Big hopes in car jobs

Heidi Kraak

The Latrobe Valley community has overwhelmingly welcomed the announcement of a new electric vehicle factory in the region which will create 500 jobs.

Premier Daniel Andrews visited Morwell on Tuesday to announce the state government had struck a deal with Dandenong-based company SEA Electric and would support them to construct the massive electric vehicle factory somewhere in the Latrobe Valley – most likely in Morwell.

The announcement forms part of the Andrews government’s response to the closure of Hazelwood Power Station in March last year, which resulted in the loss of 750 jobs.

An agreement was reached with SEA Electric prior to the beginning of the election campaign, meaning the factory will go ahead no matter who wins the election on November 24.

Labor is pushing hard to win the marginal seat of Morwell with the announcement coming off the back of the premier’s $217 million pledge to fund Latrobe Regional Hospital’s stage three expansion if his government is re-elected.

The prospect of an additional 500 positions in the region has struck a chord with many in the community, with the battle for Morwell focused squarely on jobs.

For Gippsland Trades and Labour Council secretary Steve Dodd, “anything that brings jobs to the region is welcome”.

“When you talk about 500 jobs at a facility, there is always the other jobs that support that facility,” he said.

“There is always a whole range of other businesses and industries that benefit from it.

“Obviously we [GTLC] will be talking to that company and the state government … to try and make sure local workers have got the tools to jump into those jobs.”

Advance Morwell president John Guy’s reaction to the news was similar, however, he would “wait and see” as to whether all the jobs would go to locals.

“Anything that brings jobs to the Valley is a plus for us,” he said.

“Because we have got an election coming up there is a lot of policies being made. There are some promises being made in the past, but we haven’t seen any evidence of them yet.”

SEA Electric managing director Tony Fairweather said the Latrobe Valley had been chosen as the location for the factory largely due to the “opportunity to employ skilled labour”.

“The type of skills that we need are very much aligned with the available skills down here,” he said.

“We will be employing as many local and Latrobe Valley residents as we can.

“We will continue to … as much as the skills are readily available, recruit and employ out of the Latrobe Valley.”

With construction of the factory yet to begin, an electric vehicle industry will not be an instant shot in the arm for the Latrobe Valley – Mr Andrews said the 500 positions would be filled within the next four to five years.

“This is a big exercise and will take some time, but the work starts now,” he said.

“This is not moving jobs from one part of Melbourne to … another part of regional Victoria. It is new jobs. It is an expansion.”

Opposition Leader Matthew Guy has guaranteed the factory will go ahead under a potential Coalition government.

“The Liberal Nationals give this guarantee to voters in the Latrobe Valley – the SEA Electric project will go ahead regardless of whether they support the Liberal, Nationals or Labor Party,” he said in a statement.

At a ‘meet the candidates event’ on Tuesday night, John Guy said all the candidates for the seat of Morwell in attendance were supportive of the factory in Latrobe.

Speaking about the event, Latrobe Business Tourism Association chair Peter Ceeney said job creation was top of the agenda for attendees and would play a big role in the upcoming election for the seat of Morwell and beyond.

“Without jobs, [people] are not going to stay in the Latrobe Valley,” he said.

“Job creation will make a big difference in maintaining population growth and increasing personal wealth.”

Committee for Gippsland chief executive Sophie Morell said she was encouraged by the continued economic investment into the region and looked forward to seeing the opportunities the factory would present for supply chains to support facility. 

Latrobe City Council mayor Darrell White said a key priority for council was to support job creation. 

“The announcement yesterday aligns with our advocacy work in supporting and developing advanced manufacturing to position Latrobe City as the Engineering Capital of Australia,” he said. 

“Here in Latrobe City, we have an abundance of available industrial land. We look forward to working closely with SEA Electric and the State Government to select a suitable site that will meet their business needs.

“We have had preliminary discussions with SEA Electric and believe a facility like this would potentially be a great addition to, and add diversity to, our existing industrial operations within the region.”