Federal Government responds to closure

The Federal Government has pledged a $43 million assistance package for the Latrobe Valley and a ministerial committee to oversee the response to Hazelwood’s closure.

The funding will comprise $3 million in employment support for Hazelwood workers, a $20 million regional jobs and investment package to assist local small to medium businesses, and a $20 million regional jobs and infrastructure fund. 

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester, who is one of five cabinet ministers on the response committee set up by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, said investments would need to be diverse.

“We’re going to want to see further investment in our road and rail infrastructure, in our health and education services and supporting existing businesses which may have opportunities to grow into the future,” Mr Chester said. 

“It’s not going to be a one size fits all response, it’s about making sure we’re getting the most out of the taxpayers’ money that’s been made available already and if there’s additional funding required, putting strong bids into the budget process.”

Mr Chester said the way the funding was allocated would be contingent on federal, state and local government collaboration, and that he would fight to ensure the community was heard.

“It would have been inappropriate to meet (with State Government) and pre-empt any decision by Engie; until we actually had a decision from the company it was hard to go forward with any further discussions. Now the decision has been made I think the opportunity is there to see where we can work together,” he said.

“I’m very keen to make sure the community has a direct say in those decisions.” 

The ministerial committee consists of Infrastructure and Transport Minister Mr Chester, Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Greg Hunt, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash, Regional Development Minister Fiona Nash and is chaired by Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg.

Mr Chester said the committee had been in place since rumours of Hazelwood’s looming closure began circulating.

“From the moment the speculation regarding Hazelwood’s future became apparent the Prime Minster established a ministerial taskforce with five cabinet ministers to oversee the Federal Government’s response in the event that Hazelwood did close,” he said.

“I’d have to say I’ve never seen state and federal governments move so rapidly in the aftermath of a significant commercial decision and part of that is because there had been speculation for several months and respective ministers were aware there was potential at least that a major decision was going to be made.

“Obviously the initial response is targeted at jobs and infrastructure investment and the Prime Minister has already made it clear he’s keen to work in partnership with the State Government as much as possible to provide further investment in the region.”

Mr Chester was in Perth to honour a “long-standing commitment” to host a national road safety forum with state ministers from across Australia when the closure announcement was made on Thursday, and flew back to the region on Friday afternoon. 

Mr Chester said Ms Nash would join him in the region for a visit tomorrow.