Ryan wants federal funds now for valley

FEDERAL money to help brown-coal-reliant communities in the Latrobe Valley cope with the impact of carbon pricing should be put on the table immediately, the state government says.

The Baillieu and Gillard governments have been holding discussions in recent months on assistance plans for the Latrobe region in the light of Labor’s carbon price and program to pay to shut 2000 megawatts of heavy-emitting coal power, expected to target a major generator in the Latrobe Valley.

The federal government has earmarked $200 million over seven years from carbon price revenue for ”regional structural adjustment” for communities strongly affected by the scheme.

Regional Development Minister Peter Ryan said yesterday while the state government continued to oppose the carbon tax, it was in discussions with the Commonwealth on the creation of a new body chaired by himself and federal Regional Development Minister Simon Crean to address the needs of the valley’s communities and workers.

But while discussions were continuing, Mr Ryan said nothing material had yet been committed by the federal government, despite state money being on the table for the valley. ”What we want the feds to do is to join the fray here. We want money from them. We have had constructive talks, but it is time to put money on the table,” Mr Ryan said.

”And, importantly, the time to do it is now. The Commonwealth needs to act, and it needs to act quickly.”

Mr Ryan said the Latrobe Valley was strong enough to get through a period of traumatic transition for the community and energy industry. He said new enterprises using Victoria’s brown coal should be developed in ways ”contemporary to the modern world”.

Federal Labor plans to hold a community forum in the valley before Christmas to discuss regional development programs in the light of carbon pricing.

Mr Crean said yesterday: ”After visiting the Latrobe Valley on and off for more than 40 years, I was in the region the day after the carbon package was announced. The Latrobe Valley is an energy region, and will continue to be – but increasingly that energy will come from cleaner and renewable options. Community leaders not only understand this, but accept the need for economic diversification.

”They want to work with both the federal and state governments to face up to this challenge of change.

”I’ve met with Peter Ryan to discuss a framework for the region.”

Latrobe City Council mayor Darrell White said a socio-economic impact study of the carbon price on the valley should be funded by Labor, followed by measures to attract new industry to the region.

The owners of Latrobe Valley-based generators Hazelwood, Yallourn and Energy Brix have all submitted expressions of interest for the government’s scheme to pay dirty power generators to close, with Labor hoping to have contracts in place by June.

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