Local, Independant and Effective

Growth in Benalla a signal for planning and policy

Posted September 18, 2018


Cathy has called on the government to commit to the planning and policy to ensure growth in regional cities like Benalla continues into the future.

Ms McGOWAN (Indi) (18:11): It gives me great pleasure tonight to stand and support this very important report. I've proudly been a member of the Standing Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities and contributed to its work. While this report, Building up & moving out, is really important, it works hand in glove with another report prepared by this parliament, earlier this year, called Regions at the ready: investing in Australia's future.Together, these two reports are a really important body of work to shape governments now and in the future on our regions and on our cities. I have been absolutely delighted to be part of both of those inquiries. I acknowledge the work not only of the secretariats involved but also the many community and industry people who helped us do them.

Tonight in my speech I want to talk about a few ideas related to this report. I want to talk about a few of the recommendations in the report and why they're significant. And I, like many of the other speakers tonight, would like to draw attention to my electorate, not so much as a needy electorate but more to talk about some of the amazing developments that are happening in my community and to make the link between how these reports work and how our communities can respond.

What's really clear from both these reports is that the regions are ready. Our communities are ready. Our regional RDAs are ready. Our institutions are ready. The experts in our community say that it's time—it's time for growth, for development, for more people, for more infrastructure. The really important thing we need is planning and a national strategy, and that's the role, if ever there was a role, for our governments. In calling for these reports to be considered, I note that the work has been done and the communities are organised. Now it's for government to come in with its high-level policy.

Let me just talk briefly about my electorate of Indi. For those of you who don't know it, the northern border is the Murray River, and the southern and eastern border is the Great Dividing Range. It covers 28,000 square kilometres and contains 100,000 people. We've got this most amazing freight route, Melbourne to Sydney, that passes right along the north-west side of my electorate. It's the Hume Highway. We've got the wonderful Albury-Wodonga airport, located in Albury, which does a fantastic job servicing the communities. We've got the Logic inland port just out of Wodonga, which provides, on the intersection of the major highways, a rapidly growing industrial area for highways, for freight, and, hopefully in the future, for an aeroplane. So my community is definitely at the ready.

What I would like to talk about tonight is the role that government can play. I particularly want to focus on one of my communities. Colleagues, you might know my community of Benalla. It's on the highway, two-and-a-bit hours from Melbourne, with 10,000 people. Over the last period of time there's been enormous interest in Benalla as a community to invest in, particularly in terms of manufacturing. I was talking to the mayor today, and he told me that, in the next five years, we're going to have over 500 new jobs come to this small community of Benalla. If we have a multiplier effect of 1.5, we're going to have 750 new jobs, which is roughly 10 per cent of the population who will be newcomers. We've got the jobs. We've got the people coming. But what we don't have is the overarching planning or the strategy from the Commonwealth and the state. We've certainly got the interest from the local community, but we don't have it all working together as to how these new jobs are going to be supported with infrastructure. Let me name the jobs: we've got a precast concrete factory; we've got an aged-care facility with 120 beds; we've got Commonwealth investment in the munitions factory that's going to be up to 100 jobs; we've got a hydroponic tomato business—50 jobs up, and maybe up to 200 jobs by the time we get to the fourth stage. So here's one community that's—and there are very many other communities in my electorate that are—getting the jobs and where manufacturing is alive and well. It is interesting to look at the ABS projections of growth for that community, for Benalla: it had a growth rate of 0.3 per cent, but actually it's going to be closer to 10 per cent, so we've just got this misalignment.

I will talk about this report tonight and some of the recommendations in it that would really make a difference to Benalla and other towns in my community. We need a national plan of settlement. All of us are over the cities getting bigger and bigger. We need to have a plan, for the whole nation, of where people are going to live. We need to integrate these plans with states and territories, local government and regions, and all the different levels of government. These regional plans need to explore connectivity with and between regions. We need to develop options for investment, based on realistic appreciation of our characteristics. We need to explore options for local action and investment. We need to explore options for strategic decentralisation of government services, and also for working with education as one of the drivers for growth.

Another recommendation in the report talks about transport networks and allowing for fast transit between the cities and the regions. Let me spend a few minutes talking about how important transport is, particularly public transport, in north-east Victoria. We've been arguing for a very long time with the Victorian government about their V/Line services. We have also been working with ARTC, the Australian Rail Track Corporation, and I'm really pleased that they've come to the party, and the Commonwealth is investing over $235 million in improving our train line between Melbourne and Albury-Wodonga. But we're not quite there yet, because, while we have the investment started, we need a commitment and we need the money from the Victorian government to put on modern, new, speedy, clean carriages. So to Daniel Andrews and your government as you face election: can we remind you about the north-east rail service and our need for quality rolling stock. A commitment would be very useful, thank you—because it's public transport and, particularly, transport with our cities, that really adds to the liveability of our communities. And that's recognised in this report.

There are a couple of other recommendations that I'd like to briefly cover off. One is recommendation 29, which talks about city deals. We've been talking in our sister report, Regions at the ready, about regional deals. In particular, I would like to talk about Albury-Wodonga. Wodonga is in my electorate; Albury is in the member for Farrer's electorate, but that community operates as one. Tomorrow, members of those community groups and, in particular, the RDA, Regional Development Australia, are going to be visiting Canberra for two days and meeting with a large number of ministers and staffers to talk about a city and regional deal for north-east Victoria and southern New South Wales.

For me, one of the most important and useful things I think we could do in our city deals is to bring our educational institutions together. Albury has a branch of CSU; Wodonga has a branch of La Trobe; we've got Riverina TAFE; and we've got Wodonga TAFE. All I can do is just imagine, if we could bring those four educational institutions together into one polytechnic institution, what an amazing driver it would be for growth, innovation and change, and it would do many of the things that these reports call out for.

In bringing my comments to a close, I would like to say that I've been so excited to invest my time and energy and to work with my colleagues on both of these reports. I acknowledge the work of the committee and the various chairs that have brought this to a close. Imagine if we could do what we really want to be able to do. Imagine if in 50 or 100 years time we could look back and see we got this planning right, that our major cities were hubs of innovation and growth and that people wanted to come and live in them because they had the lifestyle and the jobs and they were buzzing places, full of innovation and creativity. I've got a niece who grew up in my local community, near Wodonga. She is currently working in Berlin. She says she loves Berlin. It's an attracter for all the young people of Europe. I say to my niece that I hope that before I'm too much older we might be able to say the regions of Australian, and particularly north-east Victoria, have got that zing and that attraction, such that young people from all over the world want to come and live in regional Australia, not only because we've got the jobs but because we've got the innovation, we've got the lifestyle and recreation and we've got the telecommunications and transport infrastructure that works so well.

So my closing comments to Sussan Ley, the Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories; to Michael McCormack, the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development; to Bridget McKenzie; to John McVeigh; and to the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg are: we need your help now to take the recommendations from these two reports. Give us a quick and speedy response from the government so that we can begin work on doing what we need to do, which is building up, moving out and making our regions reach their potential.

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