Victoria Summit 2015 - Regional Victoria

The Victoria Summit 2015 – Regional Victoria was held in Bendigo on the 13-14 August 2015, bringing together regional business leaders and stakeholders from across the State to identify the priorities needed to keep regional Victoria growing.

We launched our latest policy document Regional Victoria Means Business at the Summit, calling on policy makers to adopt reforms that strengthen regional business competitiveness, employment, trade and investment.

The report was informed by extensive consultation with regional businesses and Victorian Chamber members, as well as our workshop series in the lead up to the Victoria Summit.

The report outlines seven steps to strengthen regional business competitiveness that if adopted will make a valuable contribution to securing further regional prosperity.

You can download the full document (PDF 1.1MB) or read the key highlights below.

Regional Victoria Means Business

Victorian Chamber’s priorities to strengthen regional competitiveness, employment, trade and investment.

Regional Small Business

While many regional businesses are small in size, they are big on ideas, entrepreneurship and innovation.  Taken together, they are major employers and key drivers of state economic activity, trade and investment.  Victorian Chamber seeks a commitment from governments at all levels to make regional small business a priority.

  • Assist regional small businesses create jobs and increase competitiveness by raising the payroll tax threshold from $550,000 to $850,000.
  • Reintroduce payroll tax exemptions for eligible new trainees and apprentices, as currently exist in NSW, QLD and WA.
  • Use WorkCover surpluses to fund lower premiums for employers.
  • Enable regional small businesses to employ more people by reforming penalty pay rate structures for small business employers.
  • Retract Victoria’s two new public holidays: Easter Sunday and Grand Final eve.  Both impose significant costs on small business and result in lost productivity.
  • Change the definition of “small business employer” in the Fair Work Act 2009 to refer to “fewer than 20 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) employees” rather than 15 as is currently the case. This will expand the coverage of the clauses relating to minimum engagement period (s 383), Small Business Fair Dismissal Code (s 385, 338) and Exemption for Redundancy Pay (s 121) (1b).
  • Include ‘minimum engagement’ as an award matter that can be varied under the individual flexibility arrangements (IFA) in all awards. This would allow regional employees and employers to decide the most appropriate minimum hours of engagement per day.  Currently IFAs allow variations to overtime rates, penalty rates, allowances, leave loading and working hours, but not ‘minimum engagement’.
  • Help unemployed regional youth, retrenched workers and out-of-trade apprentices get back to work by increasing the Back to Work employer payment from $2000 to $5000.
  • Where small regional start-up businesses become a member of a local chamber of commerce, professional or industry association, extend a 50 per cent discount on the costs associated with registering a business name.
  • Aim for up to 20 per cent local content in all regional major projects and government purchasing and strengthen opportunities for regional SMEs and apprenticeships.
  • Consolidate existing state and local government information on available grants and financial support to regional small businesses under a single electronic point of entry.
  • Ensure the financial value of government grants to regional small business exceeds the costs associated with applying for, administering and reporting on grant outcomes by a minimum ratio of 3:1.
  • Raise the existing 25 per cent regulatory reform target to a 30 per cent reduction in the level of red tape by June 2016, ensuring a significant number of the identified reforms directly benefit regional business.
  • Strengthen the use by government departments and agencies of Regulatory Impact Statements (RIS) to assess the impacts on regional small business of proposals for new, sunsetting or amending regulations.
  • Rationalise or abolish unnecessary government agencies, boards and committees.  Review which government services provided at the regional level could be outsourced to the private sector.
  • Allocate $2 million for a program to provide tailored training to regional small business on how to produce stronger credit applications. This should include how to successfully complete loan applications and practical steps small businesses can take to strengthen their business case, deepen relationships with their business bankers, and document their technical capabilities in financial language.
  • We encourage governments, industry and other membership organisations to explore new opportunities to address the funding gap for smaller regional companies looking for capital, including the possible establishment of a Business Growth Capital Fund to provide loans to high growth companies looking to expand further. 

Regional Infrastructure

Continuing hard and soft infrastructure investment is key to long term regional growth and must be delivered as part of an integrated regional approach.Infrastructure must not only tackle short-term gaps and push-forward existing ‘investment ready’ projects, but provide ‘future-proofing’ to enable our regions to meet their trade and commerce potential in years to come.

  • Accelerate the pace of the NBN rollout in regional Victoria and ensure it strategically prioritises areas where upgraded internet access will provide the greatest benefit to local economies.
  • Improve mobile and Wi-Fi services on V/Line trains.
  • Encourage further unsolicited bids for infrastructure projects from the private sector to enhance the pipeline of regional infrastructure projects. In support, develop a Regional Victoria Investment Development Profile that highlights the top 10 regional ‘investment ready’ infrastructure projects to highlight private investment opportunities.
  • Identify state owned assets in regional Victoria, such as under utilised land, which could be sold, leased or privatised to raise capital to reinvest in new projects.
  • To progress major regional investments, create a one stop shop for local and state government regulatory approvals that reduces costs and delays.
  • Work with the Cardinia Shire Council to finalise a site for Melbourne’s third major airport in the southeast, maximising opportunities for private sector investment.
  • Investigate the scope to further decentralise key state government departments or agencies to regional locations in order to improve regional stakeholder access to these agencies and support regional employment opportunities. Implement a 5-10 year reform timetable.
  • Provide $2 million in funding to deliver regional small business training on how to access government procurement, covering how to prequalify, where to find out about tenders, practical advice on how to form joint ventures and introductions to key procurement officers within government agencies.
  • Ensure regional small business capabilities and limitations are more effectively taken into consideration during the process of designing tenders for projects that fall within VIPP thresholds by establishing a Small Business Procurement Reference Group within the office of the Victorian Procurement Coordinator.
  • Enable regional small business to identify sub-contracting opportunities and build new relationships by requiring companies that have been awarded Government contracts to publicly list sub-contracting opportunities. Such a process currently exists in Western Australia.
  • Encourage greater opportunities for regional small businesses by requiring VIPP Plans to outline the level of value-add activities that will be sourced from regional areas.

Regional Global Connections

The ability to mobilise local assets and resources and grow new markets at home and abroad depends in no small part on our regional business leaders. Our best performing regions are characterised by the presence of individuals and groups who possess a shared vision of their region’s future and actively share ideas and experiences in order to shape new business opportunities that will benefit the local economy, and the state more widely.

  • Allocate $2 million to create a Regional Small Business: Global Opportunities promotional and information campaign to address the lack of awareness among regional small businesses of export opportunities and direct them to programs and support specifically targeted at first time exporters.
  • Relatedly, develop a strategy and action plan to actively leverage regional opportunities created by Free Trade Agreements and assist Victorian regional SMEs take advantage of these.
  • Fund a new $5 million Regional Trade and Investment Ready Program, delivered by industry, to identify and support Victorian regional SMEs seeking inward investment as part of their trade expansion strategies.
  • Grow the Victorian Jiangsu Business Program (VJBP) to help regional businesses develop new links, capabilities and mutually productive trade and investment opportunities with their counterparts in China.
  • Accelerate the Food to Asia Action Plan to capitalise on Free Trade Agreements and stimulate employment in agribusiness and agrifood research, processing and distribution.
  • Enhance international connections and networks with global regions that have comparable features, strengths and challenges, in order to promote collaboration and facilitate knowledge sharing, trade and innovation uptake.
  • Expand successful models of regional leadership and development in communities that would benefit from a more structured leadership framework. This will help enhance local vision and provide further support to locally driven strategic development, along with inter-regional collaboration.

Regional Skills

Regional populations are growing. With this growth comes the challenge of ensuring local workforces are highly skilled, adaptable and employable.

Strong vocational and tertiary education partnerships at the local level need to be encouraged further, building not only high-level generic skills, but also specialised capabilities that support emerging business opportunities, and link local students to regional business growth. A key priority must be to boost regional apprenticeships and traineeships.

  • Swiftly implement the recommendations of the Review of Quality Assurance in Victoria’s VET System to engender confidence in the VET system among regional stakeholders.
  • Introduce a new industry skills component in a new vocational education and training (VET) funding model to address issues specific to regional areas, for example, geographic areas or industry sectors responding to structural change or those with unique employment or skill needs.
  • Reinstate core funding for the TAFE sector to ensure that areas of regional Victoria that are not adequately serviced get access to high quality training.
  • To address skill shortages in regional Victoria, encourage universities to offer more rural bonded scholarships in key growth industries where recipients commit to working for three or more continuous years in a rural or remote area of Victoria upon graduation.
  • To reduce regional youth unemployment, reintroduce funding for regional career development resources and Structured Learning and Workplace Co-ordinators to strengthen student transition pathways to further education and employment.
  • Support the development of regional and rural education models that attract and retain graduates in rural Victoria.
  • Improve student accommodation across the state, facilitating affordable close to campus and on campus options.
  • Pilot a regional model for international student experience, with deeply integrated university/ business cooperation. Develop a regional/rural strategy to support international student recruitment and experience.
  • Strengthen ‘employability’ skills by expanding and enhancing existing youth focused job exchange and work experience/placement programs to incorporate a wide range of sectors and businesses across regional Victoria.
  • Review existing regional advisory structures which oversight workforce planning and training delivery to identify efficiencies that can be achieved by better aligning higher education delivery models and industry skill requirements.
  • Map employer demand for specific qualifications, occupations or skills across each major regional area to help minimise the mismatch between employer expectations and the attributes, knowledge and skills that students exit universities with.
  • Identify and promote regional career paths through a strategic and cooperative marketing campaign designed to build awareness of local industry strengths and employment options for both semi-skilled and skilled employees across regional Victoria.

Regional Land-Use and Investment

Sustainable regional growth will depend on a strategic approach to regional land use, planning and the attraction of new investment into emerging industries and activities that complements the ongoing diversification of Victoria’s regional economies. 

While a ‘holistic’ regional policy framework is key, a ‘place-based’ approach to regional development is also important as it allows the unique features of each region to be capitalised on.  For example, Geelong has leveraged off its strong manufacturing and research capabilities to attract businesses in the internationally competitive carbon fibre industry.  Similarly, in the Bendigo region the healthcare, education and construction industry is leveraging off the investment in the new Bendigo Hospital to position Bendigo as a global centre for health innovation.

  • Strengthen Invest Victoria’s focus on and engagement with regional Victoria.
  • Develop dedicated strategies and action plans to leverage regional growth and new investment in: - Water and land reuse for agribusiness. The Bunyip Food Belt is a good example of how industry, local government and water authorities can work together to improve the utilisation of high quality soils and water supplies. - Natural gas exploration and supply expansion for new power, advanced manufacturing and industrial applications.
  • Ensure the Government’s Renewable Energy Action Plan includes a strategy to leverage regional capabilities and resources to attract new investment and grow expertise in research, production, construction and maintenance of wind farm power generation, solar energy, biofuels and bioenergy.
  • Map the exposure of Victoria’s small towns to the pressures of industry restructuring, increased global competition, changing climatic conditions and changing technologies, especially in the agricultural sector. Ensure reforms generate new business opportunities, maintain access to services and strengthen the capacity of local workforces to adapt to emerging opportunities and threats.
  • Provide VGBO and RDV offices with discretionary funding to support emerging commercial activities. Such funding will enable each region to respond to challenges and opportunities. It will also increase regional service delivery flexibility and responsiveness in the fast changing business environment.

Regional Tourism and Events

Tourism is a significant contributor to Victoria’s regional economies, generating over $10 billion in Gross Regional Product (GRP) and employing over 100,00 people. However, while Melbourne has enjoyed significant growth in international visitor expenditure over the past decade, regional Victoria continues to rely heavily on domestic travel. With the Asian visitor economy booming, regional Victoria needs to ensure it increases its share of this important tourism market.

  • Attract investment and develop new signature/hero tourism products to drive additional demand and expenditure across Victoria’s regions.
  • Invest in a range of high quality, high yield tourism products and services that meet the needs and expectations of key international visitor growth markets, including the priority areas of food and wine, spa and wellness, accommodation, and nature-based tourism.
  • Boost funding to maintain existing regional state-owned tourism infrastructure assets.
  • Fast track planning approval processes to enable regional tourism projects to get to build stage.
  • Implement an intrastate regional marketing campaign to encourage Victorians to holiday in regional Victoria.
  • Expand the Victorian regional events calendar with a focus on developing cultural and community events, as well as further support for regional business events.
  • Improve the profiling and marketing of Regional Victoria’s nature-based and touring experiences by aligning with Tourism Australia’s ‘Restaurant Australia’ and ‘Coast and Aquatic’ campaigns, and its driving holidays promotion to Chinese travellers.
  • Encourage initiatives to increase the number of Victorian tourism businesses listed on the Australian Tourism Data Warehouse (ATDW) to be able to compete effectively with other states that have a larger proportion of their tourism businesses listed.
  • Swiftly co-ordinate relevant task teams to implement recommended actions contained in the Victoria Visitor Economy Review.
  • Maintain real funding levels to attract business events and conferences aligned to Victoria’s priority sectors and ensure Victoria’s regions benefit from events attraction and promotion.

Regional Service Delivery

Significant opportunities are available for Victoria to prosper through the strength and diversity of its regions. However, success will depend in no small part on the quality of supportive regional business and community services provided by governments and their agencies. 

The Victorian Government’s current review into the Department of Economic Development’s regional service delivery model is timely and important. Its aim must be to provide better planning for regional investment, better delivery of regional services and improved coordination, alignment and integration of government activities with local community and business needs.
  • Increase levels of cooperation and integration between regional service delivery bodies and those parts of government (local, state and federal) that design, implement and evaluate regional development policies and programs.
  • Strengthen VGBO and RDV regional office resources and provide them with greater autonomy to lead and coordinate local regional development activities. However, such autonomy must not overshadow efforts to improve levels of cooperation and interaction between VGBOs, RDV, other levels of government (for example, Regional Development Australia) and the private sector.
  • Strengthen processes to periodically assess the structural design of Victoria’s regional service delivery model and the evaluation and reporting of individual bodies to ensure their performance remains relevant, timely and effective.
  • Re-establish the Community Cabinet process and commit to holding at least six meetings per year in regional Victoria. Community Cabinet is an opportunity for the government to listen to local businesses and to hear about their ideas to help make Victoria’s regions a better place to live, work and invest, discussing the issues that are important directly with a Minister or senior departmental official.
  • Ensure a number of key Regional Victoria Living Expo activities are held in regional locations to ‘bring the city to regional Victoria’ and showcase the many opportunities for not only families and skilled workers in Victoria's regions, but potential business investors and relocators.
  • Support regional investment attraction and locational decision-making by establishing a biennial Regional Competitiveness Report that integrates the economic, business and livability aspects of different regions into a single competitiveness index.
  • Evaluate inter-regional comparative economic advantages and synergies to determine the allied infrastructure improvements that are needed to support increased region-to-region and region-Melbourne connectivity.
  • Foster enhanced collaboration between government, research institutions and business, providing business-friendly advice and information that supports strategic and operational decision making. This could include, for example, land-use planning analysis, information on forecast population growth or changing population demographics.
  • Ensure that the Local Government Rates Capping and Variation Framework adopted by the Government does not unfairly impact local councils’ viability and the variation framework is not overly complex for smaller regional and rural councils.

Victorian Chamber has identified key priorities in each region which we believe will make a valuable contribution to securing regional prosperity.

Priority Projects by Region

Ballarat Region

  • Relocate VicRoads head office to Ballarat.
  • Upgrade Mair St and revitalise the central business district.
  • Increase passenger and freight rail services, and investigate the feasibility of the duplication of the train line between Ballarat and Melbourne.
  • Complete the duplication of the Western Highway from Ballarat to Stawell.
  • Widen and upgrade Ballarat-Buninyong Road.
  • Progress the North Ballarat Major Sports and Entertainment Precinct.
  • Attract investment for the development of the Wildlife Art Museum of Australia in the Grampians.

Bendigo Region

  • Progress the development of Marong Business Park.
  • Fund the completion of the Bendigo airport redevelopment project to include a business park and commercial development.
  • Support the completion of the East Bendigo Link Road.
  • Develop the proposed Greater Bendigo Indoor Aquatic and Wellbeing Centre.
  • Develop a ‘Bendigo Health Industry Plan’. Support the establishment of a local medical school.
  • Continue to progress improvements to tourism infrastructure at Hanging Rock.

Great South Coast Region

  • Complete the duplication of Princes Highway West from Geelong to Colac.
  • Upgrade facilities at Warrnambool railway station.
  • Increase the number of daily train services from Warrnambool to Geelong.
  • Progress the funding of the development of the 12 Apostles Trail and support new accommodation investment.
  • Fund Stage 2 of the South West Healthcare (Warrnambool Hospital) redevelopment.
  • Extend 3-phase power to support the dairy industry.

Geelong Region

  • Upgrade freight connections from the Geelong Ring Road to the Port of Geelong.
  • Support heavy vehicle bypass works on the Geelong road freight network.
  • Assess the merits of a purpose-built Geelong exhibition and convention centre.
  • Provide funding for Stage 3 of the Geelong Performing Arts Centre.
  • Provide funding to improve infrastructure on the Adventure Trails.
  • Progress the development of the Portarlington Safe Harbour project.
  • Fund the development of the Geelong Ring Road Employment Precinct.

Hume Region

  • Fund the Shepparton Bypass.
  • Upgrade the Goulburn Valley Highway from Shepparton to NSW.
  • Progress the Rutherglen Bypass project.
  • Construct a rail freight link to Logic Wodonga, and the Goulburn Valley Freight and Logistics Centre (GV Link) in Shepparton.
  • Improve the reliability of the Wodonga rail line and increase passenger train services for the region.
  • Develop an Investor Prospectus to attract new investment

Mildura Region

  • Complete Stage 1 and fund Stage 2 of the Murray Basin Rail Project.
  • Fund an appropriate heavy vehicle bypass around Mildura.
  • Relocate the Mildura intermodal freight hub to Mildura South.
  • Upgrade Murray River crossings at Echuca, Swan Hill and Yarrawonga.
  • Progress the next stage of the Mildura Riverfront Development.

Measuring Success

What might further regional growth look like with the right blend of policies and programs in place?

With the right blend of regional policies and programs in place, continuing growth into the next decade and beyond is likely to result in our regions accounting for not only a larger share of Victoria’s total economic output and population, but a greater share of trade, employment and investment. Success will not only be measured by rising regional incomes and economic activity. We can expect wider welfare and social gains associated with renewed improvements in regional livability.

Regional success, therefore, is likely to be characterised by a range of attributes, including:

  • The existence of vibrant regional city centres with strong connections to business, the community and neighboring smaller towns.
  • Rising regional output, employment and productivity.
  • Lower youth unemployment.
  • A key destination for international tourists and major events.
  • Further growth in their share of the state’s total population.
  • A major source of research and commercialisation from businesses in priority/emerging growth sectors.
  • The preferred destination for new investment and business start-ups.
  • An even greater share of Victoria’s food and fibre exports.
  • Strategic knowledge centres, prized for their education and training excellence.
  • A major contributor to the advancement of renewable energy technologies and alternative energy supplies.
  • Rising incomes and living standards.
  • Increased community participation in arts, culture, sport and recreation, reinforcing liveability credentials.


Victorian Chamber would like to thank the principal partners of the Victoria Summit 2015: