Innovation and collaboration centrepiece of Gippsland visit

Last week I had the great pleasure of touring Greater Gippsland to meet with local councils, peak associations, business and community groups.

Having grown up in Traralgon, I know this beautiful part of the country well, but a great deal has changed since I left, and a great deal will continue to change – with new challenges and opportunities across industry emerging.

This is a region that experienced extreme bushfires on the back of years of severe drought, endured disastrous floods after record rainfall, and faced COVID-19 – all of which the community are still rebounding from.

The end of white paper manufacturing at Maryvale, the planned closures of the Yallourn and Loy Yang power stations over the next decade, the hurdles currently faced by the local timber industry, as well as the significant opportunities of the Greater Gippsland Offshore Wind Project means there is significant transformation taking place across the region.

At the heart of this is the need for proactive planning, collaboration and recognition that communities are their own biggest asset. This was evident in my site visits to local businesses harnessing the assets and productive nature of the region – from Fenning Timbers Bairnsdale, the Metung Hot Springs, and the Tambo Valley Honey shop.

I had productive discussions with local councils across Gippsland about their priority projects, and the benefits of their One Gippsland forum – which is forging a whole-of-region approach to a range of issues.

In addition to this, I met with a number of regional development leaders, including the Regional Development Australia Gippsland Committee and the Committee for Gippsland, which launched the Gippsland Freight Infrastructure Master Plan during my visit.

I met with the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation and was impressed with their commitment to build strong partnerships across the region to deliver opportunities and economic independence for their community.

I also met with the Victorian Minister for Local Government, Melissa Horne, and the Victorian Minister for Regional Development, Harriet Shing, to discuss how we collectively position regional communities as great places to live and areas with diverse opportunities.

The resounding theme from these meetings was the need to diversify regional jobs, to improve regional connectivity, to increase access to social and affordable housing, to capitalise on the transition to renewable energy sources, and to deliver stronger community infrastructure and better road and rail networks.

Our government is already delivering on much of this:

  • Our $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund (NRF) will mean more things are made in our regions and more jobs will be available.
  • Our $1.9 billion Powering the Regions Fund (PRF) will support industry to reduce their emissions.
  • Our $750 million Local Roads and Community Infrastructure (LRCI) Program is funding priority local road and community infrastructure projects.
  • We are investing $2.2 billion towards regional communications, including upgrades to NBN’s Fixed Wireless and Fibre networks, and our Better Connectivity Plan for Regional and Rural Australia.
  • Our Regional First Home Buyer Guarantee, a Labor election commitment delivered early, has supported over 4,700 Australians.
  • We are wiping the HELP debt for eligible doctors and nurse practitioners that work in rural and regional communities.
  • We are delivering 180,000 fee-free TAFE places across the country – especially in our regions.
  • And we are reducing costs for people in our regions through our cheaper childcare, cheaper medicine, and energy price relief plan.

The key to reshaping how we develop our regions, like Greater Gippsland, starts with listening to the voices of community, business, and local organisations – which is why this visit was so important.

Hearing first-hand about local challenges and place-based solutions helps inform what investment and support is needed to improve the liveability and enhance the productivity of our regions – ensuring they reach their full potential.

This is our practical and collaborative approach in full swing, and part of our commitment to forging functioning relationships across all levels of government and industry.

I look forward to engaging with many of these leaders at the upcoming Australian Council of Local Government in June, and to progressing many of these ideas with my Ministerial colleagues.