Mr NORTHE (Morwell) (11:16): My question is for the Minister for Jobs, Innovation and Trade. Minister, as you would be aware, the closure of Hazelwood power station and the Carter Holt Harvey sawmill in Morwell has impacted the jobs and livelihoods of hundreds of local workers, contractors and local businesses. With regard to the current employment status of former Hazelwood and Carter Holt Harvey workers and contractors, I have been advised that 307 of these workers are now employed in casual positions, whilst a staggering 219 have been identified as looking for work. Part of the government’s response to Hazelwood closing was the establishment of a worker transfer scheme for a two-year period that provided an opportunity for former Hazelwood workers and contractors to transfer their employment to the three remaining power stations in the valley. So, Minister, can you advise if this worker transfer scheme is still operational, or has it now been closed?
Mr PAKULA (Keysborough—Minister for Jobs, Innovation and Trade, Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events, Minister for Racing) (11:17): I thank the member for Morwell for the question and for his ongoing interest in employment in the Latrobe Valley. As I think the member is aware, the Latrobe Valley Authority and the worker transition service that he refers to is within the responsibility of the Minister for Regional Development, but I will provide him with as much information as I can in regard to the matters that he has raised.
The worker transition service that he refers to, which as he correctly identifies was set up to assist not just those ex-workers from Hazelwood but those from Carter Holt Harvey, has so far engaged with some 729 clients affiliated with Hazelwood and 135 from Carter Holt Harvey, and 185 former Hazelwood workers and 34 Carter Holt Harvey employees are currently being assisted to find work. So on the information that has been provided to me by the Minister for Regional Development the substantive answer to the question is yes, it is still operational.
I say all that in the context of the fact that there have been some 2000 new jobs created across the Latrobe Valley, including 170 at Greenham abattoir in Moe and indeed in regard to Toyota’s insurance underwriter, where there are 87 more professional services jobs which have also been created. Indeed the most recent figures would say that the unemployment rate in Gippsland is 3.5 per cent, as against a regional Victoria average of 4.2 per cent.
A member: The question was about the Latrobe Valley.
Mr PAKULA: Which I understand.
The other point I would say to the member is that we have also commenced construction of the high-tech precinct in Morwell with a $17 million investment from the government. The Latrobe Valley Authority funding is ongoing; it is funded through to the end of June 2020. As the minister indicated during her presentation at the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee, there are still funds remaining in the Latrobe Valley Authority fund. And whilst I recognise what the member has said in relation to the fact that a number of those people who have been employed are in casual roles, I would also indicate that, as the union movement and the labour movement more generally have been campaigning for more secure work, that is not an uncommon occurrence across the economy. But I would be more than happy to convey the balance of his question to the Minister for Regional Development if there is any other information she can provide. But in relation to the substantive part of his question it is my advice that the program is continuing.
Mr NORTHE (Morwell) (11:20): Minister, on 1 May 2017, the then Minister for Industry and Employment by way of media release stated that the government’s worker transfer scheme would support the transfer of around 150 highly skilled Hazelwood workers so they can remain in the power industry. I am regularly contacted by former workers and contractors, many of whom are looking for work, working on a casual or part-time basis or even working outside the Latrobe Valley and Gippsland region, including in interstate locations. Many remain disappointed and frustrated that they have not had the opportunity to participate in the government’s worker transfer scheme. Minister, given there are nearly 220 former Hazelwood workers, contractors and Carter Holt Harvey employees who have been identified as looking for work, why have only approximately 90 of the promised 150 vacancies been filled under the worker transfer scheme?
Mr PAKULA (Keysborough—Minister for Jobs, Innovation and Trade, Minister for Tourism, Sport and Major Events, Minister for Racing) (11:21): I thank the member for his question. As I indicated in my substantive answer, the service that he refers to has engaged with some close to 900 workers when you combine the numbers from Hazelwood and Carter Holt Harvey. As I indicated, there have been 2000 new jobs created and there are over 200 former Hazelwood and Carter Holt Harvey employees being assisted through the program as we speak. Now, if the member has information that there are other workers from either of those two plants who are seeking support and are not receiving it—
Mr NORTHE: On a point of order, Speaker, I appreciate the minister’s information, but my question was: there was a commitment made for 150 positions to be made available under the worker transfer scheme and only 90 of those have been allocated at this point in time. Why haven’t the remaining 60 been committed to at this stage?
The SPEAKER: Order! The minister is being relevant to the question that has been asked. The minister, to continue.
Mr PAKULA: Well, in the 16 seconds remaining I would say to the member that in relation to either workers who are seeking assistance or who have not been assisted yet, I am sure the Minister for Regional Development would be happy to receive that information and as I indicated, the scheme is ongoing and there is more than a year of it remaining— (Time expired)