Gippsland shires prepare for a life beyond coal

The impact of Hazelwood power station and mine’s closure will be felt by wider Gippsland, according to Latrobe’s neighbouring councils.

As Latrobe City focuses on developing its strength-led transition plan, Wellington and Baw Baw shires are also preparing for life beyond the brown coal power plant and mine.

According to Baw Baw, 2100 of its residents travel to the Latrobe Valley for work on a daily basis.

Wellington reports about seven per cent of its workforce travels to the Latrobe Valley for employment.

While not implementing their own transition plans, the two shires are liaising with Latrobe City Council to “transition the region”.

“It has long been recognised that Latrobe City, Baw Baw and Wellington, are together, a region in transition,” Wellington Shire mayor Carolyn Crossley said.

In the wake of last month’s Hazelwood closure announcement, the State Government revealed a $266 million package to create local jobs and grow local businesses.

The package – comprised of a $174 million Community Infrastructure and Investment Fund for local projects, $20 million to establish a Latrobe Valley Authority, $50 million for an Economic Growth Zone and $22 million in support for Hazelwood workers and affected businesses – targets the Latrobe Valley, however is open to applications from Wellington and Baw Baw.

Premier Daniel Andrews has previously stated investment would not be limited to the Latrobe Valley by “a line on a map”.

Both councils told The Express they were yet to apply for any funding under the package, but had provided input to the Gippsland Local Government Network about projects they see would benefit Gippsland as a whole.

Baw Baw Shire mayor Joe Gauci said council was forming a community working group to advise it on the potential impacts Hazelwood’s closure would have on local workers, their families and businesses in the municipality and the broader area.

“However, it is vital that Baw Baw, Latrobe City and Wellington councils work together to develop a robust plan that will create jobs and prosperity not just for the Valley, but the wider Gippsland region,” Mr Gauci said.

He said the shire supported projects right across the three municipalities including the next stage of the Latrobe Regional Hospital upgrade, the duplication of the Princes Highway between Sale and Traralgon, the Latrobe hi-tech precinct and the Gippsland Rail Needs Study.

Ms Crossley said Wellington Shire’s priorities would benefit broader Gippsland, such as road and rail investment.

“The process of identifying and securing new employment opportunities is one council has been working toward for considerable time, and it is vital that the broad region works together,” she said.