Nod to move forward

DESPITE the volatility of federal politics last week, a Gippsland delegation to Canberra secured a long-awaited endorsement from the Federal Government of the region’s plans for its future.

While key regional leaders expressed joint disappointment at last week’s sacking of Federal Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government Minister Simon Crean, who sat on a joint ministerial taskforce for the transition of the Valley’s economy, One Gippsland members hailed last week’s series of meetings with high-level federal ministers, shadow ministers and senior bureaucrats a success.

The sacking of Mr Crean was followed on Friday afternoon by the resignation of Resources, Energy and Tourism Minister Martin Ferguson, another minister who has been a frequent visitor to the Latrobe Valley as it prepares to transition to a low-carbon economy. Both men had supported a move for Kevin Rudd as leader of the Labor Party last week but he did not nominate for the leadership. 

Gippsland’s peak regional advocacy group, however, managed to meet with 16 key federal players over three days, in what the group said was the first ever regional delegation of its kind to the nation’s capital.

Despite the drama of a leadership spill within the Labor Party and the subsequent departure of Mr Crean, the group had only one meeting – with the Prime Minister’s infrastructure adviser – cancelled.

Regional Development Australia Gippsland chair Richard Elkington said the “wheels of government” had continued last week and Gippsland’s plight for support for key local projects had enjoyed an “excellent” hearing. 

He confirmed the Federal Government had now endorsed the Latrobe Valley Transition Committee’s recommendations for the region’s future economic diversity and said now the “implementation phase” could begin.

This week local LVTC members will meet to determine how some of Gippsland’s proposed “individual projects” can be moved forward to ensure they meet the Federal Government’s criteria for “shovel ready” projects, according to Mr Elkington.

He acknowledged there was some discrepancy between the Federal Government’s idea of an appropriate business case for a projects “genuinely shovel ready and ready to go immediately” as opposed to what the region sometimes considered “shovel ready”.

Mr Elkington used Latrobe City Council’s push to attract funding for a Lurgi heavy industry site redevelopment as evidence that “shovel ready” was a “flexible term”.

Gippsland Local Government Networkchair Dick Ellis agreed, saying the Lurgi project was being held up by “heritage overlay” issues.

“Where there are levels of bureaucracy interfering with (a project’s) shovel readiness, we want to get that out of the way,” he said.

Mr Elkington said a key challenge for LVTC now was the need to “move to a stronger local ownership of the process”, using the “learnings” and networks One Gippsland acquired in Canberra, to develop comprehensive business case for proposals including the Centre for Sustainable Industries at Monash Gippsland, a series of investment facilitation initiatives and a regional workforce plan.

Some of those “learnings” included how to “argue our message more effectively” and provide bureaucrats with the policy detail they required, the group said.

One Gippsland advocated for five key Gippsland-wide projects during its pre-election Canberra campaign, including a major redevelopment of Latrobe Regional Hospital.

Councillor Ellis said while most meetings elicited a “very positive response”, One Gippsland was “directed back to the State Government” over the LRH proposal, and it was made clear by government and opposition MPs the next few Federal Budgets were likely to be “quite severe”.

“We have heard though, that very few regions have done what we did in building this sort of momentum… and they were impressed we were able to represent Gippsland as group,” Cr Ellis said.

He said a push to see the Princes Highway duplication from Traralgon to Sale completed was received favourably, with indications the project might secure support in the next few budgets.

All three One Gippsland members, including Committee for Gippsland chair Harry Rijs, said they were “absolutely” disappointed Mr Crean would no longer oversee the Regional Australia and Regional Development portfolio, with Mr Elkington saying the long-term minister had “understood regional development intimately and established all these (local) relationships”.