ADDRESSING inequality is at the heart of a new economic development strategy being developed in Greater Bendigo.
A discussion paper, released yesterday, highlighted the perils of failing to do so.
"Greater Bendigo will continue to experience increasing inequality and disadvantage across our city if we continue to adopt a 'business-as-usual' model for economic development," it said.
GREATER Bendigo leaders have identified tackling inequality as key to increasing the region's wealth.
A steering committee comprised of representatives from a number of prominent organisations is developing a new economic development strategy, which promotes a vision of "an inclusive, sustainable community where people thrive".
A discussion paper, released yesterday, said the strategy would directly target the lack of opportunities experienced by many in Greater Bendigo and across the region.
"The strategy will be designed to provide everyone with the opportunities they need to participate and prosper in the current and future economy," the paper said.
Its success would be measured by how fairly economic, social and environmental benefits and gains were shared throughout the community.
Greater Bendigo is home to nine of Australia's most disadvantaged suburbs.
They include Long Gully, West Bendigo, Ironbark, North Bendigo, California Gully, Eaglehawk, Eaglehawk North, Sailors Gully and Heathcote.
Strathfieldsaye is among Australia's most advantaged suburbs.
Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation chief executive and economic development strategy steering committee member Rodney Carter said the discussion paper showed there were many people who had been left at disadvantage in fundamental areas such as health, housing, and employment.
"We have a long way to go to build our capacity so that everyone can participate fully in the social and economic fabric of the community," he said.
The steering committee said it wanted the community's input on the proposed strategy.
The 51-page discussion paper outlined issues and opportunities in the community.
Among them was the goal to lift the Year 12 or equivalent educational attainment rate in Greater Bendigo to state and national standards.
Just over 81 per cent of Greater Bendigo residents between the ages of 20-24 have completed Year 12 or equivalent. The Victorian average is 86.5 per cent.
The discussion paper also suggested per capita gross regional product be boosted to state and national averages, and greenhouse gas emissions be comprehensively reduced to deliver a net zero carbon city by 2036, at the latest.
Greater Bendigo youth council mayor Khayshie Tilak Ramesh said the commission's goals were bold and extremely ambitious.
But that's exactly the thinking she said was needed.
"Many young people today are in a state of crisis about their future and are asking for help," Ms Tilak Ramesh said during the discussion paper's launch.
She said concerns about climate change were not only flooding the world's media, they were flooding the minds of young people.
Whereas today's adults might have been envisaging space-age technology and opportunities when they were younger, Ms Tilak Ramesh said her generation was worried about how decisions being made on global, national and local stages would affect their lives.
She took heart in seeing people who held power in the community come to the table to work on a strategy for the city's economic development.
"I think it's that care factor and seeing elders and adults in our community actually have a vested interest in our success," Ms Tilak Ramesh said.
Bendigo and Adelaide Bank managing director and economic development strategy steering committee member Marnie Baker said having a natural flow of young people coming through Greater Bendigo, getting an education and becoming skilled participants in the workforce was vital, from the perspective of one of the city's largest employers.
But it was also important on a more personal level. The city was home to many of the bank's staffers, including Ms Baker.
"I want in generations to come my children and their children to be growing up living and working and raising their own families in a really sustainable, inclusive community that's thriving," she said.
Mr Carter said a sustainable economic base was needed for Dja Dja Wurrung people and the whole Greater Bendigo community to achieve self-determination and improved community wellbeing.
"If we have a strong and diverse economic base, we build opportunities for all and we provide for our health and wellbeing, and we strengthen our living culture for all," he said.
Greater Bendigo mayor and economic strategy steering committee chair Margaret O'Rourke envisaged partnerships with the community, the private sector, the state and federal governments would be needed to deliver on agreed priorities.
"Council can only do so much," she said.
"We are an enabler, but it is about business and community and other governments also assisting."
Be.Bendigo chief executive Dennis Bice, Bendigo Health chief executive Peter Faulkner, Bendigo Education Council chair Darren McGregor and City of Greater Bendigo chief executive Craig Niemann are also among the steering committee's members.
Coliban Water and the Loddon Campaspe Regional Partnership are represented, too.
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Cr O'Rourke said the committee wanted all adults to have the opportunities to develop to their full potential, for children to stay in school longer and for the city's youth and unskilled workers to have clearer career pathways and training.
"Prosperity happens through education. And that prosperity's not just about getting a job. It's about having good health outcomes, it's about having a good environment. There's so many elements to prosperity," she said.
The completed strategy is expected to be released in 2020.
To have your say on the discussion paper, visit bendigo.vic.gov.au. Submissions close at 5pm on August 26.
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