Decentralisation

I come from a 4th generation farming family in Birregurra in South Western Victoria; sheep and beef mainly. The farm suffered, as Dorothy Mackellar famously wrote, from droughts and flooding rains, along with fires and other calamities. It wasn’t an easy pathway, yet nevertheless, it was very satisfying. I always enjoyed the lifestyle of being out on the land and working with livestock.

Regional transport, encompassing rail and road, is the first infrastructure priority to enable a decentralisation pathway to occur.

From my experience as a farmer, and eventually as President of the Victorian Farmers Federation, I developed an interest in politics, centred around agriculture and a passion for helping to improve regional Victoria and particularly the south west of the state. After missing out on federal pre-selection in the seat of Corangamite, I was encouraged by colleagues to look at state politics when the upper house seat of Western Victoria became available. I always had the intention of representing the farming communities that I lived and worked in, and that remains my passion to this day.

In my role I’m fortunate to represent regional cities like Geelong, Ballarat and Warrnambool, that have huge potential as part of a decentralisation policy; creating the optionality to live and prosper in either Melbourne or regional Victoria. Strong regional cities are pivotal to that success but these cities require ongoing job opportunities to enable mid-sized businesses to establish themselves and to grow. New skill sets need to be developed to support job growth. Regional transport, encompassing rail and road, is the first infrastructure priority to enable a decentralisation pathway to occur.

The innovation that is flourishing in regional Victoria continues to spring, at least in part, from the farming community. The field days that we run locally showcase innovative machinery and technology for use in agriculture and supporting industries. The CSIRO facility in the region (the Australian Animal Health Laboratory) along with Deakin University have created a huge intellectual base that is being drawn upon for innovation, development and commercialisation of products. We have retained good minds who are prepared to live and work in regional Victoria and fuel a modern economic engine. The University itself provides stimulus for hi-tech companies, for example Carbon Revolution, propelled by expertise from Deakin University, who export carbon wheels all over the world. Where there is a strong University, along with the substantial Gordon Tafe, innovation and business development follow. The growth of these institutions continues to underpin the decentralisation options in regional Victoria.

Ongoing development of infrastructure and institutions is critical, but beyond that the government needs to allow people to take control of their own destiny. Governments don’t need to provide artificial support, whether it’s for business or for people, without first allowing them to foster their own enterprises and grow independently; encouraging innovation, business development, job creation and self worth rather than a hand-out mentality that inhibits personal growth. I’m very supportive of policy settings that enable people to have more control of themselves, with reduced red tape and bureaucracy that stifles business initiative.

Ongoing development of infrastructure and institutions is critical, but beyond that the government needs to allow people to take control of their own destiny.

The main example of red tape is the planning overlays that are imposed on people looking to develop sites for land use, with native vegetation laws being particularly onerous. With a freer environment I predict a significant amount of economic growth in the regions. If would-be entrepreneurs see Western Victoria as a place that they can establish and grow their business without interference from government regulation, I think you would see a greater shift toward Geelong, Ballarat, Ararat, Horsham, Colac and Warrnambool. These centres will become more attractive, well beyond tourism and agriculture, with a continued upturn in education, innovation and new business.

I’m optimistic about Geelong and Western Victoria. While we have acknowledged pockets of unemployment, crime and disadvantage, the opportunity and optimism is high and with the natural assets we have, I think the regions will progress well.