The Hunter Economic Zone must be returned to the hands of the state government and kick-started if Kurri Kurri’s economy is to survive the loss of Hydro Aluminium, Cessnock MP Clayton Barr said.
Mr Barr said the 344 workers who had lost their jobs must be employed in or around the town or it would send shock waves to the entire business community with significant loses to their regular clientele.
He said one Kurri business had been forced to cut staff by 10 per cent when 150 jobs were axed at the smelter in January and he feared more cuts would follow throughout the business precinct.
“If those people can’t get jobs here and have to move away from Kurri the whole community is going to be hit – their mortgage, grocery bill, tendency to go to the paper shop, the butcher and the hairdresser will be taken away from local businesses who rely on their support,” he said.
The NSW government and federal government departments will meet today in the Hunter to discuss the loss of the industry.
Mr Barr admitted the government and opposition had blood on their hands over their failure to secure Hydro’s place in the industry and they needed to form a plan to fix the problem.
He said TAFE needed to step in and help convert workers’ skills into signed-off qualifications for those who had been with the company for years and had not received any formal training.
He said government played a role in providing job opportunities and had to take control of Hunter Economic Zone to compensate for the town’s economic loss.
“If the zone had of been kicked off in Cessnock with even a dozen businesses it would have provided employment opportunities for these workers and get more jobs in the town,” he said.
“A lot of the workers’ skills are transparent and they would be able to find new jobs in the same line of work.
“We need to be promoting the Hunter Economic Zone and attract businesses to start up here.”
Mr Barr said the government could save the smelter if it issued the company discounted electricity rates.
He said Minister for Resources and Energy Chris Hartcher told him the government had put an electricity price to the company earlier this year.
It has not been revealed what that price was, but Mr Barr speculated it must not have been low enough to make Hydro’s plant sustainable.
q Kurri Kurri District Business Chamber Rod Doherty has also joined the call to get the Hunter Economic Zone under way. See his letter to the editor on page 10.