EDITORIAL: Now is the time for action

To chart the history of the Latrobe Valley from the late 1980s to the present day is to chart a history of government failure.

It is the history of a region that received no meaningful support from successive state governments, even as they ripped thousands of jobs from the regional economy.

It is the history of a region abandoned as market forces sent unemployment skyrocketing, house prices plummeting and left empty shopfronts where there had once been thriving businesses.

The Latrobe Valley paid a huge social price for the power industry restructure and privatisation of the late 1980s and 1990s.

With the announcement that Hazelwood power station and mine will close, the future of the Valley is once again in the hands of politicians in Melbourne.

What has changed since the 1990s is that there is now an understanding at all levels of government about the social damage caused by privatisation.

The Express hopes this understanding translates into action to mitigate the loss of millions of dollars from the regional economy.

All parties – government, the community and unions – need to come together to chart a path forward for our region.

It is important to note this transition involves a much lower loss of jobs than the number lost during the privatisation of the power industry.

But it is a body blow for a region which has never truly recovered from the loss of thousands of jobs.

The Committee for Gippsland has called for infrastructure projects to be brought forward to provide short-term employment.

The Express echoes this call but believes we need to go further.

Our region needs a long-term plan to attract long-term employment to the region, which capitalises on the skills of our existing workforce.

The State Government’s $40 million Latrobe Valley Economic Development Program is a welcome start.

Last month money from the fund was used to assist the expansion of Trafalgar’s Victoria Valley Meats.

However, it is important the bulk of that money is spent in the Latrobe Valley, rather than further afield in other parts of Gippsland.

Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in the Latrobe Valley’s history.

Whether or not that next chapter is a success story will largely depend on the decisions made in the coming months.

That will depend on the government’s words of support translating into action.