Rally in the Valley - a timely comment

By Ruth Place and Leo Billington
What do you think of the closure of Hazelwood Power Station? Do you think something can be done to reverse the decision?
Would you be prepared to stand up and fight for a better outcome for our Valley? Do we think there is no point in trying for a better outcome; that we can’t fight it because governments are seemingly unsupportive and have their own agenda? Do we think the media has given our Valley bad press and soured those outside about the lovely area in which we live?
We all need to get behind a small group of passionate pro-active residents of the Valley who banded together and quickly arranged the Rally in the Valley at the Morwell Football Netball Reserve on Sunday February 26, to show we are not complacent but are willing to show governments and other stakeholders that we are not satisfied with the inaction we have seen up until now.
There are many reasons why the power station is set to close with no clear plan ahead - financial, lack of government commitment to new technology, investment that would allow the power station to do the maintenance required to bring the station up to efficient working order, political waivering and looking after their own position to stay in government, environmentalists who say coal is to go, possible investors unwilling to be involved due to changes in decisions about the power industry here.
The outcome will be that people, ordinary everyday people who had good jobs, supported their families, looked forward to a secure future, now face unemployment at the end of March, with little prospect of finding similar jobs where they live, and families that have settled in this area. We have people in allied industries wondering if they will lose their jobs because the business has less work due to the closure.
We have contractors who will be unemployed but without redundancy packages and few prospects of future employment.
The negative flow on effect will be great. Some will have ongoing jobs as the rehabilitation will take many years. The rehabilitation and turning the mine into a lake is essential to maintain the safety of Morwell township so it doesn’t disappear into the mine.
Most people acknowledge that Hazelwood would have to close, but not in this way.
A proper transition plan seems unplanned and uninitiated. The workers are finding the supports already put into place of little help.
At the conclusion of the rally after hearing several speakers, a series of resolutions were put to the gathered crowd.
1/ Calling on the state government to keep Hazelwood going for a period of four to six years either by supporting the plant with financial assistance (as with Portland $250m) or aiding in the sale of the station to a purchaser who wants to run it. If required declare, that it is a required state asset.
2/ March on Parliament on March 22, the day Russell Northe presents the ‘Keep Hazelwood open’ petition to the government.
3/ To insist that Engie turn over their rehabilitation funds to a Mine and Power Station “Future fund” capable of rehabilitating the site at its completion.
To subsequently contribute at least $1 per tonne coal levy to the fund to ensure the funds under management remain adequate.
4/ Undertake a genuine transition program utilising the four to six years gained to accelerate the diversification of our regional economy.
5/ Under no circumstance quarantine our coal resource. The state government coal policy must allow for further development of brown coal in the Latrobe Valley.
The resource must be made available for the Urea fertiliser plant, the selling of Hydrogen to the Japanese, or new technology coal fired electricity. It would be stupidity to not leave all options open.”
Some of these resolutions are “too pie in the sky”, but the need to support and have relevant policies from governments into future planning and capacity building for our community is essential. We need to make governments realise we are in a period of flux, grieving for what will come and that we need strong, decisive and effective leadership.
With community commitment showing governments we are serious and not complacent over this issue for which the speakers were calling, we can stand together and fight for our future. We should also keep our eyes open and support those workers who have lost their jobs by asking them how they are, offering help if needed.
Those who attended are asked to be there when the workers finish and leave for the last time at the main gate at Hazelwood on Friday March 31 to show their support. Let’s not be down in the dumps but keep a positive perspective.
Let’s stay above the repetitive rhetoric and make the Valley great again!