By Victorian Chamber Chief Executive Mark Stone
As featured in Herald Sun "In My Opinion", 31 July 2015
Victoria’s regions are important to our state.
Regional exports have been a stand-out feature of Victoria’s overall export performance in recent years. For example, Victorian dairy exports now account for 85 per cent of Australia’s dairy exports and Victorian meat exports to China increased 70 per cent in the last year alone.
Mirroring Victoria’s strong population growth over the past decade, regional population levels have also increased and now stand at over 1.4 million people or around 24 per cent of Victoria’s population. Particularly strong population growth has occurred in Victorian regional cities like Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat and Mildura.
Strong regional population growth has helped take pressure off Melbourne’s infrastructure and congestion. It has also brought new opportunities for regional businesses and communities. Blending local leadership with innovation and energy, our regions have attracted new investment and continued to diversify their local economies.
This is not surprising when we consider the many strengths characterising Victoria’s regions, including:
- Significant agriculture, energy and mineral resources
- Diverse natural, historic and lifestyle tourist attractions
- Access to key markets at home and abroad
- A skilled labour force and close links to world class educational institutions
- A business culture of innovation, resilience and adaptability
- Lower operating costs compared to many metropolitan locations
- World class liveability
Successive state and federal governments have invested significantly in road and rail connectivity in our regions, bringing regional communities closer to each other and to metropolitan areas. Major projects include the Geelong Ring Road, Regional Rail Link and Princes Highway East duplication, enabling greater access to the north, east and west of our state.
A range of industry sectors have strong foundations in regional areas. For example, universities, TAFEs and major schools in places such as Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo make a significant contribution to Victoria’s workforce and their local communities. The strong synergies between these institutions and industry assist in growing Victoria’s future workforce.
Many tourists come to Victoria for regional experiences including business conferences, sporting events, food and wine shows, nature-based experiences, art exhibitions and music festivals, creating jobs throughout a range of sectors including hospitality and accommodation. They often also include Melbourne in their visit to our regions.
Medical advancements in regional hubs such as in Bendigo and Geelong, play an important role in driving growth in Victoria’s world-class health sector. They also provide a range of opportunities for existing and new businesses to capitalise on regional major projects, such as through the supply of construction, insurance and financial goods and services.
In Victorian Chamber’s view, the challenge for policy makers is to continue Victoria’s regional growth momentum because regional success translates into prosperity for all Victorians through stronger employment, increased trade and investment, and rising living standards.
This objective is front and centre of Victorian Chamber’s policy agenda. Our Victoria Summit 2015 – Regional Victoria is a major event that brings regional business leaders together to identify the reform priorities that will support continuing regional success.
This will not happen by chance. It will depend on the skills and initiatives of regional business operators and their capacity to develop new, competitive products, services and markets. It will also require pro-business regional policies by governments, supported by efficient regional services for business and regional communities.
Through extensive consultation and engagement with regional business and local government in our recent Victoria Summit workshop series, Victorian Chamber has identified the need for reforms that:
- Create jobs, particularly for regional youth and displaced workers
- Lower regional business costs and reduce red tape
- Maintain and expand regional infrastructure
- Build regional workforce skills and competitiveness
- Get more regional businesses into exporting
- Attract more investment into our regions, including for our high-quality tourism and events industries
The Victoria Summit, to be held in Bendigo (13-14 August 2015), provides an important and timely platform for Victorian Chamber and regional leaders to inform the State Government and Opposition on the policy changes needed to keep our regions growing. The recommendations flowing from this year’s Summit will form the basis of Victorian Chamber’s regional business agenda into 2016 and beyond, including our 2016-17 state budget submission and our advocacy in the lead up to the next federal election.