Submission to Great South Coast Draft 30-Year Infrastructure Priorities

 24 February 2021

Mr Michel Masson
Chief Executive Officer
Infrastructure Victoria
Level 16, 530 Collins Street
MELBOURNE.  VICTORIA 3000
via: Engage Vic website

Dear Mr Masson,

RE: SUBMISSION TO GREAT SOUTH COAST DRAFT 30-YEAR INFRASTRUCTURE PRIORITIES

Food and Fibre Great South Coast welcomes the opportunity to provide a submission to the Infrastructure Victoria 30-Year Draft Infrastructure Priorities consultation process.

About Food and Fibre – Great South Coast Inc.

Food & Fibre Great South Coast is the representative body for food and fibre in the Great South Coast. The Great South Coast is Victoria’s largest food and fibre region, producing $2.3 billion in agricultural output annually. The food and fibre industry accounts for 60% of the region’s GDP and 21.6% of total jobs in the region.

Our region spans south west Victoria, taking in the beautiful coastlines of the Great Ocean Road to the inland majesty of the Southern Grampians. We are the people, natural environment and industries of Corangamite Shire, Glenelg Shire, Moyne Shire, Southern Grampians Shire, and the City of Warrnambool – collectively a population of 103,900 people, over 11,000 businesses, achieving a gross regional product of $5.5 billion.

Our purpose is to grow the value of regional food and fibre production to improve the prosperity and resilience of our local communities. We do this by collaborating to (i) drive regional value-add, investment and sustainability; (ii) realise the untapped water opportunity; (ii) nurture food and fibre careers; and (iv) champion a positive industry image.

Our vision is for the Great South Coast to be Australia’s most productive, innovative, and sustainable food and fibre production region.  Our strategic direction is guided by the Great South Cost Food and Fibre Action Plan[1] and is intrinsically aligned with the Great South Coast Economic Futures Report 2020[2].

In 2020-21 and beyond, we are focusing our resources on optimising our impact and unlocking the opportunities to grow the value and capacity of the Great South Coast’s food and fibre industry.  Please find herewith our response to the Draft Recommendations most relevant to our organisation.

Draft Recommendation 77: Deliver funding certainty for regional road maintenance and upgrades

Within two years, specify clear levels of service for each type of regional road and bridge. Following this, dedicate an ongoing program to fund regional road and bridge maintenance and upgrades to meet these service levels. Funding should be prioritised based on improving safety, decreasing vehicle emissions, and lifting economic productivity.

Food and Fibre GSC endorse this draft recommendation, noting the urgency of delivering within the proposed timeframe and with ongoing, dedicated funding.

There is an urgent need to secure funding certainty for regional road maintenance and upgrades in the Great South Coast region. Food and Fibre GSC note that State budget commitments towards roads in the 19/20 Budget include strong funding commitments such as:

  • $40 million to upgrade the Princes Highway from Colac to the South Australian border
  • $9.9 million for the Hamilton Highway upgrade
  • More than $941 million for better regional roads across the state, including:
    • $333 million for regional road restoration
    • $261 million for road upgrades in regional Victoria
    • $229 million for Continuing Towards Zero, providing safety upgrades to our regional road network
    • $100 million for grants to rural councils to undertake local road remediation projects
    • $17.4 million to establish Regional Roads Victoria

However, the majority of this funding commitment ($941 million) will be spread thinly over chronically poor road networks across all Victorian regions. Food and Fibre GSC is particularly interested in how these funding allocations will be determined and prioritised, the delivery schedule and the measurement of benefits to regional communities, as well as the benefits accruing at the State and National level.

Our strong view is that ongoing investments in road maintenance and upgrade are required as critical to driving improved safety of regional populations (who the data tells us are most at risk of fatalities and injuries on our roads), sustainability benefits (through emission reductions), and the significant economic and productivity benefits that is immediately accrued through capital attraction, improved market access, and innovation. We encourage government to consult deeply not only through its own representative bodies, but with councils and groups such as ourselves to ensure shared value is understood and optimised.

Draft recommendation 78: Revise the Murray Basin Rail project plan

Immediately revise the Murray Basin Rail project plan, informed by the project’s business case review.

Food and Fibre GSC endorse this draft recommendation and consider the Murray Basin Rail Plan (MBRP) , including the Portland-Maroona link, as essential and urgent. As a stakeholder group particularly reliant on transport infrastructure we have been disappointed by the stalling of this project, noting that certainty of delivery following project announcements impacts investment and growth decisions undertaken by the thousands of businesses that comprise over 60 percent of the Great South Coast economy.

We welcome the move back towards rail standardisation in Western Victoria, allowing competition across the Ports of Geelong, Portland and Melbourne.  An efficient and affordable rail freight network is essential for the future of food and fibre industries compete more effectively in global export markets.  As such, we urge governments to work together towards the completion of the remaining stages of this project.

Draft recommendation 79: Fund an ongoing rail freight maintenance program

Immediately fund an ongoing periodic regional freight rail maintenance program, informed by a publicly available network asset management plan.

Food and Fibre GSC strongly endorse this draft recommendation, noting the points raised above regarding infrastructure certainty and its direct impact on investment and growth decisions for over 60 percent of the Great South Coast economy.

Maintenance funding for both regional road and regional rail networks is key to the success of regional and rural agribusiness, farms, aquaculture, and forestry enterprises.

We urge Infrastructure Victoria to urgently prioritise:

  • Maintenance funding for regional rail freight networks of $25,000 per kilometre for each of the approximately 2,500 kilometres of active rail track.
  • Strategic integration and alignment of State and regional transport plans that include rail freight as an integrated part of the transport network.
  • Standardisation of the Victorian Rail Freight Network.
  • More efficient access to ports.
  • A rolling stock strategy to ensure consistency and quality of freight trains.

 

Draft recommendation 80: Continue to address regional Victoria’s digital connectivity gaps

In the next five years, continue delivering regional digital connectivity improvements, and review the need for further government investment following the roll-out of the Digital Future Now initiative.

Food and Fibre GSC endorse this draft recommendation noting our concerns regarding the timeframe, given that severe blackspots persist in the Great South Coast which preclude digital inclusion for food and fibre practitioners and their families.

Lack of digital connectivity holds our region and sector back in terms of innovation, productivity, profitability, education, industry participation and social benefits.  Specifically, given the pace of technology and innovation, we do not feel five years is an acceptable timeframe for these producers and families to not be participating fully in the digital and innovation economy.  Separately, we note the urgency in building digital skills – there is significant research which demonstrates that even when functional digital connectivity infrastructure is in place, Australian producers are not able to leverage the potential benefits on offer.  We would welcome an integrated approach to digital connectivity which recognises the need to integrate infrastructure with skills as equally required to ensure accessibility.  The applicability for productivity, profitability and sustainability improvements through the Internet of Things is a case in point.

We refer you to the work of the Great South Coast Regional Partnership. In particular the Great South Coast Digital Plan and Digital Priorities merit increased funding to unlock opportunities for growth in both economic and social services for our region. We have included an extract of the Great South Coast digital plan (Table 4, page 24, which sets out the current unmet digital needs of our significant places) as an example of the patchy digital connectivity that is creating a concerning ‘have’ and ‘have-nots’ digital experience in our region which must be urgently addressed. However, we emphasise that this table does not examine the true impact of intermittent and unreliable connectivity on our businesses.  A deeper analysis of intermittent digital connectivity and the infrastructure to address this limitation is required.

Place LGA Name User Type Access
Fixed
Supply / Demand
Mobile*
Supply / Demand
LP-WAN IoT
Supply / Demand
WiFi
Supply / Demand
City Warrnambool Warrnambool
(pop. 30,707)
Business M/H H/H H/M n.a.
Home H/H H/H H/L M/L
Community n.a. H/H n.a. M/L
Glenelg Portland
(pop. 10,059)
Business M/H H/H H/M n.a.
Home H/H H/H H/L M/L
Community n.a. H/H n.a. M/L
Town Southern Grampians Hamilton
(pop. 8,892)
Business M/H H/H H/M n.a.
Home H/H H/H H/L L/L
Community n.a. H/H n.a. L/L
Moyne Port Fairy
(pop. 3,028)
Business M/H H/H H/M n.a.
Home H/H H/H H/L M/L
Community n.a. H/H n.a. M/L
Corangamite Camperdown
(pop. 2,994)
Business M/H H/H H/L n.a.
Home H/H H/H H/L L/H
Community n.a. H/H n.a. L/H
Corangamite Terang
(pop. 2,027)
Business M/H H/H L/L n.a.
Home H/H H/H L/L L/H
Community n.a. H/H n.a. L/H
Warrnambool Koroit
(pop. 1,585)
Business M/H H/H H/L n.a.
Home H/H H/H H/L L/L
Community n.a. H/H n.a. L/L
Corangamite Cobden
(pop. 1,566)
Business M/H H/H M/L n.a.
Home H/H H/H M/L L/L
Community n.a. H/H n.a. L/L
Glenelg Casterton
(pop. 1,344)
Business L/H H/H M/L n.a.
Home M/H H/H M/L L/H
Community n.a. H/H n.a. L/H
Glenelg Heywood
(pop.1,261)
Business L/H H/H H/L n.a.
Home M/H H/H H/L L/H
Community n.a. H/H n.a. L/H
Moyne Mortlake
(pop.1,109)
Business L/H H/H L/L n.a.
Home M/H H/H L/L L/H
Community n.a. H/H n.a. L/H
Local Southern Grampians Coleraine
(pop. 849)
Home H/H H/H M/L L/H
Community n.a. H/H n.a. L/H
Corangamite Timboon
(pop. 796)
Home M/H H/H L/L L/L
Community n.a. H/H n.a. L/L
Warrnambool Allansford
(pop. 725)
Home H/H H/H M/L L/L
Community n.a. H/H n.a. L/L
Glenelg Cape Bridgewater
(pop. 326)
Home M/H M/H M/L L/H
Community n.a. M/H n.a. L/H

 

Draft recommendation 11: Consider all water supply sources

Consider all water sources for supply augmentation, including identifying and addressing barriers to recycled drinking water within the next 10 years. When planning for future water supply, investigate all options including, but not limited to, recycled water, seawater desalination, stormwater harvesting and using water pipelines to move water between regions.

Food and Fibre GSC cautiously endorse this draft recommendation. In so doing, we note that supply augmentation of water supply and addressing barriers to recycled drinking water has not been a key area of focus for our organisation, however, we trust that previously water augmentation undertaken projects will be closely analysed and inform future directions – particularly in terms of the cost and time involved and the results delivered to the community.

We encourage consideration of projects in the Great South Coast that enable sustainable new water supply sources to be made available for agricultural production. For example, recycled water being made available for permanent plantings and horticultural development would drive significant regional growth and value. Our research shows that increased productivity worth up to $54 million can be achieved by increasing water usage by just 10 percent. We would be pleased to share this research on request.

Draft recommendation 14: Strengthen agricultural water security by modernising irrigation

During the next 30 years, contribute funding toward planning and delivery of irrigation modernisation projects across regional Victoria.

Food and Fibre GSC strongly endorse this draft recommendation. We note that several studies have shown the critical importance of sustainably utilising the Great South Coast’s plentiful ground water resource as a key pathway to grow high value productivity and prosperity in the region.

We welcome the opportunity to partner in the planning of the irrigation modernisation project in our region and encourage this to be incorporated into the upcoming Western Water Strategy process. We note our desire to grow and diversify our region’s participation in the Sustainable Irrigation Program administered by DELWP.

Food and Fibre GSC takes this opportunity to underscore the relationship between recommendations 81 and 14.  The broader distribution of three phase electricity provides an enabling condition for modernised irrigation on existing farms and helps to unlock opportunities for irrigation development.

Furthermore, whilst this process and recommendation focuses on infrastructure, we consider there must be provision made for increasing investment in user knowledge and technology extension to enable an adaptive approach to resource management that allows for (i) optimal use of the water security and efficiency opportunities presented by improved water infrastructure, and (ii) more flexibility in trade and access to water.

Draft recommendation 15: Upgrade Victoria’s emergency water network

Immediately assess the condition, capacity and security of Victoria’s emergency water supply point network, and upgrade or replace inadequate supply points. Clarify ongoing responsibility for maintenance and funding to secure a resilient network.

Food and Fibre GSC endorse this draft recommendation.  It is of primary importance to assess and maintain the condition of the Great South Coast’s emergency water supply points so that they are secure and of sufficient capacity to provide water for emergency livestock and domestic purposes during severe dry

seasonal conditions, surface water scarcity, and bushfires. Given climate warming predictions, revisiting capacity requirements is of particular importance.

Draft recommendation 16: Invest in protecting Victoria’s coasts

In the next eight years, invest in coastal protection upgrades and maintenance, including beach and dune protection and rehabilitation, and storm surge protection, particularly for coastal tourism assets in Great South Coast, Great South Coast and Gippsland regions. Please refer to Infrastructure Victoria’s draft 30-year strategy (section 1.2) for additional recommendations on water and climate.

Food and Fibre GSC endorse this draft recommendation. We note that the protection of the Great South Coast’s tourism assets is required to support agri-tourism operators as well as playing a role in the attraction of a skilled permanent workforce to our region’s biggest industry and employer, food and fibre.

Draft recommendation 81: Upgrade power supply infrastructure for agriculture and regional manufacturing

In the next five years, contribute toward strategic power supply infrastructure upgrades for agriculture and regional manufacturing, where an independent assessment demonstrates significant potential for increased productivity, competitiveness and growth.

Food and Fibre GSC strongly endorse this draft recommendation. We refer Infrastructure Victoria to our January 2021 submission to the Australian Energy Regulator (AER) for a detailed expression of our position. We note there is an urgent need for a comprehensive assessment of the requirement for additional strategic power supply infrastructure upgrades across the Great South Coast.

In undertaking the independent assessment of investments that increase productivity, competitiveness and growth, whole of region economic value and social benefit must be taken into consideration. We note our view in the submission that the current AER process for evaluating power infrastructure upgrades unintentionally disadvantages regional Australia and inappropriately distributes the cost onto direct customers despite the shared benefits. Ninety-five (95) submissions were received by the AER sharing our position.

As noted above, Food and Fibre GSC takes this opportunity to underscore the relationship between recommendations 14 and 81.  The broader distribution of three phase electricity provides an enabling condition for modernised irrigation on existing farms and helps to unlock opportunities for irrigation development.

Draft recommendation 82: Plan for future investment in regional nature-based tourism infrastructure

In the next five years, develop a Victorian nature-based tourism strategy to guide industry development and prioritise further investments in nature-based tourism infrastructure.

Food and Fibre GSC endorse this draft recommendation, noting the alignment of our sustainable food and fibre sector with nature-based tourism and the importance of food and fibre being consulted at the early planning stage for proposed nature-based tourism infrastructure developments in the Great South Coast.

Draft recommendation 83: Develop a Victorian Aboriginal tourism strategy

Partner with Traditional Owners to develop a Victorian Aboriginal tourism strategy in the next five years to guide future Aboriginal tourism investments, including through Joint Management Plans.

Food and Fibre GSC endorse this draft recommendation. We note that we have a proud 32,000 year-plus history of food and fibre custodianship by our first nations. We consider this an important story to tell, celebrate and share. We look forward to appropriately supporting the Victorian Aboriginal Tourism Strategy when rolled out in the region.

Draft recommendation 28: Facilitate improved recycling infrastructure for priority materials

Immediately focus efforts to increase and upgrade waste processing infrastructure on six priority materials. Facilitate increased recovery and reprocessing capacity and capability for paper and card, plastics and organics by 2025. Revisit funding mechanisms and align recycling infrastructure with land use planning.

Food and Fibre GSC endorse this draft recommendation. We welcome the focus on aligning recycling infrastructure with land use planning, and consider this vital. We note our particular interest in organic recycling planning and any new regulations or processes, noting we may be involved in the provision of organic waste.

Draft recommendation 29: Strengthen end markets for recycled materials

Immediately accelerate market development for recycled materials by updating standards and specifications, and explicitly require the Victorian public sector to use recycled products where feasible. In the next five years, support research, development and demonstrations to build confidence and demand for recycled products.

Please refer to Infrastructure Victoria’s draft 30-year strategy (section 1.5) for additional recommendations on recycling and building a circular economy.

Food and Fibre GSC endorse this draft recommendation and note our commitment to strengthening the end market for recycled materials. Our community values and strives to continuously improve our sustainability, innovation, productivity and profitability outcomes.

Draft recommendation 85: Reform regional public transport to meet local needs

In the next five years, gradually redirect some regional transport funding to re-designed, integrated local transport services, based on regional needs assessments, and incorporating flexible services that meet local needs.

Food and Fibre GSC endorse this draft recommendation. We note our role as a significant regional employer and the importance of effective regional public transport to our workforce and their families.

Draft recommendation 69: Expand rail access in outer suburbs

In the next five years, complete plans to progressively expand access to rail services in growth areas and purchase remaining land required for rail corridors and stations.

Food and Fibre GSC endorse this draft recommendation, noting the Great South Coast comprises of a suite of significant and attractive regional destinations that we trust will be considered for accessibility from the outer suburbs  to which rail networks are expanded.

Draft recommendation 86: Improve resilience of regional telecommunications infrastructure

In the next 10 years, develop more resilient regional telecommunications infrastructure so communities can stay safe during emergencies, including greater network redundancy and back-up power supply.

Food and Fibre GSC strongly endorse this draft recommendation. We note that regional telecommunications infrastructure underpins the safety, innovation and industry participation of our Great South Coast food and fibre businesses and workforce.  In times of emergency, the risk to regional and rural communities when telecommunications infrastructure fails is impossible to quantify. At a minimum, the lack of infrastructure resilience creates enormous stress and anxiety, and encourages risky practices, and at worst it costs lives.  Effective and resilient regional telecommunications infrastructure is now a basic need for the food and fibre sector that comprises 60 percent of the Great South Coast economy. When regional telecommunications infrastructure is not functional this has direct economic impacts on those affected, and therefore regional, state and national economies.

Draft recommendation 75: Deliver infrastructure for a better mental health system

Immediately establish a dedicated infrastructure fund to support a better mental health system, building on the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System.

Food and Fibre GSC endorse this draft recommendation. Compared to the general Australian population, rural farming communities face a higher risk of suicide. While farmers are generous at providing help to others, they are often reluctant to ask for help themselves. Living in rural areas, access to mental health support is limited and where support is available, providers may have poor understanding of the realities

of life and work in the farming environment. We note that The Centre for Rural & Remote Mental Health (CRRMH) provides leadership in rural and remote mental-health research and is currently working in the Great South Coast region to provide evidence-based service design, delivery and education.

The National Centre for Farmer Health (NCFH) is another important leader in our community. The NCFH focuses on prevention and early identification of risk factors associated with farming populations, and develops timely, appropriate, effective and popular interventions. Key programs include Mental Health 4 Ag and ifarmwell.

Draft recommendation 90: Support regional councils to update, repurpose and retire outdated community infrastructure

Fund rural and regional councils in the next five years to update, repurpose and retire outdated community infrastructure for better service delivery.

Food and Fibre GSC endorse this draft recommendation. We consider partnering with regional and rural Councils critical to ensure infrastructure is up to date and fit for purpose to support better service delivery for regional communities.

Draft recommendation 91: Create climate-adapted facilities for rural communities

In the next five years, fund local governments to plan and help deliver a network of designated, accessible climate-adapted community facilities, to manage the health impacts of extreme heat and bushfire smoke.

Food and Fibre GSC endorse this draft recommendation. We agree with the need to fund local government authorities to plan and deliver a network of designated, accessible, climate-adapted community facilities, to manage the health impacts or extreme heat and bushfire smoke.  As an example, towns like Timboon have limited road access and if residents cannot evacuate early there is no satisfactory safe haven. The ‘place of last resort’ is the town hall which the CFA cannot guarantee a tanker for, nor has it  been constructed using fire prevention materials.

Draft recommendation 59: Build back better after emergencies

In the next year, consider policy changes and funding mechanisms so high-priority public infrastructure destroyed by emergencies is built to a more resilient standard or in less vulnerable locations.

Food and Fibre GSC endorse this draft recommendation.  Current funding policy for post-emergency recovery stipulates that infrastructure that is damaged can only be restored as ‘like for like’.  This premise is unnecessarily limiting, as infrastructure can be replaced at a superior quality more cheaply than a ‘like for like’ replacement. For example, a small bridge may be replaced with culverts.  Food and Fibre GSC encourages Infrastructure Victoria to take this opportunity to improve infrastructure policy in the post-emergency space so that recovering communities can propose the best solutions without onerous red tape or policies that preference solutions that are more expensive that satisfactory alternatives.

Draft recommendation 57: Rapidly renew old public housing

Rapidly renew dilapidated public housing properties, with a priority to renew at least half of all older low-rise apartments and older three-bedroom detached dwellings by 2031.ndation 94

Draft recommendation 94: Expand social housing in regional centres, in locations with good access

Focus social housing investments in regional centres, near access to transport and services, to contribute to a target of 4.5 social housing dwellings for every 100 Victorian households by 2031.

Draft recommendation 95: Make social housing suitable for changing local climates

Prioritising northern Victoria, continue to deliver a long-term program of modifying social housing to be climate-resilient by improving the energy efficiency and energy affordability of residences.

Food and Fibre GSC endorse the draft recommendations 57, 94 and 95. We note the housing supply shortfalls in the Great South Coast and the critical importance of ensuring that public and social housing are renewed, climate-adapted and expanded in supply with access to transport and services.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission on the Infrastructure Victoria Draft 30-Year Infrastructure Priorities. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you wish us to expand on any of the above. We look forward to the acceptance and implementation of these critical proposals.

Yours sincerely,

                                                                           

Georgina Gubbins                                                                                              Natalie Collard

Chair                                                                                                                      Executive Officer

Contact:

Natalie Collard
Executive Officer
Food and Fibre Great South Coast Inc
natalie@southcoastfoodfibre.com.au
ABN: 9117273979

[1] McKINNA, Great South Coast Food and Fibre Action Plan 2015, November 2015

[2] Juturna and Downey, Great South Coast Economic Futures – Final Report, May 2020