion, expected to boost the abattoir’s employment from about 50 full-time workers.

Mr Andrews said the investment would create 73 new full-time jobs and an additional 85 indirect jobs.

It would also provide an opportunity for product exportation to 90 countries, he said.

“It’s about doubling the product of this abattoir from about 600 head a week to about 1200, and making more value out of each and every kill,” Mr Andrews said.

Cattle prices are at a record high, but Mr Andrews said even with the current market “such is the quality of our product that we are still getting more and more market share”.

“Those 90 countries this business has access to, they want our product, even at a premium price, because they know it’s the highest quality product anywhere in the world,” he said.

Victoria Valley Meat Exports owner Peter Polovinka admitted times were tough with prices and floods impacting business, but “we’re just doing our best to compete with other abattoirs at this point in time”.

He said along with a jobs boost, the funding would allow the business to “open up new markets and new projects” and export value.

The Latrobe Valley can expect further details regarding its $40 million economic development fund in the coming months, the State Government has confirmed.

During a visit to Trafalgar on Thursday, Industry and Employment Minister Wade Noonan said the government was interviewing candidates for ‘investment facilitation specialists’ it will base in Traralgon to better understand the economic needs of the region, and how best to spend the remainder of the $40 million.

“It’s an unprecedented allocation of funding. We just want to make sure that before we make any announcements, other than rush into them, that those are wise and targeted investments,” Mr Noonan said.

Gippsland has previously had four specialists cover the entire region, but the government committed in July to double the number of geographically located investment facilitation specialists in the Latrobe Valley.

Mr Noonan said basing eight specialists in Traralgon would provide the government with an opportunity to “get out, network, work with local businesses and try to attract new opportunities into the region”.

“We expect to have those people on the ground here in the coming weeks and months,” Mr Noonan said.

No further details were provided regarding the distribution of the money, but Mr Noonan confirmed it would focus on the Valley, along with wider Gippsland.

“I would expect to make further announcements in the coming months in relation to the allocation of the remainder of the $40 million,” Mr Noonan said.

Premier Daniel Andrews says the Latrobe Valley faces “a broader set of challenges” than a potential April closure of Hazelwood.

When quizzed on speculation the mine and power station could close next year during a visit to Trafalgar last week, Mr Andrews said it was important the community “deal with the facts”.

“The company (Engie) will make a decision. It’s no secret they’ve had a long-term review of their operations, but let’s deal with the facts,” Mr Andrews said.

“While that process is going on, run by the company in the company’s interest… we will continue to work hard to create jobs, partner with businesses that have plans to expand and bring new businesses to this fantastic part of the state.”

Mr Andrews said he was not diminishing “how serious” a Hazelwood closure would be, but “there are a broader set of challenges, a broader set of opportunities as well, and we need to do this (investment) work anyway”.

“We’ve had unsustained unemployment rates above the regional average, above the state average, in the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland for a long-time now,” he said.

“That’s a very good reason to be out there working as hard as possible to keep people in work in Gippsland and in the Latrobe Valley.”