In the lead up to the Victorian state election, which party will act on solutions? | Opinion

In the lead up to an election, we can expect sales pitches by politicians.

But beware MP’s who call their opponents “city centric”.

There is no doubt that small rural Victorian towns are in serious financial trouble and something needs to change, fast.

From the Auditor General’s report and SGS Economics analysis which showed rural Victoria’s communities were faring worse than any other states’, to the Census data depicting 8 out of the top 10 most disadvantaged areas in Victoria are rural, to ATO data showing 5 out of the 10 lowest income postcodes in the country are in rural Victoria, it can’t be any clearer.

But which party will act on the solution?

Across Australia, tourism contributes more to the economy than agriculture (agriculture, forestry and fishing).

It employs one in 20 Australians, supports one in eight businesses and for the third consecutive year, outperformed the national growth rate (Tourism Satellite Account).

Nature based tourism, growing faster than all other forms of tourism combined, brought a whopping 48.2 million tourist visits to our country in 2016, with record participation in bushwalking, visits to nature parks and aboriginal culture sites.

Nature tourists are known to spend on average 50% more than other tourists (Tourism Research Australia).

New South Wales ahead of the game

The tourism minister for NSW recently confirmed “nature based tourism is a major draw card for the state’s tourism”.

A survey by WOTIF found that not only was there a high visitation to national parks in NSW, accommodation listings in towns around those areas increased by up to 310 per cent, securing welcome funds to the communities.

Victoria’s sleeping giant

A study by Marsden Jacobs (2016) put nature based tourism spend in Victoria at $7.4 billion already, responsible for 71,000 jobs and $265 million in avoided health care costs.

Phillip Island Nature Parks contributes $500 million and 2100 jobs to Victoria’s economy and the Great Ocean Road attracts 5 million visitors a year with their $1.3 billion spend. 

Winton Wetlands welcomes 36,000 visitors a year and Lake Tyrell in the State’s north, thanks to the support of the Andrews government, is set to rake in the nature loving, lucrative Chinese tourist market.

Of the two major parties, the Andrews’ government appears light years ahead in recognising the value of tourism to our rural communities.

But we need to do far more to arrest rural Victoria’s demise and ensure it is the place to be.

Across our state, wetlands lay largely undiscovered which would rival Kakadu.

Rich in Aboriginal culture, home to rare and threatened species of birds and some even recognized internationally for environmental significance such as the stunning Kerang RAMSAR wetlands.  

With Kakadu having just won the top tourism award, our opportunity here is clear.

In fact, unless we start to market these assets for nature tourists, what’s to stop areas like Kerang, Donald and nearby Boort all of whom afford us stunning wetland habitats highly conducive to nature tourism, from continuing to slide down the economic toilet?  

As it is, according to Australian Tax Office, some of the lowest income postcodes in the country are around these areas.

We need to embrace the obvious simple solution.

White-faced Heron. Picture: Eleanor Dilley.

White-faced Heron. Picture: Eleanor Dilley.

The solution to rural Victoria’s woes is in our nature

VEAC recommended these places become National/Conservation Parks back in 2008, to protect threatened species and bring economic benefit to the areas with an estimated extra 20 per cent visitors (even prior to the rapid increase in popularity of nature tourism, so the number would likely be higher now). 

Sadly, despite much community support, these recommendations were not heeded.

How much income have these communities lost since then due to government not taking up these independent evidence-based recommendations?

With a long way to go to prove commitment to regional prosperity, the Andrews government is at least showing promise.

Conversely, we are still waiting for Mr Walsh’ (National Party) response to our letters asking for nature based tourism initiatives.

What is his vision for a “Better Deal for Victoria”?

Referred to as city centric or not, I will vote for the party who provides for my rural community’s health and prosperity, based on independent evidence-based policy.

Let these parties prove themselves.

Their time starts now.

Kerrie Allen pp Regional Victorians OTDS Inc.

Kerrie Allen’s family has lived in rural Victoria over generations. With a love of the bush and a background in financial services, Kerrie takes a keen interest in the social and economic factors influencing rural Victoria. She is spokesperson for Regional Victorians OTDS Inc, a body committed to advocating for safe and prosperous rural communities.

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