This submission was presented on behalf of Advance Morwell to the Inquiry into Regional Centres of the Future by the Rural and Regional Committee of the Victorian Parliament.
To achieve its potential Victoria must become a vibrant, integrated community with its various sectors contributing positively, the rural areas able to grow strong and make a varied and positive contribution to the life of the whole State. Melbourne is growing too quickly, suffering significant congestion problems, all the while drawing many of the brightest and best out of country areas. Rural areas must be enabled to play an increasingly important role in our State’s development.
Targeting existing significant regional centres for future development is necessary if we are to provide critical bases for growth in industry, health, tourism, and lifestyle generally. These centres should be chosen for being geographically appropriate for their surrounding community and the following five existing large centres Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong, Latrobe City and Albury-Wodonga are appropriate. If adequate support is to be provided for growth, the number of chosen centres must be limited. Other significant but smaller cities such as Mildura, Shepparton, Horsham, Portland and Warrnambool can be encouraged to build on their present achievements and potential, but receive second tier support.
High standard facilities such as health services, transport, education, housing, sporting arenas, and arts centres must be present at each of these centres. The centres must have the infrastructure to cope with significant increase in population, and adequate water supply is currently an issue that must be addressed at the five proposed major growth centres. The aim would be to make the regional centres strong, able to attract investment and migration in their own right, thus taking the stress off Melbourne by delivering a lifestyle at least as attractive as that offered by the capital.
All of these centres are currently growing but they need assistance to increase this growth. A special effort must be made to increase the popularity of these centres by ensuring they meet the needs of a modern society. They can become centres of support for their surrounding regional areas, providing sophisticated and general employment opportunities, and giving support in areas such as health and education to outlying areas.
The possibilities and needs of Latrobe City are examined below, but much of what is noted also applies to other regional centres.
If a regional city is to be viable its economic base must be strong and diverse to cater for the varied needs of a growing population. Latrobe City has its electricity generation base but it also has many other thriving enterprises. This is a good start but it needs to increase the number and variety if it is to become attractive to potential new enterprises and provide adequate employment opportunities for an increasingly varied population base. A substantial increase in professional, technical and semi-skilled jobs is needed to offset the losses following the privatisation of the electricity industry in the 1990s. Current unemployment rates of up to 10% in Morwell and Moe must not be allowed to continue. The former Pro Vice Chancellor of Monash University Gippsland, John Anderson, stated that he had spoken with a number of high-tech industry people who would have been prepared to start up in this area provided the required number of high quality graduates were available. The university could not provide the very large number required, and as a result the prospective enterprises moved to where the staff would be available - most likely to Melbourne.
At present there is no chance Monash Gippsland alone can supply the high-level staff numbers required. A solution must be found: Can we recruit those required from other areas including Melbourne? If this were attempted the infrastructure of Latrobe City including housing would have to be built up to accommodate the extra numbers. In the past the SECV attracted large numbers – could this be done again?
The local power industry does not employ the large numbers it once did, but there is the opportunity to take advantage of the demands for clean energy. Research on uses for brown coal other than for steam generation must be accelerated. The vast deposits in the Latrobe Valley represent a high value carbon source which must be utilised in the national interest, but existing tension between protection of known untapped coal deposits and residential land requirements must be resolved. Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is a critical issue for the Latrobe Valley. Concentrated research and development effort is needed to identify effective carbon capture measures. Siting the State Clean Coal Authority in the Valley is strongly supported, as is Latrobe City’s recommendation to site the Federal arm of the Global Institute on Carbon Capture in this area. Monash University Gippsland is a leading player in clean energy research and, with appropriate government and industry support, can play a vital role in meeting the challenges facing our nation.
Latrobe City is reasonably well served by rail and road, and has an airport, but there is a crying need for the long-awaited intermodal transport centre to be established. Latrobe City bus services are extensive but there is a need for improvement especially to give service to outlying areas and at weekends.
Quality education services are essential if a regional centre is to meet the varied needs of a vital, attractive regional centre.
Latrobe City is adequately served at the primary and secondary level by a good range of Government, Catholic and Independent schools, but considerable expansion in number and quality would be required to serve a significant increase in population. Monash University Gippsland, GippsTAFE, Gippsland Group Training, and i-Gain are the major tertiary providers and they cooperate well with the secondary sector. This is exemplified by the Kurnai College Precinct located in the grounds of Monash Gippsland and served by the University, GippsTAFE, and Gippsland Group Training. It is essential that both Monash University Gippsland and GippsTAFE receive the necessary support to expand their current course provision. Monash University is ideally placed to be the leader in research connected with Climate Change issues.
The learning needs of retired people must be catered for. The LV U-3-A Inc., a branch of a worldwide organisation, provides interest classes for over 250 people no longer in the workforce. U-3-A and other organisations such as Neighbourhood Houses will have to be able to extend their programs and staffing to cater for a large population with varied needs.
A successful regional centre must be attractive to its own community and to visitors. This requires a sophisticated range of services. Included in these services would be first class and adequate accommodation for visitors, a convention centre, good transport, and a first rate tourism advisory service. A successful regional centre must ensure its cultural and heritage icons are well presented and enthusiastically promoted by local people who take pride in them.
Latrobe City has made a start in addressing these issues but much more needs to be done. All regional centres can learn from the best of what is done in other places in Australia and overseas.
Without the provision of high-level health services no regional centre can hope to succeed. A major hospital with the required range of services is essential. Latrobe Regional Hospital provides this range of services, but even now is struggling to cater for the needs of our current population, and an urgently required significant expansion of services has been recently announced. Maryvale Private Hospital provides supplementary services. Latrobe Community Health coordinates a wide range of health initiatives.
It is difficult to attract high level staff to regional hospitals, but this problem can be alleviated if the physical facilities are of high standard and the range of sophisticated procedures offered is extensive.
Major regional areas can provide support for smaller towns in their area by catering for serious health problems and by providing support and advice for areas with limited health provision. An example is that a doctor in a small neighbouring town could live in Latrobe City and commute daily to he is in practice. Doctors from Latrobe could spend extended periods working in regional towns.
Arts and Entertainment
A wide range of leisure provision is necessary. People will not relocate to regional areas if they perceive them to be cultural deserts. The lack of quality facilities and an inadequate range of interest clubs and leisure activities are widely seen as a feature of existing regional centres resulting in their being compared unfavourably with Melbourne in this regard. Latrobe City has the Regional Arts Centre, fine sporting fields and facilities, and a Performing Arts Centre. In addition there is a wide range of events each month. This is a start, but when compared with what can be offered by Melbourne, it falls short. We cannot match Melbourne but if we are vigilant in identifying the needs and then meeting them, we will be able to satisfy most. An excellent public transport service for those who wish to attend events in Melbourne would encourage people to live in our area and still have good access to what Melbourne offers.
Catering for Youth
Regional areas have had increasing difficulty in retaining their young people. They move to Melbourne for a range of reasons – education, work, and lifestyle. As a result many country areas are overwhelmingly inhabited by older people.
To prevent this exodus major regional centres offering the advantages provided by Melbourne, must be developed to retain existing young residents and attract young people from Melbourne. Although many young people go to Melbourne many of them would prefer to remain locally if the required facilities were available.
The Commonwealth and State Governments must commit to the policy of promoting specific regional growth centres and put in place significant policies to ensure their well-balanced continuing growth. An example of this effective targeting is the choice in the 1970s of Albury/Wodonga as a growth centre.
The local Municipal Council must accept responsibility for identifying the needs of a growing community, provide the local necessary community services, and work with governments and industry to ensure growth and lifestyle meet the varied needs of a growing society.
The community must be alert to its own needs. A wide range of community clubs, societies must exist to meet the interests of citizens and promote the attractiveness of the area.
Appropriate businesses and industries must be targeted to come to the area. Successful existing local businesses can be cited as examples. AKZ is an example of a major successful local business that once contemplated moving to Dandenong, but after examining all factors decided its interests were better served by remaining in Morwell. The targeting of businesses specifically related to existing power and clean energy is an obvious task for Governments, Council, existing businesses, GippsTAFE, and Monash University.
For its own sake and for the good of the rest of Victoria Melbourne must not be allowed to grow at its present rate. Because we cannot expect small regional centres to provide the range and quality of facilities to attract the drivers of growth and lifestyle such as industry, health, education, arts and entertainment, well-resourced existing major regional centres can be promoted as equal or superior areas for work and living.
Attached is an article by David O’Brien published in the “Age” on Tuesday September 16, in which he states that Ireland offers a model for taking pressure off Melbourne while still allowing the state to develop and the population to rise.
This Submission was presented on behalf of Advance Morwell, P O Box 1061, Morwell 3840