“They represented all of regional Victoria, coming from a range of locations.”
That’s what Infrastructure Victoria’s Regional Citizen Jury report stated before listing 29 towns in and around northern Victoria.
It held ‘citizen jury’ sessions in Shepparton over six Saturdays earlier this year to discuss an Infrastructure Victoria report and chose only to invite people from towns within 100 kilometres to take part.
The result: a recommendation about Gippsland trains terminating at Pakenham and passengers changing to a metropolitan service.
There are different interpretations as to whether this refers to new or existing rail services, but no matter which is the case, the core issue with this process remains the same.
It beggars belief that a community consultation process claiming to represent all of regional Victoria could have resulted in such a recommendation which is so far removed from local sentiment.
The report also dismisses the idea of a dedicated regional rail track for Gippsland – something that locals have wanted for many years.
Not to be overlooked is the fact a discussion took place during the citizen jury about a transition away from coal-fired power generation, without representation from the community that would be most impacted.
A citizen jury consultation process has the potential to give a voice to ‘everyday’ Victorians who might not normally participate in public discussion and that is to be applauded, as is the decision to gauge the views of regional residents separate to the city-based citizen jury.
However, holding it in only one regional area leaves so many communities – not just Gippsland – without a voice.
Regional areas do share many challenges. But they are all different.
The Goulburn Valley does not know the infrastructure needs of Gippsland, just as it would not be appropriate to consult Gippslanders on the needs of the Goulburn Valley.
Assuming one regional area could speak for them all is no less ignorant than allowing city-folk to decide what’s best for country Victoria.