Labor has struck a confidential deal to build an electric vehicle factory in Morwell, bringing an estimated 500 manufacturing jobs to the Latrobe Valley.
The value of the five-year agreement between the Andrews government and Australian company SEA Electric has been kept secret but the deal has already been signed, meaning it will go ahead no matter the result of next month’s election.
It follows the loss of about 750 jobs in the region when the Hazelwood coal-fired power plant closed early last year.
Latrobe Valley residents who may have lost work when Hazelwood closed will be given the opportunity to train with SEA Electric through the government’s worker transition service.
“The announcement today … is all about making sure the Latrobe Valley is the national capital for electric vehicles,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.
“There will be jobs in the construction of the factory, and of course when you are producing 2400 vehicles a year there are great opportunities for more of that supply chain to be brought into this proud region.”
After spending Monday in his home town of Wangaratta, Mr Andrews boarded his campaign bus for the second day, heading to Morwell to announce the deal on Tuesday.
The seat of Morwell currently belongs to neither Labor nor the Coalition, with former Nationals MP Russell Northe leaving the party to represent the electorate as an independent.
Labor has designated Morwell a target seat, which means it gets a fully resourced field campaign.
The party held Morwell from 1970 to 2006, until Mr Northe won it for the Nationals.
It could be a pivotal seat for the Coalition if it is to defeat the government at the November election.
The Nationals have preselected former Latrobe City councillor Sheridan Bond. Mark Richards, a former Hazelwood employee, is running for Labor.
Former senator Ricky Muir will also contest the seat for the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party. Mr Northe, who holds the seat by 1.8 per cent, has not yet declared whether he will fight another election.
The car manufacturing deal was being kept commercial-in-confidence to preserve Victoria’s competitive advantage, Mr Andrews said.
“I think Victorians understand that we can’t be telling all of our competitors and setting the price if you like,” he said. “We need to make sure that we get good value and we have.”
Ben Carroll, the Minister for Industry, said the auto sector would change more in the next five years than it has in the past 50, and the deal would set Morwell up to be part of that change.
A site for construction of the factory is yet to be confirmed, but SEA Electric group managing director Tony Fairweather said it could be up and running within a year.
“We’d hope in around 12 months,” he said.
The company already has a factory in Dandenong where it assembles electric delivery vans and minibuses.
About 2400 electric vehicles would be assembled at the plant annually, with potential to ramp up production in coming years.
Thirty per cent of the vehicles would be made locally, Mr Fairweather said, because some components of electric vehicles are not made in Australia.
But he said there was potential to boost the level of local content as production increases in coming years.