What happens when a town’s major industry shuts down?
Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 20:30

For 52 years, the Hazelwood Power Station – one of three in the Latrobe Valley - has been supplying up to 25 per cent of Victoria’s energy and generations of employment to locals. Entire families, like Connie Van Eyk’s, work at the station.  

On the 31st March 2017, it will be shut down for good, taking with it up to 1000 local jobs. Majority owners, Engie, say there’s just not enough revenue being generated from Australia’s oldest and dirtiest coal plant.

But what will happen to the surrounding towns of Morwell, Moe and Traralgon? How will they adapt?

Jason and Lee Mackay built their dream home for their family of four kids on the promise of work until 2025. John Pettigrew, a final year apprentice at another power station in the Valley, is preparing to move interstate in order to find work. 

While many have built their lives on coal, there’s openness to renewables and a potential new industry in them. But without the planning for any kind of transition, many are concerned about how the region will cope in the interim.   

Young people in the area either hoped to work at the station or are now worried about the increased competitiveness for jobs in the fallout from the closure. Unemployment rates in the Valley are already the highest in the state, sitting at 8.2 per cent.  

Politicians may throw lumps of coal around parliament to discuss the country’s energy issues, but some in the Valley admit they’re now looking for a more radical political voice, likening their experience to that of the working class American voters who helped put President Trump in office.  

As the stoush around renewables and energy supply plays out alongside recent record-setting heatwaves, a special edition of Insight travels to the Latrobe Valley to meet the ordinary Australians on the front line of these debates.

As policy is argued, their lives will soon be changed irrevocably. 






JENNY BROCKIE:   Welcome everybody, good to be here.  We're in the old Morwell Town Hall, which is now an art gallery and for the benefit of people watching at home we're about 150ks east of Melbourne and we're talking to a community undergoing a lot of change. Connie, can I start with you, you've lived in the valley for nearly 35 years? 

CONNIE:  That's correct. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How would you describe the mood here at the moment? 

CONNIE:  Subdued.  I’m concerned about what's going to happen to my grandchildren now. My children are part of this, they will be unemployed, which means I am asking  the question.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Your son works at Hazelwood? 

CONNIE:  My son works at Hazelwood, our son. I'm concerned now about how I'm going to be able to maintain a connection with my grandchildren if they have to move out of the valley to find work. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And John, you're Connie's husband, you've worked at Hazelwood for more than three decades. How did you react when you were told it was closing? 

JOHN:   Yeah, dunno, just completely, didn't understand it. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What do you mean you didn't understand it? 

JOHN:   Well, we knew there was change in the wind, we expected an announcement to say there was going to be a partial closure, we did not expect a full outright closure. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Connie, tell me a little bit more how about how the closure is affecting your broader family? 

CONNIE:  My son was really fortunate in that he got, or sorry, our son, got a job with Holden and served his apprenticeship with Holden, it was a great position. Wanted to come back to his roots so he put in for a job at Hazelwood, he got the job and was, planned his future expecting to be there for ten to fifteen, maybe twenty years, and he's planned his whole financial future around that. He's been married for two years, has a seven month old son, a mortgage in the hundreds of thousands and now he doesn't know what's going to happen come the 1st of April. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And he's working tonight which is why he can't be with us? 

CONNIE:  He is working tonight, that's why he's not here, yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Jason, you're 41, you're mid-career, how are you feeling about your future at the moment? 

JASON:  Yeah, pretty much in shock still with everything playing out pretty fast, we were just numb really. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you found out it was going to happen in what, five months time from the time you were told? 

JASON:  Yeah, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Tell me a little bit about your background, you left a well paid carpentry job? 

JASON: Yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   To come here to work at Hazelwood? 

JASON:  Yeah. 


JASON:  Basically working in all the weather and getting into a point where I couldn't really see myself continuing in that hard sort of out in the weather sort of work. So I was looking more towards finding something, a job with opportunities to climb the ladder, to progress, to have a good secure job to provide for my family because I…

JENNY BROCKIE:   How long did you think Hazelwood had? 

JASON:  When I was employed I asked the question through my interview process and I was told a definite 2025 by someone very high up in the ladder. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What, that you'd be working at Hazelwood till 2025? 

JASON: Definitely 12025, a licence till '33 to mine coal and a very profitable company, so a very certain future at the time.  

JENNY BROCKIE:   And Lee, what kind of plans did you and Jason make as a result when you he started working at the power station? 

LEE:  We had a fourth child because we thought we'd be able to afford the cost of living on that income. We built our dream home, we leased a car, we just built our whole life around that promise. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Around that job? 

LEE:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And where has it left you now, how are you feeling about the future now? 

LEE:  Really devastated and the unknown's very scary. We don't know whether, what the future holds for us now. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Lauren, you're here representing Engie which is the company that majority owns and runs Hazelwood. I'll get on to some of the issues raised here in a moment but tell us first why the company is closing down the power station and the mine? 

LAUREN:  So like Jason and our other colleague, I'm very proud to have worked at the Hazelwood Power Station for the past seven years, alongside what I would class as colleagues who have also become friends and we've had to overcome some significant challenges during that time. Hazelwood is 52 years of age, it's aging, it's infrastructure is such that, you know, it's half a century old. Management have looked at ways in which they can secure our jobs and keep the plant running, but unfortunately current market and forecast market conditions are not making the operation viable and as such the boards in Tokyo and Paris have had to make the really difficult decision to close the plant. Our focus now …

JENNY BROCKIE:  But wouldn't, can I just stop you there and ask you, wasn't it obvious the plant was old ten years ago, five years ago? 

LAUREN:  Yes, you could say that. As I said, management have looked in recent years at opportunities that they could retrofit, improve the plant. Unfortunately we're talking about a significant amount of money and, as I said, forecast market conditions are not allowing for the business to be profitable and unfortunately a very difficult decision has been made by our shareholder boards and our focus is now is that of our employees and transitioning our workforce and how we can help them. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what about Jason's criticism that he was told that, you know, the mine had a future until 2025? 

LAUREN:  2025 was a vision and an aspiration by the company and management believes that we could all drive towards achieving that together. Globally the world is moving away from brown coal and there's been some significant changes that have impacted on our operations and hence a decision has been made that the business is no longer viable, and despite the best efforts of trying to achieve the 2025 vision, it's not achievable. It's rather unfortunate and we are sorry that there are people that, um, we're sorry for the miscommunication of the message and that people felt that we could achieve that, but unfortunately the circumstances have changed. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And when you say the circumstances have changed, do you mean the political circumstances have changed, that you know, there's more of a push to renewables and brown coal, you know, is considered dirty coal? 

LAUREN:  That's right. Many in this room will know, particularly those that are Latrobe Valley locals, that environmental groups have rallied for decades to close Hazelwood down noting that it's the dirtiest polluter in the world and globally the world is transitioning away from brown coal and looking at renewables.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Jason, your response to that? I mean can you understand that? It is a dirty plant, I mean it's regarded as, I think it has the highest emissions of any plant in Australia? 

JASON:  Yeah, they've improved it over the years. To me a decision should have been made ten, fifteen years ago, not to a point of let Hazelwood run to the age that it is now and obviously it's inevitable that it will close one day and we all knew that.

JENNY BROCKIE:  How were you told about the closure? 

JASON:  On the day of the announcement we heard on the radio there was going to be a meeting at the mine and I got a text message about fifteen minutes before the meeting commenced and we sat in front of one of the CEOs who then told us our fate, that they were going to be a full closure, yeah, which we weren't, we knew it wasn't going to be good news but we didn't expect a full closure. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Lauren, and I know you're here because your manager couldn't being here tonight for personal reasons, but I want to ask you why Engie did it the way it did. Like why the text messages and you know, get to a meeting straight away, be there in ten minutes or fifteen minutes, why do it that way? 

LAUREN:  We have a large workforce, as you'd be aware, that's scattered across the area. One of the biggest challenges that we had is that the final board sign-off occurred in the very late hours of the evening prior. You're obviously aware that we run, or we're regulated by the Australian Electricity Market Operator, AEMO, and we tried, we endeavoured to tell staff as quickly as we could without causing any issues with market, energy market disclosure. Our people don't all sit by a computer, we needed to find a way in which we could advise them of a meeting on site and a text message was the best means for us to do that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Was there no way of warning the workers that this was coming? 

LAUREN:  No, you couldn't.

JENNY BROCKIE:   I mean you're saying the decision was taken at 9 o'clock or something at night, which I appreciate, but you don't take a decision like that cold. I mean it's being considered. 

LAUREN:  That's correct. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   For some time? 

LAUREN:  The issue that you have is once again we would have issues around the energy market disclosure. We can't go out and give people advance notice, given the strict regulations in which we operate, and that's a difficulty.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay. John, you're in your final year of an apprenticeship at the nearby Loy Yang A Power Station which is owned by AGL? 

JOHN:  Correct. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How's your future looking? 

JOHN:  Well it's certainly had a lot more job opportunities have been taken off the plate.  At AGL we have sixteen apprentices minimum, we have four apprentices put on a year, if you put that in four years time, that's sixteen extra tradesmen and it's simply not achievable to be able to stay. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So are you going to have a job when you finish in January? 

JOHN:  No. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What are you going to do? 

JOHN:  Search for work, search. 


JOHN:  Well, if there's anything local I'll take it and I'll stay local if I can, but the current outlook is not that way and I'll travel around the countryside wherever it takes me, west or north. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And what have you trained to do, what's your job? 

JOHN:  I'm an apprentice electrician, A grade electrician. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How many generations of your family have worked in coal? 

JOHN:  We've been there for three generations, three generations, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So you, dad, grandfather? 

JOHN:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you're his grandfather and you sit across from dad at work, is that right? 

JOHN:   Yeah, that's correct, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What's that like? 

JOHN:  Oh, it makes for a good atmosphere but when, when it comes to bite the bullet and sometimes you've just got to get told what to do. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   I want to get a sense from you though, of what it means for you to move, to be thinking about moving, given that sort of generational connection to this. I mean how are you feeling at the moment about work and about the job you've chosen? 

JOHN:  I'll be extremely disappointed if I have to move away from the valley. We're all here and no one really lives abroad. You know, we're, and yeah, that's pretty much it. We're all here, we've always been here, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Have you thought about another kind of job? Did you think that maybe another kind of job might have a better future? 

JOHN:  No.  I've always wanted to be an electrician and I'll always be an electrician that's what it is. Had it drummed into me for many years. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how would you feel about him looking for another job? Do you think he should be looking in another area other than coal? 

GRANT:  No.  If that's what he wants to do and that's what makes him happy, that's what he needs to follow. Unfortunately we've seen in the past where, when these sorts of things happen and there's a mass reduction in the workforce, then all the skills go out of the valley.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Jason, you wanted to say something? 

JASON:  I just wanted to say to me we need coal for another 20, 30, 40, 50 years.  What we've got for base load power to secure the network here in Australia, like in ten, twenty years time, I can't see anything that's going to give us base load power with no emissions.

JENNY BROCKIE:  David, you're an energy specialist at the Grattan Institute. Now Hazelwood can provide up to 25 percent of Victoria's energy supply as well as supplying back-up to a South Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania. What is going to happen when it closes to the energy supply? 

DAVID:   Well I think we're already seeing the first things happening and that's, you know, people's prices are going up. When you take such a large amount of power supply out of the system, it means you've got less to play with, it means that prices go up so you're already starting to see that happen.  The big fear is that when we hit next summer that there won't be enough generation available to meet all the demand that's there and so there has been forecast that there might be some shortages, the same that we saw in South Australia and potentially New South Wales recently.

The reality is that we've had a lot of generation in the market for quite a long period of time and the environment has been such that we've seen now two of the main coal guys leaving, that's Northern in South Australia and now Hazelwood. So the reality is yes, we're going to have tighten supply and there is going to be a fear that there's going to be a loss, but there's still a lot of generation out there. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, so do you think it's going to have a big impact, no impact or a small impact? 

DAVID:   It's going to have a big impact on price. I think the chances of there being a shortfall in electricity are slim but it's possible. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What about those of you who don't work in the coal industry here? Can you tell me what the atmosphere is like here at the moment?

YUMNA:  We are losing people. People who work at Hazelwood now will have to go somewhere else to find a job. We are kind of, from our bustling happy valley, we are going to lose people and I mean personally my dad works at Hazelwood so he's going to be out of a job. He'll probably have to go somewhere if worse comes to worse. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What do you think about the reasons for why Hazelwood is closing? 

YUMNA: Look, it's bitter sweet, from a personal point of view, but I do understand why it is happening. I myself have studied science at university so because of that I do understand why it has to close. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And why do you think it has to close? 

YUMNA: It has to close because it's one of the dirtiest plants in Australia.


CORY:  I am currently… I don't really have anything to do with the coal industry. I am currently doing my Certificate 4 and diploma in beauty therapy and I believe that with this shut down that there's going to be a lot less opportunity for people that are growing and they're just going to have to move eventually because it's not possible for them to stay here. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How are you feeling about your future here? 

CORY:  There is no future here for me. 


CORY:  I, I've lived in the Latrobe Valley since I was nine years old and I'm now twenty and it's been quite rough for me. I was in foster care and so my partner and myself are going to be moving to Melbourne so I can open up a store up there because I just don't see, because I do want to open up my own store and I want to have the good, I have good clientele and have a successful business and have kids and everything like that. And I don't see that being possible down here because of the, it's going to become very competitive. 

KEISH: It is very competitive in particular in the hair and beauty industry, Leanne's my boss, I work for her at a beauty salon and we have already noticed a lot of our clients that would spend on luxury treatments such as facials and massages are now only coming in for their basics, and it is hard as a manager. I've taken less hours purely because there's no clients there and you can't keep a business open if you're paying for work that isn't there to be done. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Leanne, what do you think the future is for your business? 

LEANNE:  It's like Keish said, the people just aren't spending any more.  You can look around the streets now and the street is so quiet. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, Josh? Yep. 

JOSH:  I think really what we're looking at is just a false choice in a sense between jobs and the environment. I think that what we do is a lot of the time in politics and in our lives we look too small and we don't bring our focus out to look at the bigger picture and I think that we should be questioning in our daily lives how we got to this point that not only does the system that we live in tie 1,000 jobs, 1,000 lives and really, the future of the entire area, to a decision made by a board of directors in, as Lauren said, Japan and France.  When we ask ourselves jobs or the environment, we're only really asking ourselves jobs or the environments if we want to keep the way we live now exactly the same. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Kynan, what about you, what are you hoping to do? 

KYNAN:  Well, all the kids that are coming out of school now that need to get jobs are not able to get jobs any more. Because most of the other people that are working at Hazelwood are leaving Hazelwood and trying to get other jobs and then it leaves the young people not to get other jobs. 

JOHN:  I think on that school note with what was said, I know when I was in school we, we all aspired to be employed by a power station, that was just the big building, it's the big hob nob of the valley, that's what we all aspired to be and unless something, a plan is put in place like plans for beauty salon and all the rest of that, at the moment Hazelwood workers and youth don't have a plan. It's just 31st of March and, yeah, no plan there. 

CONNIE:  People who don't live in the valley don't realise that we have a structure here that is unique, quite unique. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What do you mean? 

CONNIE:  I worked in the disability sector for fifteen years so we both worked shift work and we raised our children and they were choices we made. And people will say to us oh, you know, the old Aussie saying you've lived off the sheep's back, you've lived off the cattle, you've lived off this and we've lived off the coal. It's a statement of fact. The only reason we have a power industry here is because we have coal, right? We came here from two very good jobs, John was with the railways, I was with the government, to, on our new adventure thirty four years ago, okay?

We've raised our family here, we chose to live here, our choice, with the knowledge that eventually that power station would close and we had an expectation there would be an investment, or at least some science applied, to new sustainable energy and that hasn't happened. Suddenly coal is the bogey man, we can't use it any more, it's environmentally unsound, it's an ecological disaster.  That's all good, we get that, but where is the investment in the future of our community to enable us to continue on at a quality of life with specific amenity that we're entitled to expect to have? 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So are you saying where is the investment in terms of future jobs? 

CONNIE:  Absolutely. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And if those future jobs were in renewables would that be acceptable to you? 

CONNIE:  Absolutely. Not nuclear. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Not nuclear, okay, not nuclear for you, but I guess, I guess what I'm trying to get to is how much you're objecting to, you know, the idea of renewables or the idea of a different form of energy.

CONNIE:  Not at all. Anybody who wants a secure job will support the idea of renewables.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did anyone see this coming? 

MALE:  Yes. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Did any of you, the people who worked, who worked at Hazelwood or are still working at Hazelwood, did you see it coming Adam? 

ADAM:  Not at all, no!  No, with the amount of money that was being spent on the plant, yeah, not at all. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You're an electrician? 

ADAM:  Correct. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  So you were a contractor? 

ADAM:  Yeah, I worked for a contractor at Hazelwood. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay. Justin, what about you, did you see it coming? 

JUSTIN:   Yes, I've worked there and on and off for the last fifteen years as a contractor. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   You're a welder, boilermaker? 

JUSTIN:  Boilermaker welder, yeah. Mid last year we had the idea that there was going to be a transition from eight units down to about four by 2020, so the writing was on the wall but there was going to be an exit plan. This total shut down isn't the way it should have gone. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Jason, did you see the warning signs?  This has been talked about for years that this would shut down, that it needed to shut down. 

JASON:  My thing is, just to give you a bit more information on the last few years leading into where we are now, Hazelwood have been putting advertisements out for new operational employees, taking on up to ten at a time, and they've put on potentially fifty in the last five years. These group of people were promised 2025 and beyond. I know we understand that businesses change and all the rest of it but we've, take you through the last twelve months, I could name more than ten people that have taken out large mortgages. The last lease car was picked up two days before the announcement.  It was inevitable it was going to happen one day but the way that it is happening is appalling.  Potentially if we had found out twelve months ago we may not have built our dream house.

JENNY BROCKIE:   We've had a look at your dream house, let's share that with everybody else. 




LEE:   It’s our dream house, it’s something that we have worked towards for our whole life, it’s just beautiful, it’s exactly what we wanted and worked so hard for.

JASON:  We spent a lot of time on the paper drawing, drawing and working out right down to the finer little things, as far as we can say now – it’s perfect, we are very very happy with what we have done.

LEE:  So we designed our bedroom for shift work, it’s got a duel access to the bedroom and we can still get in and out of the bathroom without having to wake Jase up when he is on night shift, which is good.

JASON:  we have built several homes but yeah, this is our final home. We wanted to stay here for a long long time, yeah, twenty plus years yeah.

LEE: This is Link’s room.

JASON: All the houses we have had have probably been four bedrooms, so we‘ve had two in one bedroom but this one is five bedrooms, that’s a big thing for us for each of them to have their own room.

LEE: We didn’t know we were going to have three boys, let alone two. Boys need space and we didn’t have a very big back yard, so that was our decision to rebuild, it was what was important to us at the time.

JASON:  I just love where it is, on the land and having the room, it’s the whole picture for me and to create it, yeah, for me it is very rewarding.



JENNY BROCKIE:   Lee, you're getting very upset watching that, tell us why? 

LEE:   That's our whole life, that's our kids and our whole life. So you know, the thought that we might have to give that up is really sad. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Is there a chance you might have to give it up? 

LEE:   Well we might, yeah.  Who knows what the future holds?  You just don't know, everything's uncertain now. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Connie, you were going to build a new house too? 

CONNIE:  We were going to build a new house, that was our retirement plan, but it's off the board now.  I think one of the things that we're missing too is that for the likes of Jase and Lee, if they can't sustain that mortgage, if they can't hold onto their dream home, the level of investment they'd made in developing their dream home will not be what it's worth when they have to give it up. If we have to move we lose more than where we live. We lose our assets, we lose our building blocks for the future, for this generation, not for us, we'll be okay, we'll manage. I'm not crying for us, I'm crying for the people like these guys.  

LEE: We're not as worried about Jase's job as we are about the area, our community, our kids' future, our grandkids' future, we don't want them to have to move interstate for work. We want, we want, we're a close family, we want to be together.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Lauren, a response from you, just to the criticisms around again back to the way that it was done and people taking out car leases just before the announcement was made, you know, people taking on debt on the basis that they thought they had jobs? 

LAUREN:  The senior managers at the asset have fought very hard for several years to look at alternative means to keep the jobs and keep people here in the valley and keep the economy ticking over. The factors are stacking up against us and, you know, significant investment had to be made with no guarantee of any returns for that investment. 


LAUREN:   Unfortunately when the boards…

JENNY BROCKIE:   Can I ask just specifically about the things like taking out car leases and that kind of thing?  I mean I appreciate what you're saying about the bigger picture, but what about the idea of people, you know, the company must have known that it was uneconomic running up to the time this announcement was made. What about the idea that, you know, people were taking on car leases and doing things like that on the assumption that everything would be okay. 

LAUREN:  It's a complex situation when you have several owners involved in a business as well and we were, whilst a decision may have been presented to each of the boards, a board in Tokyo, a board in Paris and a board in Melbourne, there had to be a unanimous agreement and when I said that a decision wasn't made until the late hours of the evening before staff were advised, that's reality and I'm sure there's people that are sitting here thinking well that's not right, you know, you're not telling me the truth. It is the truth. 

The decision by the final board was made the evening prior and until that point, Hazelwood was continuing to operate. So when we're talking about people signing leases and people making decisions based on an aspiration to operate the plant till 2025, we were all driving towards that as employees until that final decision was made. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, Adam you worked as a contractor at Hazelwood.  What did you do once the closure had been announced? 

ADAM:  I walked into the control room the guys spoke about earlier, just the hollow look on people's faces and I thought about my two kids and you know, providing for them and, um, I went up and had a good think about it for a few days and thought well, if you know, the government are transitioning out of brown coal then I need to look at the next growth industry and had a look at renewables and did some research and found out that I have a very transferrable skill set and gave Andy at Gippsland Solar a phone call. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Now you worked for nothing, you were prepared to work for nothing, is that right, to start with? 

ADAM:  I was prepared but he did pay me, yeah. 

ANDY:  I wouldn't do that to him. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But you were prepared to work for nothing to get a foot in the door of the renewables? 

ADAM:   Absolutely.


ADAM:  I've got two kids under three and anything that was going to make me more employable come March the 31st, or a lot sooner, I mean there were people walked out the door, you know, straight after the announcement of the closure, so we had no idea. I could have had two weeks left for all I knew so…

ANDY:  I remember specifically Adam said to me I just need at least a few days so I can put on my CV that I have worked for Gippsland Solar to get a reference, just to say like I've actually done something outside of Hazelwood since the announcement just to make me more employable in the market and if during that trial period I happen to be doing a really good job and there's an opportunity for me, then that would be brilliant and we were just struck by his attitude and his go getting nature. We were really impressed by that immediately. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how long has your business been going, Gippsland Solar? 

ANDY:  Seven or eight years. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  And how is it going? 

ANDY:  Yeah, it's going really well. I actually moved to the valley seven, eight years ago.  I had a fairly hard core belief in renewables as being a big part of our future but I have to admit I was really taken aback by how entrenched coal is and how valuable it is to the local community.  It means a lot, the generational impact on someone who's worked in coal their whole life because their dad did, because his dad did, it's a really sensitive topic and it's obviously very hard to start a renewable energy company in the Latrobe Valley. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  I was going to say what's it like being the solar guy in a coal town? 

ANDY:  Yeah, a few tweaks to the marketing when we first started. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Are there many jobs in solar at the moment? 

ANDY: Well our little example, I mean we had three staff members about four years ago and now we've got 27 full time, plus some subcontractors. So you know, I don't expect that we can employ everyone that's going to finish up at Hazelwood but everyone can play their part, I believe, and I try and think about our own little what can we do to become part of this solution? Our own little way? If we find ten jobs and find another ten Robbos and create employment for them, then that's our part of the solution.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Robert, what do you think? I mean you worked in the power industry for 25 years until a couple of years ago.  Do you think this area's future lies in coal? 

ROBERT: I think we've to just think of an energy and that the people who want to consume the energy are making other choices in energy. A lot of people are putting on solar panels, they're putting long life batteries, they're putting LED lighting, and that's only the start and I don't think, I think we've missed that, you know, that there are other demands. It's not like thirty years ago where there was a dredge, you dug up coal, went to the power station, you generated power, someone came around, read your meter and gave you a bill. It's not like that anymore.

There's even communities who want to go off-line, so thirty, forty communities are saying we want to go off the grid.  And I congratulate this man because he employed someone from Hazelwood just before Christmas.  Not only that, he's put on a large factory in Moe, he's put solar panels all on the roof. So that's one positive thing, thank you. 

ANDY: One thing I really get uncomfortable with is when we use that phrase renewables versus coal. I really think that that is driving a wedge. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But politically that's often the way that it's presented. 

ANDY:  I'm not saying that it's not happening, I'm saying it can't happen. There's no reason why, with the Latrobe Valley, I use the Latrobe Valley as an example, all electrical roads leads to the valley, our infrastructure is incredible, so why can't we have both?  And we can have a prosperous twenty to thirty years  where we still have the existing coal fired generators open and we can still have another thousand more jobs in renewable as we build that infrastructure. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Connie, you're nodding your head, you like that idea? 

CONNIE:  I think it's a great idea if we could just stop and think for a moment about what we could have and not completely focus on what we're losing.

JENNY BROCKIE:  Can I just ask you Lee what the last few months have been like for you and your family? 

LEE:  Oh, crazy really. It's like a roller coaster.  You know, you're thinking oh, you know, something good's going to be happen with the transition and you feel a bit good about it and then oh, no, it’s not looking good because the government aren't backing it. So it's a roller coaster, it's stressful.  We've had Christmas in between. Christmas was thrown in between this and you know, we didn't know if we were going to have Christmas, like presents and stuff like that. We had a holiday planned and we didn't know if we were going to go on that.

JENNY BROCKIE:   And how strong are your ties to this area? 

LEE:  Really strong, yeah, really strong, I mean both my grandfathers migrated to here because of the power station.  They both worked at the power station, my father worked at the power station for forty years, you know, always said for Jase to get a job there and, you know, you'll be set because that's where the future is here in the valley.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Cory, if you have kids would you like them to grow up here? 

CORY:  No. 


CORY:  Um, the valley has, I feel, a very bad drug epidemic. There's so much ice.  I don't want my kids growing up with the amount, like I walk down the street, the other day I was at Hungry Jacks and I saw like a bunch of kids outside swearing and calling people fat and being really rude to people and I just think why would I want my kids growing up in that environment. 

FEMALE: You're going to get that in Melbourne too. 

CORY:  Yes, of course, of course. I just…

JENNY BROCKIE:   Have you personally had problems at all with drugs? 

CORY:  Um, yes, when I was in foster care I did, yeah. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What sort of drugs? 

CORY:  I was addicted to ice and marijuana.  I got into the wrong crowd and just fell deep into the drug habit and wasn't able to get out for quite a while and then one day I just decided what's the point in this?  If I kept going down and keep doing drugs I was going to either end up dead or in gaol and neither of those was going to lead to my goal. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   One of the things that struck me looking at the statistics about this area is the number of people self-harming which is really high. It's like double the Victorian average in the valley and I just wondered if anyone has any thoughts about that. Chris, do you have any thoughts about that, about why those figures are so high? 

CHRIS:  Yeah, I think there's a lack of hope in the area and I think it's been around for quite a while. I think spiralling since the privatisation of our industry and just like buildings have gone empty over time and jobs have gone away, I think, you know, people growing up in the area have just lost hope. You know, I think self-harm, drugs and a whole bunch of other things like that are people's ways of dealing with that. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   And you work in career support at the local high school. What about your own personal situation, you've just bought a house, is that right? 

CHRIS:  Yeah, yeah, we built out in Bellara which is nearby and yeah, I've sort of been wondering if we did the right thing by that and knowing how, you know, Hazelwood is going to impact the area closing. You know, I've got worries about how Morwell in particular is going to be to visit, to work in. Crime is not going to go down with Hazelwood closing, ice rate is not going to go down without a massive intervention on our state and federal level. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Connie, you say you're always watching your family. What do you mean? 

CONNIE:  There's a sense of, horrific sense of unknown. So, and you were talking about a sense of hopelessness and a lack of hope, I think that progresses to a really systematic loss of self-esteem and you need to watch carefully, everybody needs to watch carefully and not just me and my adult children and my grandchildren, but that sense of hopelessness can be completely debilitating and this instance of self harm, becoming addicted to drugs, it gives you a sense of belonging to a particular group. We're going to end up being an industry of service providers in aged care, welfare, because that's what we're going to have left as the power industry closes. So yes, we watch, we watch very carefully. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   There's a $300 million rescue package for the valley from the state and federal governments.  Will that help?  Do people, what do people think? 

CONNIE:  Do they have a plan for the money?  Is it just a statement or do we actually have a plan on how that money is going to be spent? 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Kylie, you're in charge of the Latrobe Valley Authority which has some of that money, is getting some of that money, is there a plan? 

KYLIE:  I think one of the things that struck me as I was asked to lead the authority when it was first established in November was that there were already many plans in the Latrobe Valley and they had been done over many years. And so the plans that were there, particularly around the community aspirations and those expressed by local government over the last ten or fifteen years had identified a range of areas that they'd like to explore and be able to put to good use. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   But why are people not feeling that? 

KYLIE:  I think…

JENNY BROCKIE:   Why are they not experiencing the benefits of those plans? 

KYLIE:  I can't speak for the past but what I can say is those plans that exist today form many of the conversations we've had with local government and community groups about the aspirations that they'd like to pursue going forward from now around community and social building blocks, and also around things such as the kinds of services, skills and assistance, workers transitioning out of the Hazelwood and associated supply chain need.

JENNY BROCKIE:   What about future jobs? 

KYLIE:  I think that's a key part that we've been asked to work on and the State Government has identified the Latrobe region as being an economic growth zone where it has incentives to come to the Latrobe Valley that don't exist anywhere else in Victoria, or really anywhere else in Australia, and we're trying to absolutely rapidly work with existing businesses about what they might need in order to be able to consolidate or expand their businesses across the range of industry sectors from agriculture through to energy, as well as encourage new businesses to say, to come to the Latrobe Valley and say to them these incentives exist only here.  Why not have the Latrobe Valley as first on your list rather than down the list? 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Jason, your response to hearing that? 

JASON:  As a worker's point of view, not to really put down the Latrobe Valley Authority but I contacted the Latrobe Valley Authority within two days of the announcement to see what sort of support they could offer.  All my details were taken and assured that a caseworker was going to ring me within twenty four hours. I'm still waiting for that phone call to happen. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   How long ago was that? 

JASON:  That was in October or November. 


KYLIE:  Jason, I don't know your particular circumstances but I can definitely call you tomorrow and thank you for letting me know and I apologise that you weren't addressed and we'll deal with it tomorrow. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What sort of jobs do you envisage for these people in the future in this area? 

KYLIE:  I think there's a need to collaborate with everybody in the room and for those that have an interest in the Latrobe Valley that might be outside the room about what those jobs are.  There are some natural competitive advantages that the region has, it's a fantastic natural landscape, it's got amazing potential around agriculture, food and fibre.  It has an energy infrastructure that surely can be put to good use and it has natural resources and a very well trained, well skilled workforce.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Where does all of this leave all of you in terms of how you think about politics and what you want from politicians?

GRANT:  The answer that she gave you a minute ago was a non-answer.

JENNY BROCKIE:   About jobs? 

GRANT:  About jobs.  All she gave you was the political spin with nothing tangible. 


KYLIE:  The opportunities around jobs, we know that it's not an easy question. For twenty years we've been grappling with that question so I'm not trying to, to say it's simple or put out hope that's not there. What I'm saying is though that we are working incredibly hard to be able to use what I said were those natural advantages of those resources, the infrastructure we have and the skilled workforce to be able to say that what are those jobs that we can attract to the region? What are the ones that we can grow and in those areas that we know we have really good strengths and…

JENNY BROCKIE:   But this is coming very late.  I mean these people are losing their jobs at the end of March, and I'm not saying that's all your fault I hasten to add at all, because you know, the complaint seems to be that governments talk about plans a lot, but when it comes to the crunch, you know, people are losing their jobs without something to go to, without something in place, that sees the transition being less painful. 

KYLIE:  Yes, and I can't speak about the, if you like, what governments have or haven't done in the past, but what I can say is that we are very determined to work as closely as we can with the community to maximise every opportunity, to be able to raise the priority of the Latrobe Valley, to be able to put out the Latrobe Valley as the place to come that, instead of other places because we can actually deliver.

JENNY BROCKIE:   Is there anyone in politics, either here or in other countries, that appeals to you at the moment?  Connie what about you? 

CONNIE:  I think that given the situation in the valley at the moment that they would be quite prepared to have a conversation with a radical, because we're looking for something different.  We're looking for some fresh blood, somebody who'll come into the valley and believe that we are the future, that we are our own future. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   What sort of radical? 

CONNIE:  I'm not saying Pauline Hanson maybe, no. I don't know…

JENNY BROCKIE:   Well are you saying, are you saying someone like Pauline Hanson? 

CONNIE:  I'm definitely not a politically orientated person as I've become older and more circumspect.

JENNY BROCKIE:   But when you say a radical voice would appeal to you, what do you mean?   What is it that you're wanting to hear? 

CONNIE:  Oh, look, everybody bags what happens in America because he's speaking his mind. 


CONNIE:   Yeah, I didn't want to say that out loud and I don't have a sense of right or wrong on that. But I think sometimes the politicians worry too much about how what we do affects people in other countries. Now I know we have to be aware of it, I understand all that, but sometimes we have to put ourselves first and that's what I'd be looking for. Someone who would walk into this community and say I care, let's see what we can do for you, what are your needs and how are we going to achieve them?

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, you've always voted for the coalition, is that right? 

CONNIE:  I have, traditionally a liberal. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Would you continue to do that or not? 

CONNIE:  I don't know.  I'll certainly be examining my political orientation more carefully after this. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Okay, anyone else like to comment on this? Yes.

MALE:  I think Australia is getting towards a Trump style government. I think it's interesting to see what happens in America because what we've got isn't good, doesn't matter which way you look at it, there's nothing that's great about any of them. So to look forward and see what he brings forward should be good for America. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   So is there anyone that appeals to you, any politician at the moment? 

MALE:  They've got all their own agenda personally, rather than the best for the people of Australia. 

JENNY BROCKIE:  Okay. Jason, what has it left you thinking about the state of politics? 

JASON:  Well, I just want someone that's going to take action rather than about worry about the opposition, they seem to be more worried about attacking each other rather than working together to solve problems. I want someone to stand up for businesses in Australia, for companies.  We seem to be just rolling over and we've lost all the car industry, we're losing all the coal industry, manufacturing is all going, the middle class worker is slowly disappearing. We're just starting this big trend and it's just flowing in one direction and I want to try and turn to it around. I want someone to take action.  

JENNY BROCKIE:   John, you're walking away from more than three decades at Hazelwood.  What do you want for your grandkids now? 

JOHN:   I'd like the opportunity for them to do the same as what I did do an apprenticeship if they wish to, with, like in the old days when it was all government owned, they were highly trained tradesmen. I'd like to see it go back to being government owned power industry, that way that the government has control of training our younger generation to get meaningful jobs and have jobs hopefully for life. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   John, your future? How are you feeling about it? 

JOHN:  It's completely unforeseen at the moment. We'll finish off, go a year to go and with this many job opportunities now taken off the table it's going to be touch and go. I want to stay here but without sufficient replacement or new ideas, well then it's simply not going to be feasible. 

JENNY BROCKIE:   Jason, what are your options now, would you consider moving?

JASON: No, very last resort for us, so for now just, fall back on my trade, look for work in the – as a builder and then probably go day by day.

LEE:  But then that’s slowing down as well, the building industry is slowing down because Hazelwood is closing.

JASON: My future now is just take it day by day, put food on the table for my family, do what I can to make ends meet and stay in the valley.

JENNY BROCKIE: That is all we have time for I'm afraid.  I do want to thank you all very much for welcoming us into your community, it's been great to be here and really good to hear from you all about what it's like here at the moment and that is all we have time for here but you can keep talking on-line and I'm sure there are other communities that are undergoing similar experiences at the moment who might like to join in that conversation.