ELECTRIC BLUE: State government asks electric vehicle manufacturer if it will ever build factory in Morwell

Premier Daniel Andrews, flanked by Harriet Shing and Ben Carroll, pictured in October 2018 when he announced an agreeement between the state government and SEA Electric to establish an electrical car factory in the Latrobe Valley. file photograph

By Michelle Slater
The state government is asking an electric vehicle manufacturer if it plans to follow-through on an agreement to build a factory in Morwell.
It comes as Member for Gippsland South Danny O’Brien quizzed Regional Development Minister Mary-Anne Thomas on the progress of the stalled project in a Budget hearing last
Mr O’Brien was asking how much taxpayer funding had been provided to manufacturer SEA Electric to set up in the Latrobe Valley, and if the state government had asked for any of this money back.
“The government needs to be more transparent and tell us what is happening. The state government made a payment to the company in 2019, but won’t say how much it was,” Mr O’Brien said.
“It is also unclear how much of this was paid back, or if the company was asked to pay anything back, but the government was citing commercial in confidence.”
Premier Daniel Andrews visited Morwell in October 2018 to announce a
commercial agreement with SEA Electric to build a factory delivering 500 jobs, scheduled to be up-and-running by the end of 2019.
It is understood SEA Electric was to be a lead tenant at the planned Gippsland Logistics Precinct, but it remains unclear if the project is dead in the water.
The state government admitted last year that subsidies were provided for four Latrobe Valley employees to travel to work at the company’s Dandenong plant – but these payments have
SEA Electric is now focusing on international markets and its chief executive Tony Fairweather is based in the United States.
“We are nearly three years down the track since the announcement occurred and there is no site, no jobs and no prospect of this project coming to fruition,” Mr O’Brien said.
“This is a massive broken promise to the Latrobe Valley and will be extremely disappointing for any of those people looking for work or hoping new industry will come to the Valley.”
The state government has been contingent on the company meeting milestones approved by their board before the agreement was signed.
The Minister’s department asked the company to demonstrate how it planned to meet its obligations in the agreement, as it has missed a number of these critical milestones it had committed to.
The terms of the arrangements between SEA Electric and the state government are commercial in confidence, but the government had confirmed SEA has not asked to change this agreement.
Ms Thomas told the Budget hearing that she was “extremely disappointed that SEA Electric has been unable to meet its commitment to the Victorian community.”
“My department has now sent formal correspondence to SEA Electric seeking answers as to why the government should continue to support the company’s plans for the Latrobe Valley and requesting clarification on SEA Electric’s commitment to this project,” Ms Thomas said.
The Express had emailed a series of questions to SEA Electric, but was still awaiting a reply by deadline.