Chadstone Shopping Centre, LaTrobe University among 174 sites

More than 170 venues in Victoria have been visited by a person infected with Covid-19 as the Department of Health’s list of exposure sites grows.

Victorians are urged to regularly check the list on the Department of Health website to see if they have visited any of the locations at key times and to get tested immediately if they have.

New additions to the list include two Tier 1 locations at Bundoora – the shopping centre Unit Hill Town Centre, on May 25 between 2.47pm and 4.07pm, and Agora IGA Express, also on the same day between 11.20am and 12.15pm.

Other new Tier 1 venues include Coles Epping Plaza, on May 19 between 3pm and 3.48pm.

Meanwhile, new Tier 2 sites include Kmart Epping, Coles Epping Plaza, Laurimar Medical Centre in Doreen, Ambarsari Dhaba in Craigieburn and Shell Coles Express Braeside.

Three sites were added earlier on Sunday including Enchanted Adventure Garden tree surfing in Arthurs Seat on the Mornington Peninsula. A positive case visited the tourist attraction on Friday, May 21, between 11.25am and 3pm and this venue is a Tier 1 exposure site.

Also added earlier today were two more Tier 1 exposure sites: Short Straw cafe in Hawthorn and Metricon Homes Kalkallo-Cloverton Display Homes in Kalkallo.

Shops and restaurants at Melbourne’s biggest shopping centre, Chadstone, were added to the list on Saturday. A person infected with Covid-19 visited the shopping centre on Wednesday, May 26, between 11.30am and 2pm.

Anyone who was at Chadstone on Wednesday during that time must get tested urgently and isolate until they receive a negative result.

Yokozuna restaurant in the complex has been marked a Tier 1 exposure site, meaning anyone who dined there between 11.30am and 12pm on Wednesday must get tested immediately and begin quarantining for 14 days.

Tier 2 exposure sites at Chadstone on Thursday are Optus, Bakers Delight and Woolworths.

Other new exposure sites added by the Victorian Department of Health on Friday include the LaTrobe University Library on Tuesday, and locations in Braeside, Cragieburn, Epping, Fingal, Glen Iris, Mernda, Mickleham, South Yarra, St Kilda, and Thomastown.

One of the latest areas of concern is the Mornington Peninsula’s busiest tourist attraction.

The Peninsula Hot Springs at Fingal was added to the Tier 1 exposure list on Friday, eight days after an infectious person visited the reception area between 3pm and 3.45pm on May 21.

The Hot Springs closed for business on Thursday, May 27 and posted a notice on its website and social media advising customers it was “pressing pause on operations from 10pm, May 27 until 8am, June 4”.

On Saturday afternoon, further exposure site additions put the list at more than 150 venues.

Victorians have been urged to check the state government’s website for the full and frequently changing list.

On Saturday evening, a dedicated priority testing site was established at the Melbourne Showgrounds for Mount Ridley College students, staff and their families.

A Covid-19 update was sent to parents on Saturday evening, encouraging households to get tested by Sunday 8pm.

Pupils in Year 7 and 8, and teachers who educate those year levels, are being instructed to get tested and quarantine immediately even if they are not identified as a Tier 1 close contact.

The school remains closed and will be deep cleaned while the Department of Health completes a risk assessment.

There are dozens of exposure sites listed on the Victorian Department of Health’s website, with options to search from date added or suburb name.

Anyone who has visited a Tier 1 exposure site must immediately isolate, get a Covid test and quarantine for 14 days.

Anyone who has visited a Tier 2 exposure site during times listed should urgently get a test and isolate until they receive a negative result.

Anyone who has visited a Tier 3 exposure site during times listed should monitor for symptoms – if symptoms develop, immediately get tested and isolate until you receive a negative result.

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Tasmania’s Latrobe Council in costly blunder over Wesley Vale accommodation development

Ratepayers in Tasmania’s north-west will have to pay potentially “tens of thousands of dollars” in legal fees after the local council failed to properly reject a development application and lost an appeal before the state’s planning tribunal.

A decision handed down by the Resource Management and Planning Appeals Tribunal (RMPAT) said Latrobe Council intended to reject a 2019 seasonal worker accommodation development, but did not pass a motion doing so, meaning their decision was not legally valid.

Under the Tasmanian Land Use and Approvals Act, projects requiring council approval are automatically given the green light 42 days after the council receives them if they are not formally addressed earlier.

“The result of the vote on the motion to approve the application, in the negative, did not constitute a determination to refuse the application. As the Council failed to determine the application within the time required … it was deemed to have granted a permit on conditions to be determined by the Tribunal,” the decision said.

Latrobe Mayor Peter Freshney.(

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The tribunal ultimately came to the same conclusion as the council, deciding the permit to build the 106-person accommodation facility on Beer Street in Wesley Vale should not be granted, but that the council must pay the costs for all parties involved.

That includes the proponents, Devonport-based Starbox Architects, and Beer Street resident PJ Hodgkinson, who was part of the proceedings as a joined party.

Latrobe Mayor Peter Freshney said the council’s appeal against the awarding of costs failed.

“It’s difficult to stomach, to some degree, particularly when we’re having to pay ratepayers’ money out, but at the end of the day we do have to justify our decisions and, quite rightly, get the process right,” he said.

Mr Freshney said it could be months before the council knew exactly how much it owed.

“It’s a lesson learned, but obviously at quite some cost.”

Development opposed by residents

The 2019 development was recommended for approval with conditions by council officers, but councillors decided against it, something Mr Freshney said was “rare”.

According to the minutes from the meeting, it was knocked back because of a lack of access to enough quality water for the amount of people likely to be living there, and because the wastewater could adversely affect surrounding properties.

A birds eye view of a mocked up cabin development on a property surrounded by trees.
Objections to the project cited concerns about traffic impacts, water and stormwater infrastructure.(

Supplied: Starbox Architecture


Seven members of the public made representations against the plan, expressing concerns about traffic impacts, water and stormwater infrastructure and potential damage to livestock.

Beer Street resident David Miller was one of those to object, and has called the council’s handling of the matter “disgusting”.

“The council should know how to put things through meetings,” he said.

“I could never see how it got through planning, it should have stopped there, and yet it’s dragged on for two years.”

The site of the development application made headlines last year as one of two in the municipality under investigation for being inappropriate accommodation for berry pickers, with the other site, a five-bedroom house in Shearwater, found to have up to 70 workers living there in what unions called “slum-like conditions”.

Planning a ‘difficult field in which to work’

The challenges of having local governments act as planning authorities have been much discussed in the past few years, with councillors across the state citing the difficulty of taking public opinion into account when acting under specific laws.

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It has prompted the state government to introduce controversial Major Projects Legislation, which would allow the government to declare large and complex developments as requiring special attention and have them assessed by a specially convened panel rather than a local council.

Mr Freshney said the council had rejected a different proposal in the same way in 2018, but in between the two decisions, a new legal precedent had been set by a Supreme Court ruling against the Launceston City Council — a legal move the council didn’t know about when considering the Beer Street application.

“Planning is a difficult field in which to work, always has been and always will be,” he said.

“We are everyday people after all, we aren’t perfect and without fault, and occasionally there will unfortunately be the odd error around protocols.”

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Doctors sue Monash Health, Latrobe Regional Health Service

Two major Victorian health services are being sued by dozens of young doctors who are desperate to recover “unrostered and unpaid overtime payments”.

Gordon Legal and Hayden Stephens and Associates – acting for 100 junior doctors working in the Monash Health and Latrobe Regional Health Service – filed a class action in the Federal Court of Australia on Monday.

It alleged “systemic and widespread underpayment of wages”.

Dandenong and Casey hospitals and the Monash Children’s Hospital – as well as Monash Medical Centre – are run by Monash Health.

Latrobe Regional Health Service runs Latrobe Regional Hospital in Traralgon in the state’s east.

It’s the second class action against a Victorian health service this year, with a claim against Peninsula Health Services filed last month.

Monday’s action formed part of almost 1000 junior doctors across the state who registered their interest in joining even more against other Victorian health services.

Australian Medical Association Victoria president Julian Rait said the latest round of class actions aimed to reduce the number of hours doctors were working.

“In March, following the launch of the first action against Peninsula Health, the government said it supports the right of all workers to receive the payments and benefits they are entitled to. Well, we just want to see this put into action,” he said.

Junior doctor Karla Villafana-Soto said the strength of the support for the legal action indicated “the demand for the systemic problems to be resolved”.

“In a little over a month we have had almost 10 per cent of junior doctors working in the state’s public health system register for the class actions. This number is sure to grow as more Victorian health services face legal claims,” she said.

The doctors were leading the class actions, together with their representative body, the Victorian Branch of the Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation (ASMOF).

The AMA Victoria was also supporting the action.

The AMA’s most recent survey of doctors in training found young medics were working an average of 16 hours – and in some cases up to 25 hours – a week overtime mostly without pay.

The same survey found about 60 per cent of Victoria’s young doctors admitted making clinical errors while fatigued.

According to AMA figures, in their first year out of university a hospital intern is paid about $40 an hour for a 38-hour week, meaning some may have worked more than $100,000 worth of unpaid overtime.

Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Federation president Dr Roderick McRae said most junior doctors across Victoria chose not to record their unscheduled overtime.

“This is because they are fearful it will negatively affect their career prospects, while others who have tried to claim unpaid hours have had their claims refused and advancement impeded,” he said.

“The system is broken and the people who run it are often threatening and demeaning.”

Hayden Stephens and Associates director Hayden Stephens – whose firm has also launched a class action in NSW – said junior doctors around the country “are saying to their employers enough is enough”.

“Monash and Latrobe are no different and, in some respects, far worse,” he said.

“This action highlights a sense of urgency among junior doctors, and I hope Victorian authorities can meet their concerns quickly.”

More than 10,500 Victorian junior doctors have been invited to join class ­actions against other health services over what unions ­allege has been widespread underpayment of wages in the past six years.

Monash Health said it could not comment on a claim before the court.

“Monash Health treats its obligations under the law to ensure that employees are properly paid with the utmost seriousness and has clear and effective policies and procedures to ensure that authorised overtime is fully remunerated,” a spokesperson said.

“Caring for our employees’ health and wellbeing is crucial to ensure Monash Health can deliver safe, high-quality care for our patients and the community.”

Latrobe Regional Health Service has also been contacted for comment.

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Victorian Parliament narrowly votes in favour of inquiry into effect of coal-fired plant closures in the Latrobe Valley

The Victorian Government has failed to block a parliamentary inquiry into how the closure of coal-fired power stations in the Latrobe Valley will affect the local community.

The Coalition’s motion to set up the inquiry cleared the upper house by a single vote after the Greens, Reason Party and Liberal Democrats voted to support it.

Last week, the owner of the Yallourn power station, Energy Australia, announced it would close the plant four years earlier than expected, in 2028.

Nationals Eastern Victoria MP Melina Bath, who introduced the motion, told Parliament the inquiry would let the community have a say about the region’s future.

“It’s certainly an opportunity for the Latrobe Valley residents, for community for business for industry to be at the very front of the negotiations to our future and for our future,” Ms Bath said.

The inquiry by the Parliament’s Economy and Infrastructure Committee will look at the economic and employment effects of the nearby Hazelwood power station’s closure in 2017 as well as the expected fall-out from the shut down of Yallourn.

It will also probe the effectiveness of the Latrobe Valley Authority, the body set up to oversee the government’s $266 million response to the Hazelwood closure.

She said the Hazelwood closure had resulted in $340 million hit to the regional economy and the local community wanted the government to create long-term employment.

The Government has defended its record in the Latrobe Valley, saying it had created 3000 jobs in the region since the Hazelwood closure was announced.

“What we do see here is really cheap political point-scoring — using the opportunity of being able to get to her feet in fact to claim that the government either has not done anything or has not done enough to support and assist communities across the Latrobe Valley,” Labor MP Harriet Shing said to Parliament.

“Really importantly at the outset, we are looking at a seven-year notice period before the oldest coal-fired power station in Australia ceases production.

“What seven years enables us to do is not only build upon the work that was developed in transitioning and assisting workers affected by the closure of Hazelwood … but also look at the changing dynamic of the power industry, of new energy technology and of related industries.”

The upper house’s Economy and Infrastructure Committee will conduct the inquiry and report by December 13.

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First hydrogen produced from Latrobe Valley coal generates export hopes, emissions fears

A Japanese consortium hopes the production of hydrogen using coal from the Latrobe Valley in a world-first trial will prove it is possible to export the emerging fuel source.

The consortium has produced the first hydrogen at a plant at the Loy Yang mine, south-east of Traralgon, and plans to transport it to Japan from the Port of Hastings in a specially designed ship later this year.

The $500 million Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain (HESC) project involves creating hydrogen gas at the plant and refining it for transport.

Hydrogen is touted as a clean energy source with a range of uses including in fuel cells and powering vehicles.

The project is in its pilot phase, and because producing hydrogen using coal creates greenhouse gases, it will not commercialise it unless it is able to capture and store the emissions.

Announced in April 2018, then-prime minister Malcolm Turnbull attended the launch of the project, which received $50 million each from the Victorian and federal governments.

Professor Alan Finkel, the Commonwealth’s special adviser on low-emissions technology, said hydrogen was part of a “world-changing transition”.

“The world’s going to need a lot of hydrogen, and so the more ways we can get that hydrogen the better.”

A member of the consortium behind a project to export hydrogen made from brown coal says hydrogen exports have the potential to create large numbers.

Jeremy Stone from Japanese electricity provider J-Power said the pilot project had created about 400 jobs in Victoria and could create “thousands more” if it was commercialised.

“Hydrogen is a very, very versatile fuel so it can be used to make energy, electricity, but also can be used as storage, can be used as transportation, it can be used in industry,” Mr Stone said.

The consortium’s plan is to use the Victorian government’s carbon capture and storage project, Carbon Net, to store the emissions.

Carbon Net is investigating the feasibility of storing greenhouse gas emissions in Bass Strait and last year drilled its first test well.

Mr Stone said there were 20 carbon capture and storage sites in operation across the world and more were in development.

“Carbon Net, which is very close by here and Gippsland, would be the perfect place to safely store that CO2 underground,” he said.

But there are doubts about whether carbon capture and storage is viable and whether hydrogen produced from coal has a long-term future.

Environment Victoria campaigns director Nick Aberle said the world wanted hydrogen which produced no emissions, and the best way to do that was to make it using renewables.

“Our understanding is that even your best-case scenario, this project at a commercial scale wouldn’t be able to capture all of the greenhouse gases.”

Dr Aberle said carbon capture and storage was a “mirage” which had “been 10 years away for decades”.

The HESC project’s launch came just days after Energy Australia announced it would close the Yallourn coal-fired power station in the Latrobe Valley in 2028, four years early.

Yallourn’s closure will result in the loss of 500 jobs and it will become the second Latrobe Valley plant to close after Hazelwood shut down in 2017.

Committee for Gippsland chief executive Jane Oakley said the hydrogen industry’s potential offered hope to the region amid the job losses.

“It’s encouraging and it will make us very buoyant in terms of the potential that it has to offer,” Ms Oakley said.

“The export opportunities are pretty significant, and jobs [it creates] in turn will be really encouraging for the region to see this sort of industry evolve.”

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Latrobe Valley calls for power giants to leave respectful legacy

EnergyAustralia has pledged to build the world’s biggest battery by 2026 and will spend $10 million to retrain workers as it seeks to rein in carbon emissions.

But the company’s decision to “retire” the plant has again reignited questions about whether there will be enough jobs to sustain future generations of workers and their families in the Latrobe Valley.

The announcement that Yallourn will shut in 2028 flags the beginning of the end for coal-fired power.Credit:Joe Armao

About 500 EnergyAustralia workers will be affected by the announcement, in addition to many more contractors like Mr Bramstedt.

He believes governments should have prepared for the demise of brown coal long ago.

“They should have invested in greener stations instead of running old stations into the ground.”

Mr Bramstedt fears for the future of his community and his family.

“I’ve got a 30-year-old son who can’t get a job here already.”

Many local businesses noticed a marked decrease in consumer spending shortly after the snap closure of the Hazelwood power station and mine in 2017.

Electrical Trades Union organiser for the Latrobe Valley, Peter Mooney, says the looming closure of the Yallourn power station, in addition to the demise of other major employers such as the Carter Holt Harvey sawmill, means millions of dollars in wages may stop flowing through local economies.

“I think about how much money we’re going to lose in the community with [Yallourn] shutting down in seven years,” he says.

Mr Mooney points out many promises have been made over the years that major industries would set up in the Latrobe Valley but they often failed to materialise, dashing the community’s hopes of reliable new jobs.

The demolition of the Hazelwood power station in May.

The demolition of the Hazelwood power station in May. Credit:Joe Armao

“Since I was a kid they were saying they’re going to build a magnesium plant.”

But some glimmers of hope remain, including news that a zero emissions hydrogen energy plant has begun operating at AGL’s Loy Yang A power plant in the Latrobe Valley, creating 400 jobs in its pilot phase.

Plans to build a waste-to-energy plant in nearby Maryvale have also raised the prospect of retaining widescale jobs in the region.

But Mr Mooney says these developments are too late for many workers made redundant when the Hazelwood station and mine closed.

Some of them have already moved away to take up jobs elsewhere, he said.

“If there’s no work here they go looking. They go interstate. Their skills are pretty transportable.”

The Victorian government insists it will work with EnergyAustralia, unions and the local community to ensure workers are supported over the seven years until shutdown.

“We’ll design worker and supply chain transition programs, a worker transfer scheme and ongoing support services,” he says.

But Australian Manufacturing Workers Union national secretary Steve Murphy wants the Commonwealth to step in.

“These workers deserve better,” he says. “The Morrison government needs to invest in their futures over the next seven years, in retraining so they have access to secure, safe and fairly paid work.”

Earlier this week EnergyAustralia managing director Catherine Tanna said closing Yallourn would reduce the company’s carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent while insisting it would not abandon the local community.

“EnergyAustralia is determined to demonstrate that coal-fired power can exit the market in a way that supports our people and ensures customers continue to receive reliable energy.”

The Yallourn power station provides 22 per cent of Victoria’s energy, processing 18 million tonnes of brown coal each year from Australia’s second-largest coal mine.

Yallourn North Football Netball club secretary Debra DeCarli says EnergyAustralia provided major sponsorship for a period of at least 10 years.

Yallourn North Bombers players Elliott De Carli , Campbell MacInnes and Barrie Burnett in their club rooms. EnergyAustralia has been a major sponsor for the Yallourn North Football Netball Club.

Yallourn North Bombers players Elliott De Carli , Campbell MacInnes and Barrie Burnett in their club rooms. EnergyAustralia has been a major sponsor for the Yallourn North Football Netball Club. Credit:Meredith O’Shea

The company also provided a $10,000 grant for female facilities at the club.

The money was crucial particularly when the club was struggling for on-field success.

“They were the single-biggest sponsor for those times when the club was down and out for a little while,” she says.

Ms DeCarli says it will be a significant loss to the community if EnergyAustralia stops supporting local sports clubs and community groups.

She insists the company also has an obligation to build community infrastructure projects such as walking tracks to connect small towns after drawing on the local area’s resources for decades.

Ms DeCarli hopes the company will honour the timeframe it laid out in contrast to the snap decision by energy giant Engie to give just six months’ notice in 2016 when it announced the closure of the Hazelwood power station.

“I saw the impact with Hazelwood. It was devastation when it closed. It was just cruel.”

Voices of the Valley president Ron Ipsen hopes, perhaps optimistically, the Latrobe Valley has a future in clean energy despite its identity being tied to coal for so long.

He says the Latrobe Valley is the right place to build a huge battery in addition to other green energy projects that can tap into the region’s connections to Victoria’s power grid and electricity expertise.

“All power lines in the state lead to the valley,” he says.

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Greenhouse gas restrictions denied, but new pollution limits imposed on Latrobe Valley power stations

Victoria’s three coal-fired power stations face tougher pollution controls but have escaped having limits placed on the amount of greenhouse gases they can emit after a review of their operating licences.

The Environment Protection Authority’s (EPA) review, which took three years to produce, has for the first time imposed limits on how much mercury and fine and coarse particulate matter the plants can release.

But it did not require the power stations to install fabric filters on their chimneys to reduce emissions — a key demand of health advocates and something the plant owners argued was impractical.

EPA executive director of regulatory standards Tim Eaton said the new requirements increased transparency by requiring the plants’ operators to publish more data about what they release into the atmosphere.

“So daily recording from each of the power stations on a website with a monthly wrap up in terms of the compliance and emissions out of the stacks,” Mr Eaton said.

The three plants are among Australia’s highest greenhouse gas producers and emit a range of chemicals including sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, and particulate matter.

Long-term exposure to particulate matter is linked to reduced life expectancy, reduced lung function, and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

Environment Victoria said the failure to introduce greenhouse gas limits for the power stations made “a mockery of the Andrews governments’ efforts over the last five years to modernise the EPA”.

“For the EPA to be missing in action on climate change to the biggest environmental challenge in the 21st century .… is really disappointing,” Environment Victoria campaigns director Nick Aberle said.

The pollution limits imposed on the plants were also above what they currently produce and would make little difference, he said.

“It still means they’re going to be polluting at the same levels as they always were. We’re just going to know more about it because we’ve got better monitoring,” Dr Aberle said.

Energy Australia, which owns Victoria’s oldest power station Yallourn, welcomed the outcome of the licence review.

“In 2021 we plan to make significant investments to increase our continuous emissions monitoring capability to collect more emission data in real-time,” a company spokesperson said.

“We will also introduce new systems to report our data and publish this on our public website.

“Investments in maintenance and capital improvements over the last two decades have helped improve Yallourn’s efficiency and lower emissions.

“These improvements are equivalent to leaving one million tonnes of coal in the ground each year.”

Loy Yang A owner AGL said it had worked closely with the regulator on the review and it was taking steps to implement the revised licensing conditions.

Latrobe Valley health advocate Wendy Farmer, whose group Voices of the Valley was set up in the aftermath of the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire, said the EPA’s review contained good and bad elements.

“There’s a lot more consideration for health in this review including monitoring of PM 2.5 and [PM] 10 [particulate matter],” Ms Farmer said.

She said while increased monitoring of power station emissions was welcome, the pollution restrictions were not strict enough.

But she welcomed the fact the power station operators are now required to have rehabilitation plans for the ash dams in their mines which can contaminate groundwater if they leach.

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Latrobe Valley community asks if electric vehicle factory will ever be built

Community members in Latrobe Valley want clarity about whether an electric vehicle factory will go ahead, more than two years after it was announced ahead of the 2018 Victorian state election.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced a deal with the company SEA Electric, to create 500 jobs building electric vans, during a visit to the region on the eve of the election campaign.

The project was the centrepiece of the government’s response to the closure of the Hazelwood power station and its attempt to recover the marginal seat of Morwell.

But more than two years later, a site has not been secured and the company said it needed to modify the agreement for the project to go ahead.

The government said its support “is contingent on the company meeting milestones set out in the agreement,” and has not paid any money to the company since May 2019.

It would not reveal how much has been paid, saying the matter is commercial in confidence.

Independent Morwell MP Russell Northe said he believed the factory would never come to fruition and the government needed to be clear about its future.

“If it’s not going ahead, at least come forward — tell the community the reasons why it’s not going ahead and look at other options for the Latrobe Valley community,” Mr Northe said.

Since the deal was announced, SEA Electric has shifted its focus to international markets and the company’s chief executive Tony Fairweather is now based in the United States.

He said the company would like to proceed with the Latrobe Valley factory, provided the focus could shift away from producing vans towards electric buses and battery packaging.

Last year, Parliament’s Public Accounts and Estimates Committee heard the factory had been delayed after a dispute with Westpac bank regarding a $7 million trade finance facility that needed to be repaid and closed.

Mr Fairweather said there was ample finance for electric vehicles available in the US and the issues with Westpac “pretty much sums up the challenges associated with [electric vehicles in] Australia at the moment”.

But he said despite the greater opportunities abroad, he still wanted to develop the business in Australia and “deliver on” the commitment to build a factory in the Latrobe Valley.

“So if the state has the ability to vary our terms in the agreement to look at the different structuring of what we’re doing down there … then we’re open to that,” Mr Fairweather said.

He said if that was not possible, the company could explore other opportunities in Australia.

Victorian Regional Development Minister Mary-Anne Thomas declined a request for an interview, but a spokesperson issued a statement which said the Government had supported SEA Electric “and its promise to deliver jobs for Victoria and the Latrobe Valley in particular”.

“While we are disappointed that the company has not yet been able to meet its commitment, our support for their project is contingent on the company meeting milestones set out in the agreement. As such, no Victorian Government financial support has been provided since May 2019,” the spokesperson said.

“Future milestone payments to SEA Electric are conditional on the company hiring additional workers from the Latrobe Valley; finalising a site, and entering into a contract for the construction of the new facility.

The spokesperson declined to say whether the government would renegotiate its agreement with SEA Electric as “the terms of the arrangements between SEA Electric and the Victorian Government are commercial in confidence”.

Ms Thomas last month revealed the Government was providing funding for four SEA Electric employees who live in the Latrobe Valley to travel to the company’s Dandenong factory as part of the agreement, in response to questions from the Opposition.

Behind closed doors in September 2019, the Latrobe City Council considered a request from SEA Electric to become the lead tenant at the council’s planned Gippsland Logistics Precinct in Morwell.

Latrobe City mayor Sharon Gibson said the council hoped the project would “kick start” the logistics precinct, leading to more jobs and hoped the Government and the company would “work through” any issues.

“Council has worked really hard with the company. The company have not come back to us with any issues [about the site agreement],” Cr Gibson said.

Wendy Farmer, from community group Voices of the Valley, said the community wanted certainty on whether the project would go ahead.

“If it’s a dead deal, let us know it’s a dead deal. If we can work with the company and work with government to make it happen, let’s make it happen,” Ms Farmer said.

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Victoria wave through ‘very dangerous’ Chinese-owned lead smelter in Latrobe Valley

Victoria wave through ‘very dangerous’ Chinese-owned lead smelter in Latrobe Valley

The Andrews government in Victoria has approved a Chinese state-owned lead smelter in the Latrobe Valley only a kilometre away from a primary school without an environmental effects statement.

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Water shortages, pollution mean Latrobe Valley mine lakes plan not viable, environment groups say

Environmental groups say newly released documents which raise concerns about water availability and groundwater pollution cast fresh doubt over a plan to turn Victoria’s three brown coal mines into lakes when they close.

A Victorian Government ecological effects statement has revealed using water from the Latrobe River system to fill the mines would exacerbate a decline in environmental values and loss of biodiversity in a future drying climate.

The Latrobe River runs through the Latrobe Valley and central Gippsland and is used for drinking water, irrigating farmland and flows into the Ramsar-listed Gippsland Lakes wetlands.

Ramsar wetlands are rare or unique and of international importance.

The ecological effects statement found decreasing water availability from filling the mines would have a range of impacts on the river, its estuary and the Gippsland Lakes.

These include the loss of vegetation and a decrease in the numbers and breeding of native fish, waterbirds, frogs and turtles.

The Hazelwood open cut coal mine in the Latrobe Valley which closed at the end of March 2017.(ABC Gippsland: Jarrod Whittaker)

The study builds on the Government’s mine rehabilitation strategy released earlier this year, which found if drying continued the river’s inflows would be half their historic average when the last mine, at the Loy Yang power station, was due to close in 2048.

Look at other options

Environment Victoria campaigns manager Nick Aberle said the Government’s reports showed there was not enough of the Latrobe River system to fill “three mines or potentially even any mines” with river water.

A man stands in front of a waterway.
Environment Victoria’s Nick Aberle says alternatives to filling the mines with water need to be investigated.(Supplied: Nick Aberle)

“If you were to take that water out of the Latrobe river system, it is going to have a major environmental impact on the river system all the way down to the to the Gippsland Lakes,” Dr Aberle said.

Filling the mines with river water would take decades, with the Hazelwood mine, which closed in 2017, requiring 638 gigalitres.

The Yallourn mine, due to close in 2032, would need 725 and Loy Yang, which is scheduled to shut down in 2048, has a capacity of 1,420GL.

Average in-flows into the Latrobe have fallen from 800GL a year to 600GL a year since 1997 .

Government modelling in the rehabilitation strategy found under a dry climate scenario, the river’s average in-flows could drop to 334 gigalitres a year by 2080.

He said it was time for the mines’ owners to begin considering rehabilitation options which did not involve water or to investigate alternate sources of water.

“What those alternative water sources probably include are things like the desalination plant, recycled water from treatment plants and using that water to put that in the mine if a non-water solution isn’t going to work,” Dr Aberle said.

Owners told to clean up

Documents released to environmental groups under Freedom of Information and obtained by the ABC show in October, the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) issued the Hazelwood’s owner, Engie, with clean-up notices.

The notices were issued after groundwater contamination was found inside the mine at the Hazelwood Ash Retention Area (HARA) and at its eastern overburden dump.

Groundwater bores at both sites at the mine found leaching from Hazelwood’s ash waste, with the notices saying the water tested exceeded the guidelines for “Water Dependent Ecosystems, Water Based Recreation, Potable Water Supply, Agriculture and Irrigation (stock watering) and Agriculture and Irrigation (irrigation)”.

The EPA found increased levels of cobalt, iron, manganese, nickel, sodium and magnesium detected may have occurred because of leaching from the HARA.

The notices reveal the EPA became aware in 2005 that the HARA was not adequately constructed and had the potential “to result in contamination of underlying groundwater”.

In a statement, the EPA said it was addressing pollution issues with the Hazelwood mine and ash landfills and the “EPA has issued regulatory notices which will guide clean up and ongoing management of the site”.

Mine audit underway

The EPA clean-up notice says the risk to a future lake at Hazelwood is beyond the scope of its audit, but it requires Engie to assess the extent of any contamination within and beyond the mine site and to analyse any potential risks to future uses of the area.

An Engie spokesperson said the audit was underway and would be completed next year.

“It is common for a site-wide clean-up notice to be issued by EPA Victoria upon the closure of a large industrial site such as Hazelwood,” the spokesperson said.

He said the company remained committed to filling the mine and making sure there was no risk to the environment or the community.

Environmental groups concerned

But environmental groups say the contents of the EPA’s clean-up notice are “disturbing” and raise questions about the Hazelwood lake plan.

A group of environmentalists stand next to a river holding glasses of water
The Friends of Latrobe Water coalition of environmental groups is opposed to filling the mines with river water.(Supplied: Friends of Latrobe Water)

“[The HARA] sits actually in the middle of the area that they want to flood. So it’s 35 hectares,” said Tracey Anton, a member of Gippsland group Friends of Latrobe Water.

Dr Aberle said while he believed a mine lake was not viable, Engie needed to clean up the area to avoid creating a “toxic lake”.

“The water quality in any lake would be quite problematic just because of that coal ash,” he said.

“So really, the first step before Hazelwood starts putting any water anywhere would need to be to clean up that coal ash dump at the bottom of the pit.”

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