Councillors meet Nationals leader

Wellington Shire Councillors met with Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien and leader of the Victorian Nationals, Peter Walsh, to discuss the future of the region.

Wellington Shire Councillors met with Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien and leader of the Victorian Nationals, Peter Walsh, to discuss the future of the region.

VICTORIAN Nationals leader Peter Walsh MLA was in Gippsland last week, meeting with community leaders and discussing regional development.

In Sale on Wednesday morning, Mr Walsh attended a business breakfast then met with Wellington Shire Council, then headed to Maffra to meet with Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull.

He noted the same topics were brought up at every meeting, including accessible public transport, further education opportunities, and concerns over job losses in Heyfield and Hazelwood.

The lack of TAFE support was a key issue, he said.

"That's come up at the breakfast and the discussion here (with council)," he said.

"If you're going to have the skills needed for your businesses, you need to have training locally."

Wellington Shire mayor Carolyn Crossley and Gippsland South MLA Danny O'Brien said the meetings were productive.

Cr Crossley said the community should know government representatives were travelling to Gippsland to hear their concerns.

"It's good for (residents) to realise there's someone listening to them, like education and rail, there has to be a decision made on that soon otherwise there'll be complete disconnect and distrust of the governing bodies over time," she said.

"We need basic things like education and transport links, they're taken for granted in the metro area, and it's just staggering the poor quality and service we've had in those areas for decades.

"The community wants to see both sides of the table working together on these issues."

Cr Crossley also encouraged more attention to be placed on VCAL students, who were often the foundation of small businesses in regional areas once they graduated.

"To label them as second-class citizens is appalling," she said.

Mr O'Brien added that a focus on traditional strengths was also a running theme in the discussions, especially in terms of decentralisation.

"There's no point saying we want an aeronautical construction industry here if there's no competitive advantage," he said.

"We've got a competitive advantage with water and good land, so we need to build on that, and there's some really good ideas coming forward."

Mr Walsh refused to be drawn on recent developments in energy policy, with Victoria banning fracking and continuing a moratorium on on-shore conventional gas extraction, South Australia announcing a new gas-fired power plant, and both states committing support for battery storage.

Federally, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for more options to solve energy crises to be put on the table, including resuming conventional gas extraction, while also announcing a $2 billion expansion to the Snowy Hydro Scheme and meeting with gas company executives.

"We said in the debate in parliament last week ...that we need a gas reserve policy in Victoria - conventional gas should be reserved for Victorian businesses," Mr Walsh said.

"It is incumbent on governments, on both state and federal level, to make sure we have sufficient energy for our businesses to prosper, and closing Hazelwood was not a good start in the process."

Gippsland Senior
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