The MCA Victoria Division welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Central Highlands Draft Regional Growth Plan (the Plan).

Since the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s, the minerals industry has been fundamental to the economic and social fabric of the Central Highlands region. The industry has generated substantial wealth for the area and played a major role in the region’s economic development. Today the industry continues to contribute to the regional economy through the Ballarat Gold mine and numerous smaller exploration projects. The industry has the potential to continue to contribute to the region into the future.

Central Highlands remains a highly prospective gold province and is also in a position to benefit from the continuing expansion of the mineral sands mining sector. For a regional growth and development strategy to be both successful and comprehensive, the minerals industry needs be included and considered as important to local economic development as agriculture, retail or any other key industry.

It is at the local planning scheme that local council and the minerals industry intersects. Under the Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act (MR(SD) Act) exploration work can be undertaken without the need for a planning permit. Mining projects are however required to gain planning approval before the work plan can be approved. Planning approval can be gained through a planning permit issued by the local government authority or through an Environmental Effects Statement completed under the direction of the Minister for Planning. Local governments also have a role in administering the native vegetation management framework on behalf of the government.

The majority of regulations impacting on exploration and mining projects are administered by the State. For some projects Commonwealth regulations also apply. Whilst we acknowledge this demarcation of responsibilities there is often very little communication and knowledge sharing across the levels of government to enable efficient, effective and timely decision making. The process of developing regional growth plans offers an opportunity for all stakeholders to come together to develop the strategies which will grow the State’s economy over the next few decades.

The Central Highlands draft regional growth plan is a comprehensive document that examines a wide range of factors which will be integral to the development and growth of the region.

The Victorian Minerals industry has traditionally been, and will continue to be, an important contributor to Victoria’s growth, particularly in regional and rural Victoria, as such it has an important role to play in the growth of the region.

Overall the MCA sees the Plan as a good strategy for the region’s future in that it addresses the regions development requirements though a wide lens; identifying that future prosperity will be delivered by a diverse economy, an increased population, the development of regional infrastructure, and through supporting a vibrant community.

The role that the minerals industry can play in Central Highlands’ growth in the coming decades should be more fully integrated into the Plan. In this draft, only some sections identify that the minerals industry has a key role to play in the region’s growth, alongside the region’s other key industries; while other sections omit the minerals industry. The MCA recommends that the Plan be amended to ensure that the minerals industry receives the same consistent consideration and attention as other major industries.

Further to this, what a “diversified regional economy” is considered to be needs further consideration as the Plan predominantly uses the phrase in the context of farming. A regional economy based mainly on a single sector is not a diversified economy; it is an economy with a diversified farming industry. For Central Highlands’ economy to be diversified and therefore, more resilient to changes in market conditions, the diversification must be across industries not just within an industry. The minerals industry has great potential to diversify the region’s economy as it operates in a truly global market which is driven by different supply and demand conditions to that of agriculture.

The MCA looks forward to engaging with the Department in further developing and implementing the plan. 

Download complete article