How should Baw Baw respond to Hazelwood’s closure? Here’s what reelected mayor Joe Gauci thinks.
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William PJ Kulich – Baw Baw Citizen reporter
While the world’s attention was on the US presidential election, Baw Baw’s councillors held a vote of their own. Every year, councillors meet to choose a mayor – someone to lead them through the following year. This year, the new council went with an old face, Joe Gauci, who led the previous council to the election. I spoke to Joe after Wednesday’s meeting about several issues, including the closure of the Hazelwood power station. That’s coming up right after this.
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Recorded: 09 November 2016
Congratulations Joe on your election for a second time as mayor. I know you probably weren’t the only councillor who had an interest in becoming mayor this time around; how did you find the lead-up to this decision?
Joe Gauci, Baw Baw Shire mayor
Look, I think most councillors have really done their homework. They’ve been through, they’ve asked the questions on how it all sat. I gave my clear point of view on what I thought we need to do and how strong we need to be with all the things going on with transition at the moment, with Hazelwood power station [in] the Latrobe Valley and I just sort of put my case forward and they’ve agreed with my thought process on what we need to do and I’m really humbled that they’ve appointed me as mayor.
You mentioned Hazelwood, and I guess that’s the only thing I really wanted to ask you [about]. What is your approach? What is it that convinced the councillors to go with you for that?
Well, it’s a fact that- the Hazelwood process has been going for more than just the last two weeks. The Hazelwood process has been in question for the last two years in where it needs to be. The last 12 months has really been ramped up with advocating to the government on what are they going to do in the transition period when we close off the coal mines and the power stations? So, I’ve had a lot of pre-talks with our CEO, with ministers, and with the bodies that are making these kinds of decisions and I really felt that I had a good grounding to start in this next week and just go at it running and really make our point known here in Baw Baw.
So what will Baw Baw be advocating for? Because we’re already included in the special economic rules…
That’s exactly right, we’re listed as one of the three – Wellington, Latrobe City, and us. We’ve got to make sure we’re not the poor cousin who’s sitting out on the boundaries of what’s going on, and to make sure that we get for our communities what is deserving. We’ve got a lot of people that travel into the [Latrobe] Valley every single day. Whether it’s indirect or direct employment through the power stations, they’re all going to be affected.
Do you know those figures on the number of people commuting and the number of people indirectly affected?
The number of people commuting is in the thousands, but the number directly associated with the power station- we can only go on Census information from a few years back, but we’re talking probably 300, 350 directly that are contributed to that. So if these people lose their jobs, they’re living here in Warragul, they’re going to have to find some form of employment and we need to be put in a position where we can offer them something, hopefully locally. But we’re only going to be able to do that through funds that we receive from outside sources.
Where are you going to find those jobs locally? One project that comes to mind which you have already been presenting is the [West Gippsland] Arts Centre upgrade. I guess, what are the options you’re looking at?
Well, we’ve been advocating for a new hospital for years here in Baw Baw Shire. I mean, this is a perfect opportunity that would produce a thousand jobs at the drop of a hat, not to mention the construction facility at the very start of it. So, we need to find areas outside of the square, not just what’s existing here now. It’s very difficult just to expand on businesses- we need to get an entity from the government to come and maybe restructure and relocate here into Baw Baw Shire. We’re only an hour out of Melourne, we’re no different to what Geelong is, so it’s a perfect opportunity for them to put a centre here somewhere in Baw Baw.
Obviously a hospital job is not the same as as mine or power station operator position. How do we deal with that?
Yeah, and that’s going to be the retraining situation. So, a part of funding for us, as far as we’re concerned, would have to incorporate retraining people. You know, a lot of these people are going to be in their 40s, 50s, 55 and on- they’re going to have to be retrained because they’ve probably been doing the same job for 30 years. So it’s a really difficult situation, and it’s what I said in my [mayoral election acceptance] speech, that it’s not going to be one solution that will suit it all, we’re going to have to have multiple ways that we can help these people in the future.
Cr Gauci, thank you very much.
Thank you, thank you.
Will Kulich (to camera)
The largely ceremonial role of deputy mayor was also chosen on Wednesday. That was taken out by central ward’s Mikaela Power. Both the mayor and deputy mayor positions were chosen unanimously, at last in the public vote.
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