Mayor Rice in trade push 

STAWELL - Northern Grampians Shire Mayor, Cr Wayne Rice, is fearful for the future of rural communities such as Stawell, if trade schools are not re-established.

Speaking on his attendance at the fly-in, fly-out conference at Rockhampton in March, Cr Rice said without trade schools, the level of skilled workers would continue to diminish in areas like Stawell.

"We are already seeing it now," Cr Rice said.

"There is the scenario of local kids finishing High School who don't want to be a brain surgeon or an Information Technology expert. If they could leave and start an apprenticeship in mechanics, plumbing, painting or as a builder, they are able to stay where they were born and bred.

"They obtain vital skills and become important members of their community. We are not seeing that now, as more and more kids move away to obtain the necessary schooling."

Cr Rice said he had been interested in the outcome of an enquiry commissioned by Independent Federal Member of Parliament, Tony Windsor into fly-in, fly-out and drive-in, drive-out workforce practices in regional Australia.

"The paper was titled 'Cancer of the bush or salvation for our cities?' and that really does stand true," Cr Rice said.

"The investigations show that FIFO only started because companies could not get enough qualified tradespeople to work in the mining industry.

"In real terms, that really is the cancer of the bush, as what started out as companies looking for one or two workers, has grown beyond belief.

"Now we are seeing in towns like Kalgoorlie, Mt Isa and Cobar, there is no accommodation available as the motels are fully booked in advance for fly-in, fly-out workers in the mining industry. Any housing is also taken up, or the rent is far too high.

"When you can't get people to live in a town where they want to work because the rent is so high, it's so sad and they have to do FIFO. This lack of available accommodation is also no good for tourism in these areas."

Cr Rice said Northern Grampians Shire needed to be a leader in ensuring governments at both state and federal level are aware of the risks involved with allowing communities to exist without a skilled workforce.

"We need to put a stop to it and right now," he said.

"We have to get trade schools back up and running tomorrow. Only then can we try and control this cancerous situation we are in.

"If we don't wake up and recognise there is a real issue here, in a few years time, we will be in serious trouble. I think we are already there."

Cr Rice said the challenge ahead for council, as to ensure the Northern Grampians Shire is promoted as a liveable and attractive destination.

"We are continuing to vigorously pursue funding for the establishment of Stawell Airport as the fly-in, fly-out base, but at the same time, we're also working hard on attracting new in vestment, new industry and new people to the Northern Grampians," Cr Rice said.

"To achieve that, we must be seen as a liveable and attractive shire. We need to make places like Stawell a point of hire and I believe we are on the right track.

"Also given the potential for future mining in the Wimmera region, we need to get the government listening to us and changing their ways of thinking. One area they need to focus on in that regard, is the re-establishment of trade schools.

"The stronger we can get the message across to government, to all Australians that are headed down the wrong path and that we need to change our direction, the more chance we will have of succeeding with our plans.

"It's the only way the Northern Grampians Shire will ever change this situation of unsustainability that we are currently in."

Cr Rice said as a follow up from the conference in Rockhampton, he addressed the Wimmera Development Association on Tuesday night and received an overwhelming reception.

"I spoke to a diverse range of people on the outcomes of the conference and all agreed that at present, without the existence of trade schools in our regions, we are heading in the wrong direction," Cr Rice said.

"The challenge now will be to ensure some of these outcomes, some of these ideas for a better future, are put into practice as a matter or urgency."

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