Regional investment vital

March 15, 2018

Sam Birrell

Wendy Lovell

Jaala Pulford

Poor connectivity and a lack of investment in the regions has contributed to mounting population pressure in Victoria’s biggest cities, according to Committee for Greater Shepparton chief executive Sam Birrell.

Between 2006 and 2016, Melbourne added close to one million people to its population, with other major cities across the country not far behind.

The drastic rise in population has led to serious congestion on the roads and rail networks, and education and health infrastructure have struggled to keep up with the demand.

On Tuesday, the Victorian Government announced it would spend nearly $240million on 14 new schools for Melbourne’s growth areas.

Mr Birrell said he could understand the investment for the highly-populated areas, he added population could easily be influenced by creating infrastructure in other areas.

‘‘The question is, do we want to be reactive or proactive when it comes to distribution?’’ Mr Birrell said.

‘‘The funding for regional areas, in particular Shepparton, has not been anywhere near where it should be. I think the attitude towards regional Australia has been around ‘let’s help the people in the bush’, but it hasn’t focused on connectivity so that we can actually better distribute our population.’’

In Shepparton, Mr Birrell said rail, health, education and road infrastructure had been neglected.

He said the town was in a good position to grow and thrive if opportunity was taken.

‘‘Connectivity brings the people here, which we haven’t had,’’ he said.

‘‘Once that is put in place we need to expand on our health and education offerings to make it the sort of place that people want to live and business wants to invest.

‘‘I’m not saying we shouldn’t do anything about those issues now, because the state of GV Health and the education system is below what the existing population needs. That connectivity will bring us closer to talk about growing in other areas.’’

Recent discussions for residents to move to regional centres, such as Shepparton, have been pushed by the Liberal Party, through their Victorian Population Policy Taskforce.

Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell said any sort of funding was welcome, but that the Victorian Government should be focused on decentralisation instead of building in already-booming suburbs.

Ms Lovell said the growth of Melbourne was not sustainable and wanted to see Victoria become a state of cities, rather than a city state.

‘‘It is about looking at a holistic approach to growth in Shepparton that would make it a place that people would want to live, and that means having the infrastructure that supports that,’’ she said.

She said the region had witnessed enormous growth in housing and irrigation, and that looking for opportunities to build on the horticulture and agricultural industries was vital.

‘‘The current government is very Melbourne-centric, but for the regions to grow, there needs to be investment,’’ she said.

‘‘Shepparton is certainly an area that provides enormous opportunities.’’

Regional Development Minister Jaala Pulford said the government was building for a growing Victoria.

‘‘We’re delivering the schools, hospitals, jobs and transport for regional communities’ needs,’’ the minister said.

‘‘We’re making it easier to live and do business in regional Victoria — slashing stamp duty for first home buyers and payroll tax for regional businesses.

‘‘We’re investing $169.5million in the Goulburn Valley Health Service, upgrading the Shepparton line and giving locals a voice in government and decision-making through the Goulburn Valley Regional Partnership.’’

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