By STEFAN BRADLEY
REGIONAL Capitals Australia (RCA) is calling for more investment into growing regional
communities in the areas of road and air connections, city and job building funds, telecommunications, and arts and culture as more Australians are moving out of metropolitan cities.
RCA represents 51 larger regional councils around Australia and is chaired by Councillor
Daniel Moloney, with Latrobe City Council being one of the regional capital cities he engages with.
Cr Moloney explained that RCA generally classifies a regional council as a “regional capital
city” based on population size.
“A regional capital city usually has at least 50,000 people, and serves a few other shires around it to share services,” Cr Moloney said.
“The bigger council would share things like recycling, animal shelters and health services with the smaller ones.
“Latrobe City Council would work with Baw Baw and Wellington, with each council using each other’s services.”
Even though Wellington Shire is not considered a regional capital city, RCA still works with them as they share with Latrobe City.
“Latrobe knows they’re not part of a bubble, they’re part of a larger region,” he said.
“You’d probably find that people in Sale or Bairnsdale would quite likely use health services
in Traralgon as they have good train connections and a big concentration of people.”
Cr Moloney believes the trend of Gippsland residents moving to Melbourne has changed.
“Previously you’d have seen a lot of teenagers and young people leaving the regions for Melbourne for education and staying there,” Cr Moloney said.
“Now we’re seeing the reverse.
“We’re actually seeing an exodus from the capital cities into the regions.”
The pandemic has been a big instigator of that, but not the entire story.
“We’ve had a situation over the last 30 or 40 years where there’s been heavy investment in
Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane in particular”, Cr Moloney said.
“And those cities have grown in population to a point where many people are starting to see them as unliveable.”
Cr Moloney, who moved from Ballarat to Melbourne, and eventually back to Ballarat, said
that traffic was a massive frustration for him.
“Melbourne’s traffic was just too painful in the sense that I was spending an hour or two in the car commuting,” he said.
Cr Moloney said about a decade ago, workers in Gippsland increasingly began commuting to their Melbourne job on the V/Line service rather than moving to the city.
“It would take an hour, maybe up to two hours from Warragul or Traralgon, but that commute would be the same on the road in Melbourne anyway,” he said.
During the pandemic, work and personal situations changed considerably and many people
discovered the likes of Zoom and Microsoft Teams with faster speeds on the National Broadband Network, which meant regional staff no longer needed to commute to the CBD office in Melbourne, and new remote job opportunities came up.
“It means you can live in Traralgon, Sale, Lakes Entrance, Bairnsdale, or anywhere around
Australia,” Cr Moloney said.
“You can enjoy the beautiful regional Gippsland lifestyle that most people only get to experience as tourists, but that can be your daily life and you can still have a professional job.
“Just Zoom into the office meetings.”
Cr Moloney said regional cities are facing issues with mobile reception and slow Internet
“These are things that government policy can drive and put more investment into,” he said.
“Mass migration into the regions needs to be supported by the right telecommunications
infrastructure, so hopefully we see something come out of that in the federal budget.
“We need people to be confident that they’re not gonna drop out of a team meeting randomly thanks to poor telecommunications if they move away from Melbourne.”
To encourage Melburnians to move to regional areas like Gippsland, a number of key things
should be in place, including work opportunities, education, health, housing and transport.
“There needs to obviously be a good job to go to,” Cr Moloney said, “and if that job doesn’t exist, than the move won’t even be on the radar.
“Good education is especially important for families and kids, along with a strong health system and accessible housing.
“Get all of those things done well and you can become a thriving community.
“There’s places like Latrobe City and Wellington that do incredible things with limited budgets, but they don’t run the healthcare and education system.
“We need to see ongoing improvements to our health systems, and not just during the pandemic with bigger hospitals and satellite hospitals.”
Cr Moloney said that a lack of transport options was a key barrier stopping people from moving to the area.
“I know there are ongoing upgrades to the Gippsland Rail Line, but it needs to be progressively improved to reduce travel times and make it more attractive to those who want to live in the regions,” he said.
“Likewise, road upgrades, or improve access to the Latrobe Regional Airport, which is getting more traffic over time.
“It’s not a commuter hub at the moment, but the time and distance may become viable in the future in the next 10 or 20 years. It’s working in Wagga Wagga, with the Rex Airline connections.”
Cr Moloney wants more funding for arts and culture in regional capital cities.
“It’s about making regional areas attractive on an ongoing basis,” he said.
“We have great art galleries and theatres, but regional tours costs money.
“Most councils will stage a couple of festivals or events throughout the calendar year, but having an improved cultural experience helps to be the icing on the cake when someone makes that decision to move to a regional area.
“It’s not just about attracting people to move here, it’s also about giving the regional people that full cultural immersive experience they shouldn’t have to go to Melbourne for.
“You shouldn’t have to go to Melbourne to see a festival or the best art in the world.”
Cr Moloney said international migration would be the key to address the troubled tourism, retail, events and hospitality industries, as well as the higher education sector.
“International migration has mainly been led by
students,” he said.
Cr Moloney said that universities are struggling at this time, including Federation University in Churchill, which has been “operating with one arm behind its back during the last couple of years because of the pandemic where it hasn’t had that pipeline of international students coming in”.
“International students are an interesting market,” he said.
“They get to experience regional life, hopefully fall in love with the place they’re studying, get to visit the regions around them and then start to provide many of the professional services and jobs that have broader economic benefits to Gippsland towns.”
Cr Moloney said the lack of international students has had a negative effect on the retail and hospitality sectors.
“Pretty much every town in Victoria has been having trouble manning the ship in pubs, restaurants and cafes, and much of that workforce was taken up by students, especially during the peak of the tourism periods,” he said.
“While it’s a populist opinion to say we should cut back on migration, we’ve seen now what that’s done over the last couple of years is slow the growth opportunities for regional cities and it hurts many businesses in the process as well.”