Wellington Shire Council Mayor, Ian Bye has been elected Chair of One Gippsland, an advocacy group that represents the Gippsland region at large.

As Chair of One Gippsland, Cr Bye will lead efforts to work closely with all levels of government, businesses, and the community to improve Gippsland’s liveability and economic potential.

“Gippsland is a beautiful and productive region with strong aspirations to be one of the most liveable places in Australia,” Cr Bye said.

Covering a huge 41,000 square kilometres, Gippsland is Victoria’s largest region, home to more than 270,000 people across six areas, with an annual economic output of $14 billion.
One Gippsland includes representatives from all six Gippsland councils, Federation University, TAFE Gippsland, Food and Fibre Gippsland, Destination Gippsland, and Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC).

The group says it is committed to working with businesses and the community to address the region’s needs.

Cr Bye will be joined by Baw Baw Shire Council Mayor, Annemarie McCabe, who was elected Deputy Chair.

Leading One Gippsland in the coming year, Cr Bye is eager to advocate for Gippsland’s needs, particularly realising the economic potential of renewable energy, creating job opportunities, and ensuring critical infrastructure is planned for the areas in Gippsland that need it most.

“I’m really passionate about making our transition to new and emerging industries smooth, ensuring maximum benefits to our community,” Cr Bye said.

“While each One Gippsland member organisation may have different priorities, ensuring that Gippsland is a thriving, connected and liveable region is at the forefront of this work, and I am looking forward to working with One Gippsland over the next 12 months.”
Cr Bye takes over from East Gippsland Shire Councillor, Mark Reeves.

“Cr Reeves’ leadership has been important for our region during a critical period as we transition to new industries,” Cr Bye said.

When discussing transitions, at top of mind is the closure of the timber industry at the end of this year, which has been a major focus for Cr Bye, who has called for a practical transition.

Member for East Gippsland, Tim Bull blasted One Gippsland in May for saying they “cautiously” welcomed the state government’s 2023-24 Budget, with Cr Bye joining in on the criticism after the demise of the timber industry was brought forward to January 1 2024, seven years ahead of the original schedule.

“The One Gippsland media release confirmed my suspicions that this entity is nonsense and a long way from the ‘peak advocacy body for the Gippsland region’ that it claims to be,” Mr Bull said.

“They prepared a wish list of projects, to my eye, had none funded, and in addition to being ignored, the government cut funding streams important to the regions and announced that one of our key industries is being destroyed with a paltry compensation package, with no forewarning to the impacted families, or consultation – and they welcomed it!

“It is a group that appears to come together for opportunistic benefit and have a brain dump of isolated local projects with a ‘we will support yours if you support ours’ mantra rather than develop a coherent regional strategy.”

Mr Bull concluded his statement by saying: “I’d be more than happy for my two councils – East Gippsland and Wellington – to leave this organisation as it clearly does not represent our best interests in eastern Victoria and is not what it claims to be.”

East Gippsland Shire Council said they will remain a key member of One Gippsland.

“Being at the table allows us to have input and influence on priorities that will improve the region, but East Gippsland more specifically. These include but are not limited to, road freight, digital connectivity, attracting tourism funding, improvements to the passenger rail network, and industry support and development,” East Gippsland Shire Council wrote in a statement.

“One Gippsland has successfully advocated for many projects and services that have directly or indirectly benefitted (sic) East Gippsland.”

One Gippsland itself responded to Mr Bull’s statement, saying it recognises that “Mr Bull’s role in Opposition involves putting forward views that, where relevant, are at odds with the government”.

“We share the deep concern across our region about early closure of native timber harvesting,” One Gippsland’s statement read.

“One Gippsland’s immediate focus is to ensure that no one is left behind in light of this decision. We would welcome a collaborative, not combative, future relationship with Mr Bull so we can leverage the best outcome for our communities.”

As the Gippsland Times reported in May, when asked for comment regarding Mr Bull’s statement, Cr Bye said the original statement issued by One Gippsland was “disappointing”, adding, “it does not support council’s views on the state budget, one that lacks any kind of support for key projects or maintenance programs throughout the Wellington region.”

“Wellington Shire Council does not plan to leave One Gippsland, acknowledging the importance of Gippsland councils working together to achieve a shared vision, encouraging investment and growth,” Cr Bye said.

“However, we do hope the organisation better represents our community moving forward and that our views are more adequately represented through future media and advocacy work.”

Now that Cr Bye has been elected as Chair of One Gippsland, he now has the opportunity to ensure that Gippsland’s agenda is front and centre and act accordingly in response to his own criticism that he made months ago.

He has found at least one backer, with Mr Bull welcoming Cr Bye’s appointment.

“I’m delighted with the appointment of Cr Ian Bye as chair of One Gippsland, have extended this to him personally and expressed my keenness for a catch up,” Mr Bull said.

“Ian and I enjoy a great working relationship, and as most will know, we have both been critical at times of One Gippsland, me more than Ian. I think he’s been an outstanding Mayor, as he calls it how he sees it.

“With him at the helm, I am confident we can improve communications and get on a similar page when it comes to lobbying for projects in our region.

“One thing is for sure; I have no doubt One Gippsland won’t be ‘welcoming’ State Budgets that are horrific for our region like it did earlier this year.”

Looking ahead, Cr Bye said he is eager to start collaborating closely with the state and federal governments and the private sector to invest in Gippsland, supporting economic growth, community investment, and better access to services.

“As Chair, I will be advocating that Gippsland requires strategic investment to help our region take full advantage of its natural assets, create jobs and improve the liveability of the region,” Cr Bye said.

He acknowledged One Gippsland’s teamwork approach, stressing the importance of everyone working together for funding and policies that benefit the whole Gippsland region.

Wellington Shire Council says it is committed to prioritising Gippsland’s key projects, especially focusing on the transition to renewable energy.

Wellington Shire Council’s commitment to One Gippsland is supported through chief executive David Morcom.

One Gippsland has listed key priority projects it deems critical for the future economic and social success of the region.

These are freight network investment, planning and road safety, offshore wind policy, improved rail services, recovery of tourism and events post-pandemic, meeting the region’s health and wellbeing needs, education and skills, and food and fibre projects.

Cr Bye and Cr McCabe were also joined on the 2024 board by new board representatives, who are all Mayors of their respective councils. They are Cr Tom Crook – East Gippsland Shire Council; Cr Clare Le Serve (Bass Coast); Cr Darren Howe (Latrobe City); and Cr Clare Williams (South Gippsland).