In the wake of community consternation over the past couple of years regarding the closure of major businesses such as Hazelwood Power Station, Carter Holt Harvey, and Target – just to name a few – Member for Morwell, Russell Northe has today announced a new policy initiative that delivers local infrastructure, creates hundreds of local jobs, and strengthens our local economy.
Mr Northe today talked about the urgent need to tackle rising unemployment in the Latrobe municipality: “This policy initiative seeks to address this enormous community challenge, by putting in place measures to support new and existing Latrobe City businesses, to retain and grow their workforces. It addresses a major roadblock in the progress of infrastructure development and provides a supportive framework to retain and grow local jobs,” said Mr Northe.
“My initiative will seek to secure a State Government commitment of $40 million, to commence the Latrobe Essential Services Fund. This initiative would provide financial support for installations of off-site essential services for example; water mains, environmental protection, electricity connection, fire services, roads and sewerage, to progress capital projects that are already approved, but have stalled in many cases, due to costs associated with off-site infrastructure costs. In other examples, some community clubs are also experiencing significant challenges in complying with current regulations related to essential services.” Mr Northe said.
Mr Northe said “That it made absolutely no sense that major local projects that are already approved, currently sit idle because no-one is prepared to break the nexus or find a solution to the impediments that are stopping these developments from commencing. Governments spend billions of dollars on infrastructure projects each and every year, yet for the sake of $40 million in Latrobe we have the opportunity to create infrastructure, jobs, investment and opportunity”.
“Our region is currently suffering through having one of the worst unemployment rates in the State of Victoria,” Mr Northe says. In December 2014, Latrobe’s unemployment rate was 7.3% but by March 2018, this figure rose to 8.9%, an increase of 22%. “Latrobe’s current unemployment rate is more than double that of South Gippsland’s, and since December 2014 more than 600 extra locals are now unemployed, so it’s obvious that we have to take decisive action to fix this problem” said Mr Northe.
“A number of local approved commercial and community developments and projects sit idle or are at risk as they try to come up with the funds necessary to complete essential services installations and connections before they can progress. This fund would enable essential service providers including the Governments own departments and agencies to apply for the necessary funds to build local infrastructure so our economy can get moving. It would open up local investment opportunities, create civil construction and positive infrastructure works, and pave the way for idle but already approved projects to finally be delivered ”Mr Northe said.
Mr Northe has confirmed that the Latrobe Essential Services Fund initiative would have a strict application process; requesting the applicants establish the need for the service and what financial and economic benefits would flow on from its implementation or upgrade. He adds; “The State Government had previously announced with much fanfare its $40 million Latrobe Valley Economic Development Program, but one has to question its efficacy and transparency.”
Another ongoing concern and frustration 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 Governments are in supporting local businesses”, Mr Northe said.
Mr Northe said “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 also must start turning our focus in retaining the jobs we already have in our community. I am seeking commitment from the State Government to create two new job retention officers based in the Latrobe Valley, whose roles will be to focus primarily on the retention of local jobs. Far too often, we have seen major multi-national businesses through to local small businesses either close their doors or relocate and we cannot afford to allow this to happen without some form of support, assistance or intervention,” said Mr Northe.
“My initiative creates a win-win-win scenario – the community benefits from progress of local initiatives and infrastructure, our local businesses receive a boost from lifting barriers to development and offering support, and there are valuable advantages to our economy by increasing accessibility to growth,” Mr Northe said.
“Latrobe Valley should be allowed the opportunity to advance and expand, and overcome its recent employment set-backs and challenges in the wake of Hazelwood, CHH and Target closures. I am standing with local employers, community groups and developers who want to see Latrobe Valley achieve growth and vibrancy, and eliminate the barriers to genuine progress”, said Mr Northe.
Far too often we have heard weasel words from the State Government such as ‘fast-tracking of developments’, ‘removing barriers to growth’, ‘working with business and industry to create growth’ and more, but the reality is these are only words and not reality. If the Government was fair dinkum in delivering on the words they constantly use, then they would actually adopt the policy I have announced today.