STAWELL - Northern Grampians Shire Council is calling on both the state and federal governments to make important changes to prevent communities like Stawell from falling further behind.
Mayor, Cr Wayne Rice, attended the fly-in, fly-out conference at Rockhampton in March and came away with a good understanding of how governments in other states and other countries are operating for the benefit of rural and regional communities, particularly in mining areas.
Cr Rice said he feared communities like Stawell were being left behind when it came to building up a strong skills base and this was due mainly to a lack of trade schools. He has called on state and federal governments to change their way of thinking across many areas, which would enable council to put strategies in place for attracting new industry, building up vital infrastructure and also developing a highly skilled workforce in Stawell.
Cr Rice used an example of how the Canadian government supports its regional areas, by allowing local government the power to issue planning permits to mining companies. These permits then come with stringent conditions.
"I believe the Canadian model of issuing planning permits to mining companies is a good model," Cr Rice said.
"Local Government issues the planning permit to the company. With that, a mining company comes along and says to council they want to open a mine here. They lodge a permit with council, whose first question is, how many people will you employ in the start up phase?
"The formula dictates that the mining company will provide, for example, 250 houses, put them in a certain location and maintain them to a certain standard. If the mine goes, the housing is still there in the town and is in good condition. What that does, is allows council to market itself as having good quality accommodation available for people who wish to relocate there.
"It's a fantastic strategy for attracting new people and new industry, having good quality housing readily available." Cr Rice said in areas like Cobar, the lack of available accommodation is causing real concerns and that was why the region was so heavily reliant on the fly-in, fly-out program.
"In Cobar, there isn't that accommodation available, because all the FIFO workers are booked in motels permanently and housing is either taken up, or the rent is far too high for people to afford," he said.
"We certainly wouldn't want that happening in Stawell. If the infrastructure is already there, you can start to put in place strategies for attracting other industries to town, using the formula that we have available housing, we have quality medical services and excellent schools."
Cr Rice said the state, or provincial governments in Canada, don't override the decisions of local government.
"That's where the Australian system is wrong," he said. "Towns like Mt Isa, Cobar, Kalgoorlie and others in Western Australia, wouldn't be in the situation they are in, if the government followed the Canadian model of councils issuing planning permits to mining companies."
Cr Rice said he also learnt while at the conference, that the Western Australian government has a royalties for regions program in place. This means a percentage of royalties the government receives from the mining companies for resources mined in a particular area, is paid back to that council.
"In Victoria, this does not occur," Cr Rice said.
"If it did happen here, we would have been a lot further advanced. We would be in a far better position to attract new industry, then we are in today.
"Sadly, Stawell has missed the boat in many ways, but we are still learning and will continue to work hard on ensuring governments listen and make the necessary changes to support regional areas like Stawell.
"As a state, we are small and have very little in the way of mining resources when you compare us to Queensland and Western Australia.
"That's not to say we shouldn't be heard. We will continue to fight for constitutional recognition of local government and if that occurs, we might have a better chance of having our voices heard."