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Wednesday, 30 May 2012
Page: 6391

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (11:42): I would like to thank you, Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government, for being here today. I appreciate your interest, but also to thank you for your attendance in the Latrobe Valley as we deal with some of these issues relating to your carbon tax policy. I want to refer specifically to the Regional Structural Adjustment Assistance Program, which, as you would be aware, is a $200 million fund to provide assistance to those regions strongly affected by carbon pricing. I note from one of your statements on your website:

The Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport will monitor the impacts of carbon pricing on regions to identify regions that may require structural adjustment assistance.

And further:

Where structural adjustment assistance may be required, the Government will work in close consultation with communities through a coordinated, whole of Government approach …

It is against that background, Minister, that I ask my questions. How are you actually going to monitor those regions and what procedures are actually in place to evaluate which regions are most adversely affected. Changes are occurring right now in Latrobe Valley as a result of carbon pricing, which I think you would understand is some cause for concern in my community. In particular, we need to address the issue of confidence in the community at local, state and federal government levels. I would be interested to know whether the bulk of that $200 million will be allocated to the regions that are most adversely affected and how you will make that evaluation.

The other questions relate to contract foreclosure, which I am sure you understand is very close to and relates to this whole issue. I wonder whether you could provide me with an update on the progress of negotiations in relation to contract foreclosure? I understand there has been very little discussion, if at all. We are only weeks away from supposedly making an announcement as to which stations will be closed. My understanding is that a power station such as Hazelwood generates $130 million annually in terms of wages to the Latrobe Valley community, but we are talking about a $200 million structural adjustment package. If the Hazelwood power station were to close, it would dwarf the whole $200 million package. I do not think there is any suggestion from government that the Latrobe Valley will get the whole $200 million. My concern is that the impacts will be very severe and that the allocation in terms of structural adjustment will be nowhere near enough.

The only other question I would like to ask the minister relates to this whole-of-government approach. You may recall that there is an active application from the Latrobe Regional Hospital for $65 million. I put it to you that, in terms of a whole-of-government approach, that would be the type of project that would benefit the Latrobe Valley and the Gippsland community more broadly. Given that that actual program has now been exhausted, are there any other avenues that you can see where the Latrobe Regional Hospital should apply to try to secure $65 million in the future, keeping in mind that I do acknowledge the state government will need to come to the party at some stage in that process?