Adapting to a changing economy

By Julia Agostino*, Manager Regional Partnerships Latrobe City Council.
Tuesday, 13 December, 2011

From behind the eight ball to ahead of the game: how Latrobe City Council is leading the way in transitioning to a low carbon economy

The key to success when preparing for change is to be proactive; get ahead of the issues - don’t wait for them to arrive. At Latrobe City we did just that. In 2010 Council adopted its policy ‘Positioning the Latrobe City for a Low Carbon Emission Future’ which contains thirty actions designed to help transition not just Latrobe City Council, but the whole region to a carbon-constrained economy.

Latrobe City Council’s policy broke new ground as the first of its kind in Australia, a fact that has not gone unnoticed at the state and federal government levels. It has given us the credibility and confidence to engage with the other levels of government to ensure that the Latrobe Valley community is, and will continue to be, an active and important part of the low carbon transition debate. By showing other levels of government that we have been proactive, we have given them something to work with and have been able to direct the discussion about our community.

But it has been a long road to this point. Latrobe City Council realised that it was inevitable that some form of emissions trading scheme or carbon tax would be adopted by the federal government. As a region that was badly affected by the privatisation of electricity in the 1990s, and one that will be particularly affected by a carbon tax, we wanted to ensure our community was in the best possible position to cope with the changes coming our way. Rather than waiting to see what would happen at a federal level, Latrobe City Council decided to develop a policy that could be implemented immediately.

Latrobe City Council took the step of engaging a consultant, MWH, to help develop the best-possible policy document. We found that working with MWH gave us a broader perspective on the issues and allowed us the freedom to direct drafting of the policy, while continuing with core business. Key to the success of this partnership was the positioning of an MWH consultant in our office one day each week. This gave us confidence that our consultant was getting to know us and our community and that the policy document would reflect that. As it turns out, the document does just that and continues to serve us well.

The result of this partnership has been an excellent, useable policy that has the potential to remain relevant despite changes to federal government policy and legislation. Our actions centre around three underpinning themes: identifying and realising opportunities, working together and contingency planning. We believe these themes are broad enough to be adopted by other organisations that may be seeking to prepare for a ‘clean energy future’ scheme.

Of course, like any policy document, it is a dynamic, living document that will need to be reviewed in the future. At this stage, we anticipate that a review will take place in 2012-2013. The timing of the review will let us take into account the carbon tax legislation that is expected to pass.

Finally, here at Latrobe City we continue to invest time and resources in strategic and ongoing engagement with stakeholders, including government, industry and the community, about transition issues. We are actively pursuing opportunities, such as government funding, and keeping our community informed.

Julia Agostino, Manager Regional Partnerships, Latrobe City Council.

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