I also rise to make a contribution on the Rural and Regional Committee’s report
on its inquiry into regional centres of the future. In undertaking this inquiry,
as its chair stated, the committee covered a huge amount of territory in
regional Victoria. We received over 60 submissions and were inundated with
people who wanted to make a contribution to the inquiry.
I take this opportunity to thank all of those people. Whether
they provided written or oral submissions, it was evident that rural Victoria has an
enormous amount of resources in its very fine advocates, and I think this is
carried through to the borders of the state. The passion is evident in almost
every location, whether it be a small town or regional city. We really do have a
plethora of people who are committed to the future of regional Victoria.
Having said that, I advise the house that the government
members on this committee have tabled a minority report, which is appended at
the back of the final report that was tabled in the house this morning. I would
urge those who are particularly interested in regional Victoria to take a look
at that minority report and glean some understanding of the views we hold about
the committee’s final report.
In terms of coming to the view that there needed to be a
minority report, Ms Darveniza, Ms Marshall and I were particularly concerned
about recommendation 1, which was only submitted to the committee in the final
weeks of its deliberation. Given that the inquiry was conducted over something
of the order of 15 months, this is unfortunate. It is also unfortunate that
there was no opportunity for the concept outlined in recommendation 1, for the
establishment of seven regional commissions, to be debated and thoroughly
examined by the committee or to be tested against other models. That simply did
not occur and was a missed opportunity for the committee. That was the first
basis on which government members determined that they wanted to put in a
We also believe there are recommendations which are
inconsistent with the evidence provided to the committee.
Government members on the committee accepted the majority of
the recommendations, because in principle we were not opposed to many of them,
and in many ways the government is already undertaking work suggested by the
The third reason we submitted a minority report was because the
report failed to acknowledge a range of existing policies, programs and
initiatives, and work that is currently under way. As committee members, we felt
we had to force the issue of having current government initiatives incorporated
into the report. The report also includes inconsistencies between findings and
between recommendations themselves.
Recommendation 1, which is about the establishment of seven
regional commissions, proposes that the regional commissions be statutory
authorities and that each commission would then report to seven individual
boards in each region. Essentially our view is that that would increase
duplication and confusion. It also flies in the face of what the federal and
state governments announced nearly eight weeks ago, which was the establishment
of regional development advisory committees.
The recommendation in the report for the establishment of the
seven regional commissions is essentially a model that already operates in
Western Australia. Again I note that we did not receive any submissions on this
matter; we did not hear any evidence relating to that model. The committee did
not interview anyone from Western Australia who has had a direct association
with the operation of that model.
In the last week of the committee’s deliberation, a model —
which happened to be from over in the west — was snatched from the bookshelf
and then put into the report. No rigorous discussion was held about whether that
model would be suitable for regional Victoria. The model does not take into
account the geographical differences we have in this state versus those in
Western Australia. It does not take into account the different social and
cultural imperatives they have, not to mention the completely different economic
basis of the states.
In that respect we are disappointed that the most significant
recommendation — almost everything else hangs off it — was not thoroughly
examined by the committee. People in regional Victoria would be concerned if
they knew this recommendation was in the report.
If they knew that taxpayers money was going to be spent on yet
another major brand-spanking-new bureaucratic structure that is going to absorb
taxpayers dollars at the expense of money that could be directed into programs
and regional infrastructure in Victoria, they would be quite concerned to say
the least. It is our view that, given there was no real and proper examination
of the whole-of-government commission structures during the deliberations of the
committee, it is just impossible to support the recommendation.
We also believe the new regional development advisory
committees, which were announced only eight weeks ago, should be given the
opportunity to undertake the task they were given. Some of those committees have
only just met. One of the committees in my area met for the first time on 6
December in Warrnambool.
The committees have been charged with some key aspects of the
They have been asked to work with all levels of government to
develop a shared understanding at a regional level of regional development
issues and priorities, to provide independent advice to all levels of government
on the efficacy of the delivery of policies and programs, to cooperate to
improve the coordination and delivery of regional development initiatives, to deliver
strategic input into national programs and to help coordinate development
initiatives at the regional and local level, to work with all levels of
government as a key link organisation to empower communities in regional
development activities, and to participate, where appropriate, in government
place-based responses to economic downturn.
All of those committees have local leaders on them. This is a
major breakthrough in terms of getting together all levels of government and
local communities with their local community leaders in a structure that looks
at what is happening on the ground, what is needed and what their
recommendations to the state and federal government will be. This important
initiative is just getting off the ground, and to be quite frank, that this
super statutory authority model should be recommended beggars belief.
My comments have focused on recommendation 1 and our belief as
to its inappropriateness, to say the very least, for regional Victoria. There
are a number of other recommendations that we have concerns about — for
example, recommendation 2, which proposes that the Victorian government conduct
an opportunity audit of regional centres in Victoria. The recommendation
includes a reference to the need to target funding for the long-term development
of regional Victoria. The recommendation also notes that the audit would assist
regions to identify their strengths, provide a basis for planning for a region
and assist government to develop a visionary statewide plan which focuses on the
development of the state as a whole. This recommendation duplicates the
extensive process that is under way throughout regional Victoria as part of the
development of the Victorian government’s regional blueprint. The report makes
reference to that work and the discussion paper. However, in effect a number of
recommendations propose work that is already under way.
That is also the case with recommendation 8, which proposes
that the government provide support for regional leadership development
programs, when in fact the government has already made a significant commitment
to the development of regional leaders. Since 2006 the government has provided
$1.56 million to a number of leadership programs, including an additional $600
000 that was committed through the recent Moving Forward update.
We believe regional leadership programs are absolutely
critical. Those programs need to be in place so we have ongoing capacity
building within our smaller towns, our towns, our cities and our regional
centres. That is why this government has put money into regional development
programs. But we believe it is up to those communities to determine how best to
use that money. To say it has to pay the salary of a coordinator is too
restrictive on those communities.
I could continue to make a number of comments in terms of the
recommendations, but I understand my colleague Ms Darveniza will cover off on a
number of issues as well, so instead of continuing in this light I would like to
draw my comments to a conclusion and say that overall we are disappointed we
cannot support the report that is the result of this inquiry.
Again I wish to indicate that we were overwhelmed by the
dedication of regional Victorians and organisations that actively contributed to
the work of the committee, and we remain committed to the ongoing development of
our regional centres. We believe the majority of the recommendations can be seen
as an endorsement of the work already under way or in place as part of the
Brumby government’s commitment to regional Victoria.
Finally, I take this opportunity to thank the staff involved in
At times the deliberations of the committee were quite testy,
but given the good grace of all involved we managed to bring this inquiry to a
conclusion. I thank the staff for their hard work throughout the last 15 months.