Skills, transport key forum issues
Attracting skilled people to the region, a lack of public transport and incentives for attracting businesses were among key issues people raised and discussed at a population forum in Horsham.
Community and business leaders from across the Wimmera and southern Mallee gathered to discuss challenges the Lowan electorate faced in growing its population and how government policy could help.
Member for Lowan Emma Kealy hosted the forum with Victorian Population Taskforce deputy chairman Danny O’brien.
The forum was designed to gain input from residents for a Liberal and Nationals’ population policy in the lead-up to the 2018 state election.
Member for Ripon Louise Staley will lead a similar forum in Ararat tomorrow.
The Nationals and Liberals established their Population Policy Taskforce to encourage economic growth in regional Victoria.
Ms Kealy, who also led a forum in Hamilton, said the Horsham gathering identified that attracting skilled and qualified people was paramount to population growth.
She added that attendees also spoke of decentralisation of government agencies and their senior management, how a former Regional Living Expo in Melbourne was a great opportunity to promote the benefits of living and working in regional Victoria and how the development of renewable energy provided a way of ensuring businesses had secure energy options and in supporting the reduction of energy prices.
“Businesses are extremely concerned about skyrocketing energy costs caused by Labor’s policy to close the Hazelwood Power Station. Lack of energy security is putting local business and jobs at risk,” Ms Kealy said.
She said another key issue was a Western Rail project and the need to improve passenger rail services and public transport options, not only within the region but also to Melbourne.
“I recently took a delegation of key regional council representatives to meet with Victorian Opposition leader Matthew Guy and received in-principle support for a feasibility study into the return of passenger rail services to Western Victoria, if elected to government,” Ms Kealy said.
She said incentives, tax-relief options and simplifying planning requirements to help grow existing and attract new businesses to the region were also topics of discussion.
“The Horsham forum raised many wonderful existing potential tourism opportunities and the need for additional infrastructure to support more visitors and business growth to our great part of the state,” Ms Kealy said.
“I thank everyone who gave up their time to discuss this critical issue for regional Victoria. It was extremely useful and I encourage anyone with an idea about how we can grow country Victoria in a sustainable way to contact me through my website emma kealy.com,” she said.
The Horsham, Ararat and Hamilton events are part of a regional series of forums.
The Coaltion released its Victorian Population Policy Taskforce’s Interim Report in July. It is available online at vicpopulation.com.au/documents.