Election about jobs: ALP

Labor candidate for Morwell Mark Richards says the state government is getting things done in the Latrobe Valley. file photograph

Labor candidate for Morwell Mark Richards says the state government is getting things done in the Latrobe Valley. file photograph

The closure of Hazelwood Power Station was a direct result of the Coalition's decision to privatise the state's electricity industry in the 1990's, Labor candidate for Morwell Mark Richards says.

Mr Richards used his first in-depth interview with The Express on Friday to speak about the reasons behind the plant's closure, spruik the state government's job creation record and dismiss the likelihood of a new power station being built in the region.

The ALP candidate, who worked at Hazelwood for about 25 years, said the plant's closure in 2017 was brought about by owner ENGIE's decision to exit coal.

"The Hazelwood closure was clearly a foreign company – French CEO Isabelle Kocher - deciding to do what's best for making money for the company," he said.

"By closing Hazelwood they maximise their sale price for Loy Yang B and they exited coal.

"That's only happened because it was able to be sold after Jeff Kennett privatised it. No ifs, buts or maybes about who's at fault there."

The battle for Morwell at the state election on November 24 is shaping up as the fiercest contest for the seat since National-turned-independent Russell Northe ended Labor's 36-year stranglehold on the seat in 2006.

This year's election is the first to be held since Hazelwood closed and is expected to be fought around the Andrews government's handling of the Hazelwood closure, jobs and a series of delays which have affected the region's train service.

In the wake of ENGIE's decision to close the plant, the state government announced a $266 million transition scheme to help the region adjust.

The package involved the establishment of the Latrobe Valley Authority, funding to help businesses transition, sporting facility upgrades and the $46 million Gippsland Regional Aquatic Centre in Traralgon.

"We've waited decades for things like a Traralgon swimming pool. Labor's funded that," Mr Richards said.

"With the decentralisation we've got a Govhub popping up in [Morwell, there's] 150 jobs there with room for 150 more."

The Labor candidate was involved in creating the $20 million Hazelwood Worker Transition Scheme which created positions for displaced workers by offering early retirement for employees at other plants.

Another key battlefield in this election campaign will be the future of the region's power industry and debate about whether a new power station should be built in the region.

The Nationals have declared their support for a new coal-fired power station in the region although the Liberals are yet to adopt their coalition partner's policy. But the former Hazelwood worker believes a new plant in the region is unlikely.

"The world's changed. There are emissions limits being put on every country in some form or another; even China's trying to do their best to clean their air," Mr Richards said.

"I know the Opposition talk about [high efficiency, low emissions] power stations. The reality is unless someone coughs up $6 billion – maybe $10 billion with blow-outs – on building one, it's basically a false hope."

He said the government was focused on doing "real things" with coal, such as providing $50 million for the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain project which involves creating hydrogen from brown coal for export to Japan.

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