Labor’s Sea Electric Fiasco

The failure of the current labor government to establish the promised electric vehicle manufacturing plant in Morwell is alarming. Opposition National MP for Gippsland South Danny O’Brien has been sticking the boots in on twitter, when he rightly pointed out that there are just four Gipplanders working at Dandenong Sea Electric and that a site has yet to be found for the Morwell factory. The criticism is valid despite coming from a party that does not appear to have any policies on renewables or climate change or coming from a politician yet to be heard promoting the Star of the South project in his own electorate.

An article in Latrobe Valley Express on 28 October by Kate Withers entitled “Electric vehicle plant promised for Morwell comes to a screeching halt” gives the full disturbing details. She noted that: “In the lead-up to the 2018 election Premier Daniel Andrews unveiled plans to partner with company SEA Electric to create the plant, which was to be built by 2021 and create 500 jobs. At the time, Morwell was heralded as the new “national capital of electric vehicle manufacturing”, where up to 2400 delivery vans and mini buses would roll off the production line each year.”

This great proposal to provide jobs in a new industry and in a location where increased employment has to be part of a just transition is now turning into a public relations disaster. In what should be a safe Labor seat the electorate of Morwell has been held by conservative politicians for 15 years. The privatisation stuff-ups of the 1990s continue. Due to a lack of leadership and commitment from the government Sea Electric has transferred its headquarters to America – a sad, but oft repeated, story.

It is clear that very few in either of the major parties understand the climate emergency, the inertia in global warming, and the political need for a rapid and just transition. Without this transition the unemployed, the dispossessed, proprietors of struggling small businesses and those disappointed by false promises merely join the political reaction as can be seen in some of the coal mining electorates in NSW and Queensland.

The Labor state government is making progress in renewable energy and energy storage but falls down in number of other climate related areas. One example is the continuation of logging – a subsidised, climate damaging, dying industry – and another is in the area of electrified transport. Why tax electric vehicles when the electrification of transport is part of the difficult road to zero emissions, when virtually every advanced economy is doing their best to encourage rapid electric vehicle adoption? One hopes that Labor can somehow resurrect the Morwell Sea Electric plan. They have less than 2 years to do so.