Regional leaders in Victoria call for election campaign to focus more on rural communities

Regional leaders in Victoria want to see federal candidates and parties focus more on areas outside metropolitan cities during the election campaign.

Regional Towns of Victoria Chairman and Mayor of the City of Greater Shepparton Kim O’Keefe said Region Victoria needs more support to keep up with changing demographics.

“We are behind,” Ms O’Keefe said.

“There must be a time when [the government] do this catch-up [work] and we are moving forward into this new era, if you will, of opportunity for the Victoria region.”

Regionals Cities Victoria includes the mayors and chief executives of the 10 largest regional councils in the state, including Shepparton, Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Horsham, Latrobe, Mildura, Wangaratta, Warrnambool and Wodonga.

“I really hope there’s some kind of opportunity, that [candidates] will be looking at a plan in terms of what they’re going to do in terms of post-pandemic reconstruction and what that strategic investment looks like for our regions,” Ms. O’Keefe said.

Pandemic growth

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows regional Australia grew by 70,900 people in the 2020-21 financial year.

Ms O’Keefe said that as people moved into the regions during the pandemic, additional investment was needed to maintain the benefits tree changers sought.

“This change is quite significant and with this change we need support,” she said.

Kim O’Keeffe says regional communities need to know there is a plan to rebuild after the pandemic.(Provided: Greater Shepparton City Council)

“We have to make sure that we get investment in the typical things that we would need, roads, infrastructure, connectivity, housing, all the things that make a region great.”

Campaspe Shire Mayor Chrissy Weller said the council is working with Loddon Campaspe and Murray River cluster groups to advocate for joint funding projects.

“We’ve all had housing and staffing shortages on top of the stack. These things are big problems for everyone,” Ms Weller said.

She said while Victoria’s regional needs were always a high priority for the federal government, the issues had changed during the pandemic.

“When we start thinking about how our telecommunications and our digital connectivity worked when we were in COVID, I think that probably highlighted other shortcomings,” she said.

“We were probably doing some things well, but obviously there’s a lot more to do.

“We have seen people leaving cities and coming to our areas. We need to be able to keep pace with this infrastructure.”

Jobs

In Horsham, the smallest of the 10 regional towns, Mayor Robyn Gulline said incentives to attract more qualified people to settle in the town were high on the priority list.

“We’ve had an increase in population, but we also have 1,600 jobs in our area that we can’t fill,” Ms Gulline said.

A woman is holding a red necklace with a metal chain.  She is smiling and wearing glasses.  It's sunny.
Robyn Gulline says the skills shortage is a priority.(Provided: Horsham Rural Town Council)

“We urgently need new people in our region, and we need government policies that put that first.

“As a council, we don’t choose sides, we will work with whatever party people choose. But we want to hear about policies from any side of government that take into account the diverse needs of everyone in the country,” she said.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce did not give a straight answer when asked whether or not regional Victoria would be the focus of this campaign, but said projects were being implemented across the country.

“I’m sure my candidates are fighting for things right now and there’s delivery,” Mr Joyce said.

“Right now we also have to be aware that this nation has to make money.”

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Toya J. Bell