774 ABC Melbourne — Interview with Jon Faine

Interview

DCI013/2016

04 November 2016

Subjects: the impact of the closure of Latrobe Valley Power Station on the community

Jon Faine: Let's speak to the local member; Darren Chester is the Member for Gippsland, for the National Party in the Federal Parliament. He's in Malcolm Turnbull's Government, the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chester, good morning to you.

Darren Chester: Good morning Jon.

Jon Faine: Can the valley be sustainable?

Darren Chester: Oh absolutely Jon.

Jon Faine: How?

Darren Chester: This has been a couple of tough days for the community, there's more tough days coming…

Jon Faine: How?

Darren Chester: … but this is a tough, resilient community. Well Jon, you say how, yesterday there was an announcement made in relation to the Hazelwood Power Station, in the order of 450 direct jobs going and that is a major problem for our community and there's obviously flow-on impacts to other small businesses, but come the end of March next year, we will still be relying on Latrobe Valley for 70 to 80 per cent of Victoria's power supply…

Jon Faine: Yes but without—their 19 per cent unemployment rate will have gone up to the low 20s.

Darren Chester: Well Jon, can this—it's going to be a lot easier if I explain to you how, and answer the first question. Australia's only commercial aircraft manufacturer is in Latrobe Valley, Australia's largest paper manufacturer with 1000 jobs is in the Latrobe Valley, we've got National Foods, got 23 per cent of Australia's dairy production coming out of Gippsland, Latrobe Valley, Australia's largest timber mill is 40 minutes down the road at Heyfield and the Australian Defence Force will be training all of its pilots at East Sale an hour down the road within two years as well. So Gippsland, Latrobe Valley does have a great future.

When you refer to the unemployment rate, it is a huge problem for us, but part of this is an intergenerational welfare dependency which has become a huge problem for many parts of regional Australia and also part suburban areas, where you've got some families who unfortunately haven't been able to find their way for any generation, the last three generations to have a job. So these aren't Latrobe Valley Power Station workers we're talking about, we're talking about people with more structural unemployment issues that we need to work through as well, so…

Jon Faine: Well you've got a bigger problem than that, I'll put to you, Mr Chester, and that is that the young and agile and nimble workers saw this coming and got out years ago and the ones left behind are those who are holding on, on the cusp of retirement in order to get the golden handshake, and you've got an ageing population and the people you need to rebuild your industry are the ones who have left.

Darren Chester: Well that's not true either; we've got 1000 people working at Latrobe Regional Hospital and that hospital is going through a $100 million redevelopment right now, so they're a growth industry if you like. We've got Federation University at Churchill which is expanding and will expand further into the future. One of our great challenges is to encourage aspiration in our community for people to get on to further education whether it be in a skills training environment or a university course, that's one of our great challenges in Gippsland, Latrobe Valley. So it's simply not true to say that all the younger agile workers have left but we want to keep them all in Gippsland, Latrobe Valley, there's no question about that. But that is a national challenge where we're seeing a lot of young people leave our regional communities, chasing opportunities in the cities. Our cities are choking to death with congestion, we need to find ways to reinvest more in our regional communities like Latrobe Valley. Latrobe Valley has made enormous contribution to the welfare of our nation and will continue to do so for decades to come, and I think it's unfortunate to portray this whole debate in a completely negative sense. I think there's some real challenges here, I'm not trying to walk away from those, there is some big challenges we're facing but we shouldn't escape or shouldn't walk away from the fact that Gippsland, Latrobe Valley, has a great future and I'm very confident that with the goodwill of the State Government and the Federal Government working together with the local community, we're going to see some good investments, we're going to actually soften the blow of what's going to occur in the next six months and we're going to see a great future for my community.

Jon Faine: Are you going to work together? Josh Frydenberg was blaming the Labor Party this morning, Malcolm Turnbull yesterday was talking to the Premier, so are you going to work together or are you going to try and score political points off each other?

Darren Chester: Well I think this is a challenge for us, we do need to find ways to work together, we're going to have some blues, no doubt we're going to have some arguments, there's—you know—there's some different political philosophies at play here, we will have our arguments but for the greater good I think we're going to need to put the swords away on this one and try to work together as much as we possibly can. Having a robust discussion about public policy is a good thing. I fear that some of the positions that have been taken by the Greens in particular are going to hurt Latrobe Valley more unless we see through this madness and start to understand that we need this cheap, reliable base load energy supply to keep our hospitals running in Melbourne, to keep our manufacturing sector going, we need cheap, reliable base load energy and that comes from Latrobe Valley now. So we're going to have some challenges about some of the political philosophies to work our way through but I've already indicated to the Prime Minister I'm very happy to serve on the Joint Taskforce with the State Government because as a local member I want to make sure that any money spent by state or federal governments is spent well, and it's in the long term interests of my community that I serve on that taskforce.

Jon Faine: Let's see where it goes to, thank you indeed for your words this morning, yet again, thank you.

Darren Chester: I appreciate your time, Jon, look can I finally say this is a great community and it will survive.

Jon Faine: Darren Chester, Nationals MP for Gippsland and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport in the Turnbull Federal Coalition Government.