IT WAS the first time that the Gippsland Regional Assembly, an initiative of the State Government through Regional Development Victoria and the Gippsland Regional Partnership had been held in Wonthaggi.
And no coincidence that it should be staged in a key part of the Bass electorate only five months out from the next state election.
The Premier Daniel Andrews was back in the area again, for the umpteenth time in the past three months.
However, while there was nothing to match $32 million Wonthaggi Secondary College announcement and $115 million Wonthaggi hospital bombshell, the Premier didn’t resile from the fact that he was targeting the seat of Bass and even hinted at further local funding announcements around public transport.
The Gippsland media held a ‘doorstop’ with the Premier prior to the start of the assembly where the focus was immediately on Labor’s efforts to win the seat.
Here’s what Premier Andrews had to say:
Q1. You’re here today in the seat of Bass, one of the fastest growing areas in the State. What are you doing to support that growth?
A1. If you look at the recent state budget, we’ve invested in the State secondary college here, essentially a brand-new school for this growing community as well as the hospital redevelopment which we announced in the budget. This is all about providing the support, the facilities and funding that the Bass Coast needs. Many of these projects should of course have been delivered decades ago but they weren’t and we’re a government that gets things done and by listening to this local community we’ve been able to provide what’s needed. And when you talk about the seat of Bass you’ve got Pakenham at one end, a fast growing, rapidly growing community that’s got perhaps slightly different needs to a more-established area like Wonthaggi but no different. We’re supporting improvements in TAFE and schools and suburban roads as well as level crossings and upgrading our passenger rail services to benefit everybody right throughout this local community.”
Q2. One of the biggest issues, and we’ve been talking to a few local residents and students about this, is the public transport out here and getting into the city is quite difficult. What are you doing about that?
A2. There are a lot of different projects that the community talks to us about from time to time and we’ve rolled out a very big transport agenda whether it be roads and public transport as well and we have been steadily delivering that week after week for the last three and a half years. We’ll have more to say about that and how we can better connect these communities too, not just to Melbourne, it’s not all about ways of getting to Melbourne, it’s about moving within the region and connecting to Gippsland things like upgrading the Gippsland rail line and there’s been a very significant investment, more than $1/2 billion in fact, and moreover sometimes local transport solutions are more simple, it’s about buses and additional services that can be connected to the V/line timetable. All of those things are things we’ll have more to say about and again those ideas, that agenda comes from listening to this local community and getting that precious local knowledge that we think makes all the difference in delivering the outcomes that people need.
Q3. Is there any capacity for returning rail services down this way at all, to Bass Coast and South Gippsland?
A3. Well, honestly there are some relics from the past when things were closed and sold off by another government, not a Labor Government I might add. We look at all sorts of different options but things have to be feasible and again you have to listen to local communities and do things that are practical and things that can be delivered in a realistic timetable and can represent value. Some things can’t be undone. Some things perhaps should never have been closed or sold off. That’s the agenda that the other side of politics will too often have. But we’re not here tonight to talk about the Liberal Party or National Party.”
Mr Andrews went on to discuss job creation, including 345,000 new jobs in Victoria during his term, and initiatives to support 33 free TAFE courses and 18 apprenticeship and 30,000 extra TAFE courses “so that every young person whether it be from Wonthaggi or Pakenham or any other part of the State can get the skills they need to go for the job they want”.