Mr SOUTHWICK (Caulfield) — It is my pleasure to rise and speak on the Planning and Environment Amendment (Growth Areas Authority and Miscellaneous) Bill 2013. It is clear that we on this side of the house care about regional Victoria. We have a bill here today which has given opposition members the opportunity to get up on their feet and talk up regional Victoria. They have had every opportunity to talk about the Growth Areas Authority, which gives areas the opportunity to grow and bring investment into those areas, but unfortunately we have heard from only one opposition speaker. One speaker is all the opposition could muster, which is absolutely disgraceful. When the people of regional Victoria come to the 2014 election they should remember just how interested Labor is in the regions of Victoria.

It is clear that we on this side of the house care.

From the very day we came into government we committed $1 billion to the Regional Growth Fund, and we have continued to ensure that the initiatives are set and that regional Victoria is first and foremost in the mind of this government. As a city MP I also understand the importance of regional Victoria. I am a great supporter of immigration. I am a great supporter of attracting people into our state, and with the density we have in our cities it is important to provide opportunities to those beyond the cities and in the regions. In order to do that we need to think in differently from the way we have in the past about how we can attract people into the regions.

We already have a successful body in place; the Growth Areas Authority was established in 2006 under the previous government, and it certainly has the expertise to ensure that it provides support to regional areas. It has a history of being able to do so.

It has already ensured that various municipalities — the seven being the municipalities of Cardinia, Casey, Hume, Melton, Mitchell, Whittlesea and Wyndham — are supported. We have noted the expertise of the authority and said, ‘This authority is doing some good things. What can we learn from that, and how can we apply it to other areas that may not have the resources or expertise and provide them with expertise and resources to help them develop, gear up and provide employment and homes to attract people into those regions?’. This is a very important step that the minister has taken to ensure that we invest in those areas, and we have broadened the scope of the Growth Areas Authority to cover areas in desperate need of assistance.

We would think a number of members of the opposition who represent certain areas would be talking up the Growth Areas Authority and wanting its expertise in their regions.

I think the members for Ripon, Ballarat West, Ballarat East, Lara, Geelong, Bellarine, Melton and Macedon would all find this to be a perfect opportunity to get on their feet today and say what this legislation will do for their electorates in terms of their being able to learn from a body that is already incorporated and can provide expertise to their areas. This is what our government is all about. We do not create something for the sake of its creation. We take something that is not broken and utilise it for further expansion and development. The worst possible policy is to keep creating things for the sake of creating them.

We accept that the authority works, and we are rolling out the authority’s power in more areas. We are talking about population growth within 1 to 2 hours of Melbourne. Again, many of these areas are growing already.

They are not growing at the same rate as cities, but they are growing nonetheless, and they do not have the infrastructure or basic services available to ensure that people will be attracted to the extent they are to the cities.

Although they are still growing, they can grow much more if we provide them with infrastructure. We have already set up that infrastructure. As I said earlier, the coalition’s commitment to the Regional Growth Fund provides the opportunity for better infrastructure, better facilities and better services, but a case for it must be made. It is no use taking a map, throwing a dart at it and saying that is where we are going to grow an area. That just does not work, and it does not cut it. We need to be strategic about the areas we grow. We need to take bodies that know how to grow and invest, and we need to ensure that we have a plan to grow those areas and then we can look at funding that may be available through sources such as the Regional Growth Fund. The Regional Growth Fund allows for better infrastructure facilities and services. It allows for employment, social jobs, careers, local project development and planning, but 60 per cent of that fund is strategic — 60 per cent of it ensures that we invest in the right areas in the right places and that we ensure we get it right when we invest in those areas of growth.

There is a $100 million commitment to extending natural gas right across regional Victoria funded through the Regional Growth Fund. Connecting these sorts of services into the regions is a very important but also very expensive process. We need to ensure that we do it in the right regions and in a strategic manner. We have seen the federal government’s very hit-and-miss approach to the national broadband network roll-out. We are not hit and miss when we talk about the regions.

That is why we are going to be very strategic with this particular bill and with what it has to offer.

The Minister for State Development spoke about reinventing the regions, and he pretty much straight up spoke about the opportunities for industries innovating, remaining competitive and improving access to markets, increasing sustainability and growing skills right across the regions. This provides the opportunity to do that. Lessons can be learnt from areas like Ballarat and Geelong in how they have been able to grow and how they have been able to attract tourism, investment and employment. We can say, ‘How can we apply those lessons in other areas? How can we take those successes and roll them out into other areas?’.

I am sure many members would agree that it is a pleasure to take a nice drive with the family to regional or rural shires to see some of the little gems they have to offer.

Whether it be a great wine or a great local business, these are absolutely the sorts of things that can be built. You can have economies built on those little gems. The member Gembrook talked about those gems. I am sure he has some of them in his electorate. He talked about Mornington as well. There are so many of those opportunities that all of us can partake in, particularly when we go on scenic drives with our families. I know that in many cases you only have to drive a couple of hours out of Melbourne to find them. Sometimes those day trips can almost be like a holiday, because you come back feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. That is what this bill is about. It is about dealing with rural and remote areas that do not have basic services or facilities and allowing for a consistent approach, allowing the opportunity for the Growth Areas Authority to look at investment — to look at how we attract investment and ensure that we have an approach that allows those areas to grow and develop. We want to ensure that we have a consistent approach to development in Victoria.

This is a good and sensible bill. It is a shame that we are not hearing anything from the opposition; i will not put up when it comes to supporting regional Victoria. This is a great opportunity to talk up regional Victoria. I am sure the opposition’s 10 members from the 10 regions in this house are ashamed of themselves right now because they have not been given an opportunity to stand on their feet and talk up their electorates. I commend the bill to the house. I commend the work of the minister, and I am very proud to talk up regional Victoria.

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