Taskforce details remain unclear

THE specifics of a State Government-led economic taskforce to mitigate the fallout of Hazelwood’s impending closure remain unclear, despite the assertion it has been operational for “several months”.

Premier Daniel Andrews is chair of a Latrobe Valley Cabinet Taskforce which the government says has been working on a plan for the region in the event that Hazelwood closes.

Local politicians, unions and stakeholders have apparently been left out of the taskforce loop, with many stating this week’s media reports were the first they’d heard of the plan.

Latrobe City Council chief executive Gary van Driel, State Member for Morwell Russell Northe, Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and Advance Morwell chair John Guy were among those unaware of the taskforce until this week.

Mr Northe called for transparency with regard to the government’s plan and for local representation in the taskforce.

“It’s disappointing there has been this announcement made of a taskforce but not who might be involved. I can only hope it has some input from our local community and business community,” Mr Northe said.

“The unions have some good ideas about how we might get through this… the Gippsland Trades and Labour Council as do some of our major employers. It just defies logic that they are not well and truly sitting on the table now as part of this type of announcement.”

Mr Northe also advocated for the reprisal of initiatives created during the abandoned contracts for closure scheme, which stemmed from a 2011 memorandum of understanding between the then state Coalition government and then federal Labor government.

“Some of the things now being discussed are not new and there was an enormous amount of work undertaken five or six years ago that unfortunately hasn’t been continued,” he said.

“There’s a sense of bewilderment we’re not seeing all levels of government standing arm-in-arm with a plan for the future and I think that’s the biggest frustration.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has been developing its own plan for the Valley post-Hazelwood.

During a visit to the region last month Small Business Minister Michael McCormack revealed a number of cabinet ministers were working toward a plan for the region should the power station and mine close.

“We wait and see what Engie is doing as far as that’s concerned, but as a Federal Government I know that the Prime Minister in conjunction with the local member Darren (Chester are looking at it); there’s already a number of ministers, five in total, seeing what we can do,” Mr McCormack said.

CFMEU Victoria district mining and energy division secretary Geoff Dyke said the union had not been part of the taskforce discussion to date.

Mr Dyke said CFMEU representatives were set to meet with Employment Minister Wade Noonan today at his invitation for ‘coal policy consultation’, but had held prior discussions with a number of state government MPs regarding Hazelwood.

“There have been discussions off and on about what the response could be if a closure does eventuate, so there have been discussions, but (not) in terms of a formal taskforce,” he said.

The State Government said its taskforce was developing a “significant economic growth plan” which was likely to be pursued irrespective of foreign owner Engie’s decision on Hazelwood’s closure.

The plan would involve incentives to attract new businesses to the Valley and measures to expand existing businesses, as well as “a significant boost to local services and infrastructure”.

It was also said to include a substantial package of support for workers in the event Hazelwood closes.

“The Andrews Labor Government will ensure that the Latrobe Valley has a strong future, no matter what decision Hazelwood’s overseas owners make,” Energy, Environment and Climate Change Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said.

The State Government declined to comment on the taskforce’s details.