It was a town hall-style meeting which kicked off with harmonica-laden folk music and featured a panel dominated by unionists and Labor politicians.
But anyone expecting a left-wing love in at the Morwell and Traralgon Labor Party branches’ ‘Hazelwood – What’s Happening’ forum would have been disappointed.
Instead, for the first time since the closure of Hazelwood was announced the people of the Latrobe Valley got a chance to put their questions directly to the people spearheading the region’s transition.
And they certainly made the most of their opportunity.
From questions about the lack of tangible results from the State Government’s transition spending to concerns about that money being fritted away, the topics which dominated barbecue-side discussions across the Latrobe Valley this summer got a hearing.
Even better, the ‘pollie waffle’ was kept to a minimum.
Not everyone who asked a question would have left completely satisfied, but they got the opportunity to address the decision-makers directly and get an answer.
And when an answer wasn’t forthcoming emcee Gerard Callinan was there to push for one.
One issue which became evident as the night went on was the disconnect between what the government was doing on the ground versus the perception of what was happening.
Questions about what the government was doing to create jobs and how it was managing its transition fund were met with lists of the various initiatives which have been rolled out and the grants programs which are providing funds to small businesses.
But, as Mr Callinan pointed out to the panel, more needs to be done to publicise that work.
One panellist said grant recipients often don’t want to publicise the fact they had received government money.
But in economics, as in many other aspects of life, confidence is king.
People need to see the work that is being done in the region if they’re to have faith that it will overcome the closure of Hazelwood.
They need to see it so they can have the confidence to invest in their business, buy their next home or take whatever next step they were planning before ENGIE announced it would close Hazelwood.
Thursday night’s forum answered a lot of questions but more importantly sent a strong signal to the government about where it needs to lift its game if it wants to build confidence among the people of the Latrobe Valley.
But in the meantime, let’s have another forum sooner rather than later.
And next time let’s get the Premier along.