Published 16 April 2015, The Courier, Ballarat
The recent funding announcement by the state and federal governments of $43 million for Western Highway upgrade works has not attracted the attention it deserves.
On paper this is about duplication works and bridge works at several critical locations.
In practice it’s about much much more than making the highway wider.
These works are an important part of an integrated transport master plan for the region that CFB has long been advocating for.
Without them… our vital local food and agriculture industry would continue to miss out on opportunities for lower transport costs, improved access to the ports and key markets and improved transport links across the region.
Without them… High Performance Freight Vehicle access from Ballarat to the Port of Melbourne would be in jeopardy and our regional communities would lose potential investment and job opportunities as product grown and produced in our region continues to bypass Ballarat – and the Ballarat West Employment Zone would be at risk of becoming just another industrial park.
So how will these upgrades to the Western Highway benefit Ballarat and our wider region?
Firstly, better transport access to the ports will support our regional producers and businesses by linking them to growing export market opportunities, especially in China, that will help them to increase their productivity and returns.
The food and agriculture industry plays a critical role in driving the Victorian economy.
At a local level, the Central Highlands region is a key player with some of Victoria’s most productive agricultural land, high water availability and quality horticultural growing conditions leading to the development of a high value agribusiness industry.
According to the Central Highlands Councils Regional Investment Plan we produce more than $450 million of food and fibre products, made up mainly of livestock, cropping, intensive fruit and vegetable production, viticulture and forestry as well as a growing organic industry.
We also have a very strong food production reputation thanks to companies such as McCain, Mars, Hakubaku (noodles), Tuki Trout and many more.
China is Victoria’s largest export market and it’s growing fast. It contributes $3.2 billion in export value to the state’s economy with exports up 80 per cent in the five years to 2011-12 according to the Australia China Business Council Victoria.
This huge growth in trade opportunities with China has had a further boost with the signing of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement in November 2014. This agreement includes the phasing out of tariffs across food and agriculture products.
We want producers and businesses from across our region to be in a strong position to take advantage of these significant market opportunities that are opening up.
And secondly, activation of the High Performance Freight-Logistics Hub and associated trunk infrastructure at the Ballarat West Employment Zone will increase investment opportunities and stimulate job creation in Ballarat and our region.
By channelling raw product from across our region and the whole of Western Victoria into Ballarat for processing we open up opportunities well beyond logistics handling.
The Ballarat West Employment Zone has the potential to be so much more than just another industrial park.
For example, waste generated across the region can become the feedstock for a state-of-the-art waste management industry that drives our new bio-economy.
Planning for this is already well advanced and supported by Ballarat Council through the IBM Smarter Cities initiative.
We want to be in a position to capture a greater proportion of the raw product that currently bypasses Ballarat and value add within the region.
And we want Ballarat to be a leader in new economies.
Committee for Ballarat will continue to use its influence with key stakeholders to attract investment in major infrastructure projects that will improve connectivity within our region and the state and help drive our future prosperity.
Local government has a critical leadership role to play in driving growth in the agribusiness sector and we will continue to lend support to councils across the region in delivering key projects that will open up investment and generate local jobs.
We are proud to have supported the Golden Plains Shire in securing major state and federal funding to activate the Golden Plains Food Production Precinct.
We also commend the Ararat Rural City Council on their initiative in developing key relationships, such as their successful agreement with Fundlong that has resulted in wine, olive oil, biscuits and other food products from Ararat and the region being sold in supermarkets in Shanghai.
Agriculture and food producers from across our region are fast earning an enviable reputation for their world-class products.
Meanwhile growing markets, particularly in China, are opening up significant business opportunities for our regional agribusiness industry.
We need to support this growth and capture as many of the associated business opportunities within Ballarat as we can.
Another example of how a strong Ballarat is a strong region.