My matter this evening is for the Minister for Regional and Rural Development, Mr Ryan. It relates to Portland and the concerns I have had for some period of time in relation to the local economy. As recently as last Wednesday the headline of the Portland Observer read ‘Another business closes doors’. On this occasion it is a business that has serviced the local community for 60 years with respect to machinery and engineering supplies. The article goes on to talk about the difficulties Portland is facing, and it quotes Cr Geoff White of the Glenelg Shire Council saying that there was ‘an alarming succession of business closures’ in Portland.
In December I mentioned my concerns about Portland. It is a great town of approximately 12 000 people. Alcoa and Keppel Prince Engineering are the two biggest employers.
Job cuts have occurred at both, and we continue to fight for good industry and employment policy for both. It is an ongoing job for politicians and industry. However, when I drove into town last week the alarm bells went off. I had seen the empty car yards some time ago, but the number of vacant shops and the closure of the local Mitre 10 sent shudders down my back. Before I went to any of my meetings I drove around town, thinking to myself, ‘What the dickens is going on?’. This is a great town — great people; beautiful, pristine coastline; great fishing; and high rainfall. It is lush. It is 362 kilometres west of Melbourne and 97 kilometres from the South Australian border. Locals know it is a beautiful spot, and all the talk in town is about how over the last two years things have changed. Before government members start accusing me of talking down Portland, let me say that nothing could be further than the truth. I am definitely pro-Portland. That is why I am raising this issue today — because I care.
We all know that geographical distance in itself is a disadvantage, and it means that it takes longer to get access to services. Often you need a critical mass to secure investment or government funding. We know that regional Victoria needs extra help, but it has become clear that since this government dismantled Regional Development Victoria there is no government instrument that is rooting for country Victoria. Sometimes there needs to be an interventionist government policy to get things moving, to pull things together and to make sure there is a fair slice of the pie for all communities. The action I seek is for the minister to publicly come clean and provide the community with a plan that takes Portland, its local community and its economy into the future, and I push that as a matter of urgency because we cannot stand any more closures or job cuts in Portland.