DEPUTY prime minister and Nationals leader Michael McCormack was in Bendigo yesterday afternoon to spruik the coalition’s decentralisation election focus ahead of state and federal polls.
He is arguably the highest profile politician to visit Bendigo since his predecessor Barnaby Joyce in 2016.
Politicians will be forced to woo regional voters to sell policies aimed at fixing discontent in congested metropolitan seats inundated in recent decades with the majority of incoming migrants.
Both tiers of government, federal and Victorian, have recently pushed out decentralisation policies in the hope of moving residents out of Melbourne and Sydney.
The Coalition went as far this week as proposing to mandate the movement of migrants into regional areas by making new arrivals go to smaller states and regions for at least five years. In a speech focussing on congestion, federal minister for cities, urban infrastructure and population Alan Tudge said evidence suggested that after a few years in regional areas, many migrants would stay.
Victorian Liberals leader Matthew Guy this week added to the decentralisation focus by promising to review the state tax system in a bid to encourage more people to move to the country, should he become Premier.
Taxes on property, land and business would be put under the microscope to see if the system can be changed to divert the state’s rapid population growth away from Melbourne.
Mr Guy also flagged moving V/Line’s headquarters from Docklands to Ballarat, and establish Bendigo as a financial services centre.
It comes as the Liberals endorse a candidate for Bendigo West to run against Maree Edwards who enjoys a 12 per cent margin in the seat and should also benefit from preferences coming from experienced political campaigner Laurie Whelan running for the Greens.
Lawyer Kevin Finn was endorsed on Wednesday night by the Liberal party.
He said he commuted to Melbourne for work but has lived in Bendigo for the past 12 years.
Rail would be a strong focus of his campaign, Mr Finn said yesterday, adding that the existing system was plagued by cancellations.
He has just over a month to convince voters before the November 24 poll.
Labor has sought to convince Melbourne voters that more public transport, including an airport rail connection and suburban rail link, will ease congestion.
Its decentralisation policies have included promises to upgrade the Bendigo to Kyneton track to increase the frequency of commuter trains, and moving state government departments to regional cities, such as VicRoads to Ballarat.
The federal coalition appears to take the decentralisation focus another step with its migration proposal.
“Decentralisation is of critical importance, not just for the people who live in congested Melbourne or congested Sydney or Brisbane, but also for people in regional Australia to know that any migration program, any plans for the future, take on board migrants but in a strategic, targeted and placed way,” Mr McCormack said in Bendigo.
“There is no point putting people into areas where are no jobs, no point putting migrants into places in regional Australia where there is no hope, there is not communities there that want to help them.
“When you have strong border security policies, you are able to open your arms to those people who are in a refugee crisis situation.
“We allocated $1 billion in the May federal budget to ease congestion but part of the population strategy is making sure we have a targeted, and placed strategy (to placing) migrants in regional areas.”