Regional Victoria is a great place to live, work and invest. With population growth pressures and people increasingly looking for the unique lifestyle, culture and opportunities on offer, it's no surprise the population of Victoria's regions is projected to increase to about 2.2 million by 2051, with 60 per cent of this growth to occur in 10 regional cities alone.
Currently, more than 600,000 Victorians choose to live in Victoria's 10 major regional cities: Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Horsham, Latrobe, Mildura, Shepparton, Wangaratta, Warrnambool and Wodonga.
To ensure we continue to enjoy fantastic liveability and lifestyle, it's vital there is continued investment in our regional cities.
Regional Cities Victoria's 2018 liveability index found that rail reliability across regional councils is generally poorer than in Melbourne, and while mobile and broadband services on average compare favourably to Melbourne, there is significant variability between cities.
Without a strong transport network, as regional cities continue to expand, they will inevitably experience the congestion and frustration currently experienced by residents in Melbourne's outer suburbs.
So, in seeking to grow our regional cities and make them an attractive alternative, we need to be careful to avoid replicating the conditions that lead to these growing pains. This is why long-term planning and investment is critical.
The liveability index highlighted key areas for further investment, including rail reliability and speeds, mobile and broadband services and a greater emphasis on tertiary education.
It was great to see a number of initiatives in the 2019-20 Victorian budget that address these challenges and will help to unlock the potential of the regions - from transport and community infrastructure, to more medical specialist appointments, incentives to attract business, free Wi-Fi and support for local projects.
It was great to see a number of initiatives in the 2019-20 Victorian budget that address these challenges and will help to unlock the potential of the regions.
As expected, the focus of the budget was on delivering the government's commitments announced during the November 2018 election, including the Western Rail Plan, Geelong City Deal and the Regional Health Infrastructure Fund.
The $2.6 billion Delivering for Regional and Rural Victoria package is a significant investment in a suite of transport, health, tourism and education programs and infrastructure projects, and will provide benefits across all regional areas. Businesses will also benefit from a further reduction in regional payroll tax, which will make doing business in regional Victoria an even more attractive proposition. It will entice new business investment to regional areas and encourage existing businesses to expand.
This will create jobs, and support our local economies.
We also welcome the new $150 million Victorian Jobs and Investment Fund, to support opportunities of state significance to create jobs and promote economic development.
Indeed, attracting investment is a priority for all regional cities.
Each regional city has individual and natural strengths that local economies can build on, and we believe there are a range of opportunities in growth sectors such as waste management and agritech.
Increasingly, regional economies continue to transition from traditional sectors, and we look forward to learning more about how regional cities can access this fund. Regional Cities Victoria also commends the government for supporting priority projects identified through the Regional Partnerships program.
It's great to see community priorities secure the funding needed to bring these projects to life - and the range of projects is diverse, reflecting the differing needs of regional communities across the state.
The wonderful liveability and lifestyle that we enjoy in regional Victoria is something that needs to be invested in.
Regional Cities Victoria will continue to promote the potential of regional cities, the need for investment and the role regional cities can play in sustainable population management as Victoria continues to grow.
Cr Margaret O'Rourke is Greater Bendigo mayor and chair of Regional Cities Victoria, which comprises the cities of Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong, Horsham, Latrobe, Mildura, Shepparton, Wangaratta, Warrnambool and Wodonga.
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