While I take every opportunity to attend business breakfasts and dinners in our region I finally made it today to a breakfast with local federal member Andrew Broad MP.
Boo's Place was filled with around 30 local residents and business people who had come to listen to Andrew and his guest, the assistant minister to the Treasurer, Michael Sukkar MP, who is accompanying him on a short tour of the Mallee electorate.
Here is an extract of my notes from Michael Sukkar's short talk and Q&A.
Two observations during his visit
- the need for investment in local economic infrastructure
- the need for a more flexible approach for hiring workers
The assistant minister observed during his visit that these points need to be addressed if the government is to unlock the economic potential of regional areas like ours, which are currently being held back by labour regimes and out-dated infrastructure including rail, bridges, roads etc.
He urged local stakeholders to have our master plans and "wish lists" ready and for locals to be "lined up" and unified on the projects that need funding.
Michael learned during his tour of the difficulties facing farmers to hire labour. He acknowledged that if the Mallee, and Australia as a whole, is to become prosperous and take full advantage of free trade agreements with new international markets, then we need a more flexible regime for the hiring of workers.
How many people live in Robinvale?
Prompted by a question, the assistant minister offered to support our council (at a federal government level) with local concerns that the most recent Census grossly underestimated the population in the Robinvale area, which presumably has an adverse effect on the level of government funding for local services.
In response to a question about the difficulty attracting investment into local housing (especially in Robinvale), Michael said he had been told by a local real estate agent that rental vacancies were less than 1%. He shared his thoughts on how to address the shortage of housing and "unlock" more supply which included initiatives the council could do.
The assistant minister offered to work with the Swan Hill Rural City Council and stakeholders in Canberra to address some of the concerns raised.
Attracting people to live in regional areas
Like myself, Michael is a believer that there will be an exodus of city-dwelling people for a better life in regional areas in the future.
He said that the federal government is putting in place incentives to encourage people to "downsize" and make the move, including the First Home Super Saver Scheme.
Here's hoping Swan Hill Rural City Council can work with Michael and Andrew to make progress on some of the topics discussed today.