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A bold vision which could lift a sagging economy

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The Latrobe Valley economy is in a downward spiral and it is likely to get a little worse.
It is estimated that the local economy could lose $2 billion over the next decade with the premature closure of the native timber logging industry last December, Yallourn in 2028 and Loy Yang in 2035. The native timber logging industry was worth $770 million and secured 2,500 jobs, according to a 2016 report by Deloitte.
The closure of the Reflex paper making plant at Maryvale was a flow-on from the closure of the native timber logging industry. The mill produced up to 200,000 tonnes of white paper per year, with 300 reams of paper created a minute. An estimated 200 jobs were lost with the Reflex closure.
A socio-economic study data of for Victoria’s seventy-nine local government areas concluded that the Central Goldfields and Latrobe City Council were “the two most socio-economically disadvantaged” Local Government Areas (LGA’s) in Victoria. This data was compiled from the last census and therefore before the native timber industry closure.
To put this into perspective, a reduction of $2 billion in the local economy represents about a 30%
contraction. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that there are many activities which can and will lift the economy and one that could make a major economic contribution is the vision for the Great Latrobe Park. It is only a vision at this stage but its supporters believe it needs to be seriously considered and it needs to be considered now.
They believe there is a once-in-a-millenium opportunity to transform the three coal mines into a thriving economic zone to lift the local economy and replace the financial loss faced.
Currently the thinking around the Hazelwood mine, which is now filling and Yallourn and Loy Yang which will soon follow, is to rehabilitate them. The GLP committee suggests that the planned rehabilitation will do very little to lift the local economy but they believe these massive pits and surrounding lands could be turned into a valuable multi-purpose asset.
Hazelwood is a huge pit, six kilometres long, 3.5 kilometres wide and on average, 100 metres deep. It is nearly one and a half times the size of Sydney Harbour in volume. Or, for a more local perspective, it would take close to three Blue Rock Lakes to fill it. Yallourn is even bigger. The two mines are only five kilometres apart and are geologically linked, as is Loy Yang.
There is an obligation on the owners to rehabilitate these giant pits but what if that work went beyond just rehabilitation to complete repurposing? They are three of the largest pits of their kind anywhere in the world and they present an opportunity to do something spectacular for the Latrobe Valley and for Victoria.
Current thinking at corporate and government level is to see the three mines in isolation and manage them in isolation. Hazelwood is currently being filled with water which will take at least another decade. Current thinking suggests the same will occur at Yallourn and Loy Yang.
So, let’s go on an ‘Imagine if…’ journey for the next few paragraphs to see what could be possible.
Imagine if Hazelwood had beaches selectively dotted around its perimeter?
Imagine if it became a multipurpose marine area able to accommodate yachting, hang-gliding, speed boating, canoeing, swimming, fishing and bathing areas; and yes, it is big enough that these could be completely separate zones. It may also be suitable for an aquaculture industry.
Imagine if it contained wineries, market gardens, and similar.
Hazelwood has another major valuable asset which could be utilised; and that is billions of litres of hot water from the aquifers below the floor. That hot water is an incredible resource, so imagine if that cheap energy was used to heat hotels, a business and commercial park, new housing, universities and colleges, museums, an Indigenous centre, etcetera. Imagine the appeal cheap energy would have to the business and tourism sectors in this state and the opportunities that could present.
Imagine if it had world-class hotels dotted around its perimeter, with walking tracks, cycling, golf courses, sports complexes, bird hides, reserves for endangered animal and plant species, and more.
Imagine if it had world-class subterranean tourist accommodation built into its wall overlooking its vastness, similar to Lake Taal in the Philippines.
Imagine if it had health spas and health resorts, museums, art galleries, all utilising cheap energy in the form of abundant hot water.
Imagine if a major geothermal industry was developed to take advantage of this abundant and inexpensive energy resource.
Imagine if Hazelwood and Yallourn were linked, with similar developments at each end with a nature oasis between them, linked by walking tracks and a tourist railway.
If it sounds like ‘pie-in-the-sky’, consider the Eden Project in Cornwall. A bold vision turned an unused commercial clay pit into a world class tourist attraction. Among other things it has the world’s largest indoor rainforest all housed in a very large dome. A second large dome houses plants in a mediterranean environment. There are outdoor botanic gardens and many attractions to attract paying visitors. The Eden Project has lifted the Cornish economy and the same could occur in the Latrobe Valley.
The Great Latrobe Park committee believe these ideas should be considered now, to flesh out the possibilities, before it is too late to do so.
Currently, the mine owners are set to foot the bill for rehabilitation, but it must be remembered that they are commercial corporations whose primary responsibility is to their shareholders and not the Victorian community.
It must be remembered that these mines have only been privatised for thirty years. For the first seventy years, the Latrobe Valley was run by the SEC, wholly owned by the Victorian State Government, which earned billions of dollars of revenue from electricity sales in that seventy-year period and earned $30 billion when it sold them off to private enterprise. It can be argued that the state has an obligation to contribute but that obligation is also a great opportunity, an opportunity to develop a new economic model for the Latrobe Valley whose economy has been flattened in recent years.
The team at Great Latrobe Park (GLP) are a serious group of retired people who are all committed to community development and they are highly credentialed. Below is the briefest explanation of who some of them are.
Rob: a geologist with twenty-five years’ experience in the Latrobe Valley mines and a lecturer in Engineering Geology.
David: A regional planner in Gippsland for thirty years and author of a book on the topic.
Nina: Former president of the Moe Development Group and more recently ‘Growing Together Latrobe.’ a supportive organisation for school and community gardens. Nina is the catalyst for forming this group.
Bob: A senior mechanical engineer with the SEC for 14 years and knows the geology of all these mine pits as well as anyone.
Barbara: Studied Ag. Science and a career in Agricultural Education at secondary and tertiary levels. Extensive Landcare and water management experience.
Richard: More than thirty years in senior positions in the brown coal mining industry. Responsible for redirecting and moving the Morwell River and Strzelecki Highway to allow open cut mining.
Ross: Trained as an economist with thirty-five years experience with the PMG national headquarters (which became Australia Post) working in industrial relations and network planning.
Peter B: Retired surgeon with 30 years’ experience in the Latrobe Valley.
Peter K: Retired dentist and philanthropist and patron of the Latrobe Valley Orchestra.
Monique: Marketing and IT specialist.
Rosemary: A lifetime involved with community welfare.
Margaret: An educator before retirement.
Brendan: An engineer with a long career in microcomputer development and later, with Australian Paper, managing health and safety and hazard management.
Some of these ideas may be workable and others not so, but the idea of seizing an opportunity to examine the potential needs to be considered urgent.
What next? Members of the GLP committee will be directly addressing community groups across the region to put these ideas forward and they are already talking to mine owners, government and other industry bodies.
You can learn more by visiting www.glp.org.au

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