Regional development

Regional Victoria’s role in the state’s success

“Just as Melbourne plays a critical role across Victoria, likewise regional cities play a very important role in their regions, but also across Victoria,” Regional Development Victoria (RDV) Chief Executive Officer, James Flintoft has told a CEDA audience in Melbourne.

At the event, the Mayors panel: reinventing the regions, Mr Flintoft provided an overview of the challenges and opportunities in regional Victoria outlining the important role it plays in Victoria’s economic success. This was followed by a panel discussion on the same topic with Victoria’s regional mayors.

Outlining the importance of regional Victoria, Mr Flintoft said: “One in four Victorians don’t live in Melbourne. Regional Victoria is home to 700,000 workers, a large economy and is driven almost by two parts.”

Outside of Melbourne, and the main regional cities, Mr Flintoft said that it’s agriculture driving Victoria’s economy.

“Out of the three per cent of Australia that is arable land mass, Victoria produces about 29 per cent of the exports. So, it’s a diverse and productive state,” he said.

He said that agriculture contributes about one in six regional jobs, as does tourism, which he described as the “unsung hero” of the state.

Trends in growing regional Victoria

Mr Flintoft said there were several major trends “affecting and influencing growth and development in regional Victoria”.

“One is Asia. By 2030, two-thirds of the world’s middle class will be in Asia, rising from about 500 million today, to about three billion. That’s urbanisation and growth that we’ve never seen in history before,” he said.

This urbanisation, he said, would provide new opportunities particularly by way of exports, in taking Australia’s safe, highly reputed and reliable food into the Asian middle class market. Additionally, he said it would create new opportunities for international tourism.

On the other hand, he said these developments would not be without their challenges.

“One challenge is the connection of supply chains – which means that big manufacturers now have to compete on price and cost and quality relative to lower priced providers in Asia and elsewhere,” he said.

“And there is also the issue of bio security; the way bugs and critters can get into our production systems.”

In looking at other opportunities posed to the regions, he discussed the potential for domestic tourism, and the need to encourage Melburnians to venture further than “that scary 150km radius” in which Yarra Valley and Mornington Peninsula lie.

Government levers

Mr Flintoft discussed the issues that the regions faced in general, and what levers the state government has to minimise these issues.
Talking about the issue of the different learning outcomes between Melbourne and regional schools, he highlighted the completion rates for high school students in the city to those in regions have a gap sometimes as large as 25 per cent.

He also talked about the digital divide for the regions, the future of work, and the new skills that need to be acquired in an increasingly digitalised world. He emphasised the need to make sure regional schools are equipped with the technology required to attain the skills they will need for Australia’s future workforce.  

With the RDV enshrined in the Regional Development Victoria Act, he said it has an important role to play in pulling these levers.
“Transport is a huge one,” he said. In this area, he said government could encourage competition for ports to get competitive rail freight for producers. He also talked about the investment in road and rail the government can control.

“In terms of jobs, the flagship fund is the $500 million jobs and infrastructure fund and since it was launched on 15 June 2016, it has created or retained approximately 4600 jobs,” he said.

Mr Flintoft also discussed the reform of regional development governance, which has included putting in place committees called “regional partnership”, whereby regions are looked at in more natural economic zones or regions.

“Before this was in place the Mallee was treated the same way as Bendigo. And in terms of what drives them, they are so different,” he said.
Additionally, the partnerships help the region to navigate the bureaucracy of government, and attempt to draw out the priorities of the regions.

Mr Flintoft’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion that was moderated by Regional Australia Institute Chief Executive, Jack Archer and included:

  • City of Ballarat Mayor, Cr Samantha McIntosh;
  • City of Latrobe Mayor, Cr Kellie O’Callaghan;
  • City of Greater Bendigo Mayor, Cr Margaret O’Rourke; and
  • City of Wodonga Mayor, Cr Annie Speedie.