In the wake of community consternation following the closure of prominent businesses such as Hazelwood Power Station, Carter Holt Harvey, and Target – I am delivering a new policy initiative that demands stronger support to retain and grow jobs, and support economic development in the Latrobe region.
The State Government scrambled to provide meaningful assistance to Latrobe Valley, as Hazelwood Power Station closed its doors in March 2017. However, after taxing Latrobe Valley generators an extra $252 million, the Governments so-called “$266 million rescue package” (ref) has failed to address our rising unemployment rate. As of March 2018, unemployment has risen 22% since the Andrews Government took office. That means more than 600 additional people are now unemployed in Latrobe, securing the regions position amongst the most disadvantaged areas in Victoria.
In addition, a number of approved local commercial and community projects face significant challenges, as they try to come up with the funds necessary to complete off-site infrastructure installations and connections, before they can progress. This is despite the fact that several projects have already been subject to – and passed – rigorous planning application processes. These same developments still remain idle. Just as frustrating, the situation of some of our community clubs who cannot afford to install or complete essential service upgrades, and subsequently are facing major impediments in keeping their doors open and hosting major events in our region. This is simply not good enough.
Another ongoing concern for local businesses is the lack of opportunities for work within various departments and agencies, and at all levels of Government. The procurement of goods and services within the Latrobe City municipality by Government agencies is significant; however it is impossible to gauge how effective Local, State and Federal they are in supporting local businesses. At a time of high unemployment and challenging economic times, I call upon Local, State and Federal Governments with a presence in Latrobe City to publish data on where they are, and where they are not using local services, and if not, provide reasons why this is the case. We should not be embarrassed to apply strong weightings towards local businesses when it comes to the procurement of goods and services by Government.
We are losing valuable jobs and growth due to the lack of funding opportunities were the Andrews Government don’t put their money where their mouth is; they have stated that they want people to move to a regional area, they want to “investigate ways to reduce red tape in the Valley and break down regulatory barriers to growth” (ref). I have regularly been putting to the Parliament that more needs to be done to build local infrastructure and create local jobs.
I propose to create a $0 million Latrobe Essential Services Fund. This fund would provide capacity for financial support for installations of essential services for example; water mains, environmental protection, fire services, roads and sewerage, to progress capital works that are stalling due to financial barriers, or support community clubs that cannot afford the necessary upgrades to comply with regulation.
This initiative would open up employment and investment opportunities, create civil construction works, positive infrastructure development, and pave the way for valuable projects that may arise with the removal of these financial barriers. For example, a number of developments are unable to progress unless State Government departments and agencies build essential infrastructure such as roads, water and sewerage. This fund would allow the essential service provider to apply for funds through a strict application process; and determining the financial benefits that would flow on from its implementation or upgrade.
Another feature of this initiative is to harness the power of procurement within projects that occur in our local area and within the normal operations of Government departments and agencies within the Latrobe municipality. Local, State and Federal Governments have a responsibility to allow businesses in the Latrobe region to benefit from development and capital works, using the legal framework to ensure our resources, contractors and businesses have deliberate access to these economic opportunities. Local businesses and suppliers should be utilised and preferred by Governments at all levels unless there is an extremely valid reason why they are unable to.
This policy initiative also seeks to improve on our enormous unemployment challenges, by putting in place measures to support new and existing Latrobe businesses, in retaining and growing their workforces. I am seeking support to create two new positions based in the Latrobe Valley, whose roles are to focus on the retention of jobs in Latrobe City. In the past 3 years, we have seen the closure or relocation of many businesses within Latrobe City and something must be done to stop this happening. The job retention officers would be available for businesses to interact with, and understand specifically any threats to local jobs. Their role would include:
o Conducting welfare checks for local businesses
o Conduct retention of jobs programs for local businesses
o Referrals to existing business support programs and networks
o Support and training for business owners to encourage longevity of their organisations
o Actively promote Latrobe organisations for State Government tenders
o Provide support in grant applications and awareness of funding opportunities
To establish a $40 million Latrobe Essential Services Fund. The rationale behind this amount, is that this would allow scope for funds to support already approved and future projects. The State Government already has in place a $40 million Latrobe Valley Economic Development Program, which is extremely vague in how this money has been spent and on what. The program states it will do a number of things; including attracting new businesses to the region; however it does not support local businesses, developers or community groups in their efforts to build essential infrastructure on already approved projects, or for existing organisations.