Land in limbo

Kate Withers

The state government is yet to secure land for construction of the highly-anticipated electric vehicle factory slated for Morwell.

In October 2018, Premier Daniel Andrews announced the state government had struck a deal with Dandenong-based company SEA Electric to construct the plant and would create 500 jobs.

SEA signed a memorandum of understanding with TAFE Gippsland in July, formalising an agreement to collaborate on developing a new curriculum and delivering training for workers.

Member for Morwell Russell Northe recently raised questions in parliament about the progress of the factory and called on the government “to release further details”.

In his address, Mr Northe said there had been a lack of public information available other than the Latrobe Valley Authority stating the facility would be established by 2021.

“At this stage the only answers we have received from the government is that a site for this facility has still not been identified, leaving many to wonder if the facility will be operational by 2021,” Mr Northe said.

In response, Mr Andrews said SEA was working with Latrobe City Council and the LVA to “identify a suitable location for the business in the Latrobe Valley”.

“In the meantime, SEA Electric continues to manufacture electric vehicles at its premises in Dandenong, employing people who reside in the local area and the Latrobe Valley,” Mr Andrews said.

However, Mr Northe raised further questions about the jobs on offer for Latrobe Valley residents and said the fact the government had not yet secured land for the facility was “a little concerning”.

“I suspect the number of people employed at Dandenong would only be a small number. The Premier noted there were already employees from the Latrobe Valley engaged with the company but we still don’t know what that number actually is,” he told The Express.

Mr Northe also said the Mr Andrews’ response was “very short” and failed to adequately address growing community concern.

“It would be fair to say there’s a fair bit of scepticism and cynicism in the community about whether these 500 jobs are still on track to be delivered,” he said.

“The government, in my view, should be providing regular updates about how this project is progressing and if there are changes to timelines or job numbers then it should be articulated to the community.”

A spokesperson from Latrobe City confirmed council-owned land at the Gippsland Logistics Precinct behind Mid Valley shopping centre was being considered as a site for the factory.

“Council has received an allocation of funding from the state government to improve access and infrastructure to activate the Gippsland Logistics Precinct,” the spokesperson said.

“Latrobe City Council is currently working with the state government and SEA Electric in determining the most appropriate site for the operation.”

Minister for Regional Development Jaclyn Symes maintained the projected creation of 500 jobs “had not changed” and said the government “expects that SEA Electric will remain in the Valley for the long-term”.

“We will keep monitoring the company’s progress to meet its milestones and provide local jobs for Latrobe Valley workers,” Ms Symes said.