Andrews to lead Valley taskforce

Premier Daniel Andrews is set to lead a Latrobe Valley economic taskforce in the face of Hazelwood power station and mine’s speculated closure and growing unemployment figures.

The State Government said it was working on a plan for the region irrespective of Hazelwood owner Engie’s decision about the future of the major Valley employer.

“A new dedicated Latrobe Valley economic development team is being established to work alongside the community to deliver new jobs and a strong economic future,” Industry and Employment Minister Wade Noonan said.

“The Andrews Labor Government will ensure the Latrobe Valley has a strong future, no matter what decision Hazelwood’s overseas owners make.”

The plan will explore new business opportunities in the region and expansion of existing local businesses.

“The people of the Latrobe Valley have underpinned Victoria’s economic growth for decades. We are working closely with locals to create jobs and secure the economic future that these communities rightly deserve,” Mr Noonan said.

“The Andrews Labor Government is leading the way with our $40 million package, including $10 million for an Economic Facilitation Fund to support the creation of new jobs and to diversify the Latrobe Valley economy.

“This is driving new investments like the expansion of the Victoria Valley Meat Exports processing facility in Trafalgar, which will create 73 new full time jobs in the Valley.”

The announcement comes after the unemployment rate in the Gippsland/Latrobe Valley region ballooned out to 8.1 per cent as of September, according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

A peak of 8.3 per cent in July this year was the worst figure since November 2005 (8.1 per cent) and follows a trend of steady incline since July 2015 when it sat at 5.2 per cent.

Latrobe sits well above the state’s regional average of 5.7 per cent with the number of unemployed in Gippsland rising from 7966 to 10,259 since December 2014.

With question marks hanging over the closure of the Hazelwood power station, Member for Morwell Russell Northe last week called on the sitting State Government to take action.

“Hundreds of jobs are hanging in the balance after reports Hazelwood Power Station may close, but the Andrews Labor Government has left the community in the dark on what they know and if there is any plan for the transition,” Mr Northe said.

“For two years Daniel Andrews has neglected the Latrobe Valley, it is time his city-centric Labor Government opened its eyes to the employment crisis unfolding.”

The unemployment rate has risen from 6.1 per cent to eight since the change of government.

During the coalition’s four-year term of government, from 2010 to 2014, the rate was stable with a high of 6.0 per cent and low of 4.6 per cent.

The worst rate on record for Latrobe was between September 1999 and August 2000 when unemployment rates hovered at 10 per cent.

A rate of 4.2 per cent was the lowest recorded in March 2009.

Employment in regional Victoria has fallen in the past quarter with full-time jobs down by 8453.