In Canberra last week, I was delighted to learn Flinders is a regional seat within the Coalition Party Room, giving our residents input into regional policy and priorities.
While this might not surprise many locals, it jars with the ongoing classification with the Mornington Peninsula as “metropolitan Melbourne” by the Victorian Government.
For decades, the classification of the Mornington Peninsula as regional or metropolitan has been contested, with residents suffering the worst of both worlds.
Reading through the First Speeches of former Members for Flinders, regionality has been an issue for many of my predecessors. Peter Reith’s burning passion as a newly minted MP for Flinders was to exempt the area from Subscriber Trunk Dialling rates in the 1980s – achieved when Australia moved to 8-digit phone numbers in the 90s and intra-state STD rates disappeared.
Today, the Mornington Peninsula is considered regional for some things but not others. For example, our local arts bodies can seek access to federal funding if they are located in Cape Schanck, Flinders, Shoreham, Red Hill South and Merricks, but not if they are in Main Ridge or Fingal.
Similarly, we qualify for some telecommunications assistance, like the Peri-Urban Mobile Program, which will shortly start improving mobile reception in Main Ridge, Merricks North, Mt Martha and Rye, but other Peninsula regions cannot be considered.
It is both confusing and frustrating for anyone trying to improve the lives of our residents and businesses. All the more so when we consider Geelong – a city of some 250,000 residents – which receives all the benefits of regional status, despite being closer to Melbourne’s CBD and having a higher population than the Peninsula.
After a decade’s policy experience across education, health, communications, tourism and the arts, and 262 days of studying freedom-land as I came to think of the Bellarine Peninsula during lockdown, I know with some certainty that regional areas do better than metropolitan areas when it comes to the public dollar.
Following a two-year investigation of the relative advantages and disadvantages of being classified as regional or metropolitan, the Committee for Mornington Peninsula found that the Peninsula was worse off than our regional neighbours. (By way of disclosure, I served on the Committee’s board throughout 2021).
The assessment concluded that we were worse off in transport, education, road funding, health, tax, stamp duty, planning levies, immigration, and skilled workers.
Most significantly, the report concluded that we are not just worse off when compared to ‘regional Victoria’ but we are worse off when compared to the rest of ‘metropolitan Melbourne’ as well. For example, we remain the only metropolitan area with a diesel V-Line train service, instead of electrified Metro Trains.
For many, including myself, the most important factor when it comes to our future regional status, is securing the long-term future of the Mornington Peninsula Green Wedge.
The Committee’s work included an investigation of the measures required to protect the Green Wedge, in the event of a status change.
Legal advice was sought from a prominent planning Queen’s Counsel, which concluded that in amending the Planning and Environment Act 1987 to classify the Mornington Peninsula as part of regional Victoria, the Victorian Parliament could equally “amend Part 3AA of the Act to put beyond doubt the maintenance of the existing protection for green wedge land in the Shire.”
Such an amendment is much easier than creating any new sub-category which appears in no grant program, at either the State or Federal level.
The Mornington Peninsula Shire and Yarra Ranges Shire have proposed an alternative: “peri-regional” status. I welcome and encourage their exploration of ways to gain greater access to grants, but it is important to remember that “peri-regional” does not exist as a substantive category for funding at any level of government.
A cynic would suggest the ‘peri-regional’ focus is a ‘look, an eagle!’ tactic by those unable or unwilling to advocate successfully for a ready alternative which wouldproduce immediate eligibility under existing grant programs.
Regional in name, perhaps, but not regional in the bank account.
There is no reason to think that ‘peri-regional’ will improve our outcomes unless the existing funding streams are redefined to be for both regional and peri-regional, and that is not on the table.
Despite the loud and passionate protestations of the public, including by my predecessor Greg Hunt and the long-standing Members for Mornington, David Morris and Hastings, Neale Burgess, the Victorian Government has shown no interest in making the Mornington Peninsula regional at all.
We know it is under active consideration within the Victorian Coalition, and their local candidates are vocal about it – we will have to wait and see if the Mornington Peninsula receives a regional classification that better reflects our community and improves the way we live.
*PUBLISHED IN THE MORNINGTON PENINSULA NEWS – TUESDAY 9 AUGUST, 2022*