Harnessing the competitive strengths of Victoria’s regions
Victorians living regionally have been through a lot in recent years.
Devastating bushfires, floods, droughts and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have taken a heavy toll on regional and rural Victorians, their communities, environments and infrastructure.
But with every challenge comes opportunity, as time and time again regional Victorians have shown their resilience and ability to adapt.
In developing Victoria’s infrastructure strategy 2021-2051, we worked closely with residents, local governments, workers, regional and community organisations and peak industry representatives across the state’s nine regions to identify infrastructure-related opportunities and gaps and make recommendations for how the Victorian Government should respond.
Victoria’s regions play a vital role in the national economy and an important part of that is improving access to jobs, education, healthcare and services, which is why more than a quarter of our recommendations focus on developing regional Victoria.
From the Mallee to Gippsland, we understand that each region has its own unique needs and priorities.
For example, we found that while Goulburn’s rich agricultural industry could be better supported by improved road, rail and freight networks, in the Barwon region investment in recycling and resource recovery would create new jobs and services.
But despite the differences, we also found communities were experiencing similar barriers and opportunities even though they lived hundreds of kilometres apart.
Below we’ve highlighted some of the common themes underpinning our recommendations for short and long-term infrastructure investment across regional Victoria. We’ll leave you to explore the more in-depth explanations within the strategy.
Improving freight links in the regions can improve market competitiveness and provide cheaper, faster and safer connections for producers, growers and farmers, linking them to markets and proposed freight terminals and precincts.
We’re conscious that regional Victorians continue to experience inferior internet and mobile coverage compared with metropolitan Melbourne.
The bushfires and COVID-19 pandemic further highlighted the digital divide between Melbourne and regional and rural communities, as online became a primary means of communication both for emergency management and for connecting with loved ones.
These crises revealed fragilities within the regional telecommunications network, and showed just how important it is for communities to have reliable connections.
Ultimately, addressing the digital divide will help communities and businesses benefit from new technology and stay connected, especially during emergencies.
About 30% of Australia’s renewable energy jobs are in Victoria, which are largely in regional areas.
There are many exciting opportunities for regional Victoria to harness the power of renewable energy, such as wind and solar, to help farms and businesses grow and be more productive. However, more investment is needed to ensure these areas aren’t constrained by outdated transmission infrastructure.
We also recognise that all Victorians should have access to affordable housing. The housing needs of regional Victorians are reflected in the recommendation to expand social housing in regional centres, in locations with good access to transport, jobs and services.
During our community engagement programs, we found there were many obstacles for people living in regional and rural towns that don’t drive in reaching jobs and services, contributing to disadvantage in some areas.
For people in remote communities it’s not as simple as just hopping on a train or a bus to get from A to B. Governments need to work closely with local communities to redesign a public transport network that meets their needs.
We all know that tourism has taken a massive hit over the past two years, with the pandemic reducing visitor numbers and movement across regional Victoria.
Investing in year-round tourism opportunities, and exploring ways to celebrate Victoria’s cultural heritage and natural landscapes outside of seasonal peaks, will help address this challenge, while positioning the sector for future growth.
Tourism recovery features prominently in the strategy, and we suggest exploring new ways to celebrate the Victoria’s rich Aboriginal culture and diverse natural attractions.
Whether it’s preserving our fragile coastline, bushfire prone forests or water levels in lakes, acting now to protect the environment and help Victorians adapt to a changing climate is more important than ever. Climate change is one of the biggest challenges we face as a society, and there is no time to wait in ensuring Victorian communities, and the infrastructure they rely on, can adapt.
Another aspect of preparing for climate change is ensuring housing is suitable for changing climates.
While there is always a buzz around new projects, one of the most efficient ways to manage infrastructure is to make better use out of what we already have. The Victorian Government should help local councils ensure community infrastructure is fit for purpose, and update, repurpose or retire ageing facilities where necessary.
This article only scratches the surface of the infrastructure needs of regional Victoria. Importantly, we’ve highlighted some of the key areas where we found investment is needed most to ensure communities across regional Victoria continue to thrive in the face of current and future challenges.
The recommendations detailed in Victoria’s 30-year infrastructure strategy build on years of collaboration with regional Victorians to deepen our understanding of local concerns, opportunities and challenges. This includes through consultation on projects such our Regional Infrastructure Needs and Infrastructure Priorities for the Regions work.
Since the release of the strategy, we continue to engage with a variety of stakeholders from community, business and government. If you’re interested in hearing more about the strategy why not get in contact with us at firstname.lastname@example.org