A focus on connectivity and decentralisation

THE Committees for Wellington and Gippsland have welcomed new leaders this year, both of whom look forward to representing the region’s interests at all levels.

Sophie Morell is the new chief executive of the Committee for Gippsland, which helps steer long-term projects and growth, and advocates for the region across governments.

She replaced Mary Aldred in May, and said the first priority for the organisation was developing a strategic plan that interfaced with everything going on in the region.

“You’ve got rail connectivity, you’ve got digital connectivity, then you’ve got health and education, but all of those interface, and no one’s actually looking at that — and that’s where the Committee for Gippsland are doing the strategic work,” she said.

Ms Morell said there were some exciting projects on the horizon, and the committee was looking to “bring it together”.

“Then when you do go up to Canberra to meet with Darren (Gippsland MHR Darren Chester) and his colleagues, as a One Gippsland delegation, you’ve got key, strategic, influential projects that can make a difference for 20 years’ time,” she said.

The Committee for Wellington, which includes several influential businesspeople and groups, is now led by Justine Andrew.

A lawyer by trade, Ms Andrew said there was a “positive energy” in Wellington Shire, from Yarram to Dargo.

“There’s a lot of people wanting to be involved that want to make plans, and it’s not just next week or next year — it’s for five, 10, 20 years down the track,” she said.

“We can’t just keep our focus on rail, or technology, or health, because no area is in a vacuum.

“It’s not in a bubble, and every topic very much impacts on every other area of focus.”

With the allocation of funding to build a new TAFE campus at the Port of Sale, Ms Andrew said having educational opportunities in the area could help keep young people in the region, or give people a reason to return.

“We’re very keen to see the TAFE built, and happen as a matter of priority, and not just to rest on our laurels now that the funding’s been granted and we lose focus,” she said.

“Equally, with the state election coming up, it’s a prime opportunity for pressure to be put on those running to keep focused and sharpen their attention to the local issues.”

Similarly, with governments of all stripes discussing decentralisation, Ms Morell said Gippsland needed to take the idea seriously.

“My question is not about us Gippslanders travelling into Melbourne, but Melburnians coming out to Gippsland.

“If they leave Melbourne, they’re not going to be arriving at work until 9.30am, and if you’re a government department, how do you expect your offices to run on time?

“They won’t, so how do you expect private industry to do the same?” she questioned.

“You need to start thinking about in and out, and not just into Melbourne (and across Gippsland).

“This year, the Committee for Gippsland are revisiting the Gippsland freight infrastructure masterplan that was done in 2013, and we’re broadening the scope of that to include connectivity and serviceability of public transport.

“Originally, it just looked at freight, and now we’re taking that next step to include public transport, so buses actually interface when trains arrive and trains depart.”

At a recent meeting at the Esso offices in Sale, Gippsland MHR Darren Chester dropped in to discuss his perspective on the issues, adding organisations like the Committee for Wellington were important for securing government funding.

“Connecting our region to Melbourne and the world through better road, rail, aviation and telecommunications links will provide more opportunities for young people to remain in our region and pursue their careers,” Mr Chester told the meeting.

“The Committee for Wellington has been successful in working with local, state and federal representatives to secure funding for a range of important local projects, but we have to have an agenda for the future.

“I’m keen to work in partnership with the committee to get a better deal for Gippsland with major investment in local infrastructure and improved services.”