What are Ballarat’s big priorities for next month’s state and federal budgets? We ran a microscope over what our city most needs.
Ballarat’s leaders are on a unity ticket in their push to lure new public sector jobs to the city ahead of the upcoming state budget.
The ongoing saga over fresh government jobs in Ballarat is one which stretches back to the previous Liberal government led by Denis Napthine, who promised to shift the mammoth VicRoads to the Civic Hall precinct back in 2014.
While the Labor government declined to match the then-government’s pledge, it has repeatedly assured Ballarat voters an announcement on public sector jobs is just around the corner, most recently in March.
Representatives from the City of Ballarat, Commerce Ballarat and Committee for Ballarat have all listed an influx of government jobs at the top of the their wishlist ahead of the May 3 budget, with council putting the desired figure at 1000 positions.
City of Ballarat mayor Samantha Mclntosh said while the council was not concerned by which department was relocated, the addition of new jobs was key to the central business district’s growth plans.
“We’re more than willing to welcome any department to the precinct,” Cr Mclntosh said. “We’ve been lobbying strongly for a long time and I would hope there would be an announcement in that area.”
While numerous elements of the Ballarat community have been vocal in their support of the shift of a government department, the economic ramifications of such a move remain unknown.
The potential move of VicRoads, which could have seen as many as 560 jobs relocated to Ballarat, had an estimated cost of approximately $37 million according to the state opposition.
Committee for Ballarat chairman Janet Dore said any potential department move should encourage further private sector investment in the Ballarat CBD as well as the wider region.
The relocation of the East Melbourne-based Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, for instance, which already has a small presence in Ballarat, would compliment the region’s growing reputation as the home of wind energy in Victoria, Ms Dore said.
“The government and Premier have indicated there will be relocated new jobs for Ballarat and while it started as VicRoads I don’t mind as long as they are new jobs which give us the opportunity to have complimentary businesses.”
The tussle over public sector jobs comes in a week where federal Regional Development Minister Fiona Nash called on all cabinet ministers to assess what elements of their portfolios could potentially find a new home in regional Australia.
The dusted off decentralisation discussions come after federal Nationals Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce controversially shifted the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority from Canberra to Armidale, in his home electorate New England.
While the Deputy Prime Minister has since been the target of criticism over the move which accountants Ernst and Young said would have a “modest” economic benefit, federal Ballarat MP Catherine King said she was supportive of decentralisation measures “where it can be done without adversely impacting on the agency's ability to do its work”.
“Provided that proper planning is done, and proper costings have been done that show that it makes financial sense, it could be feasible to move federal departments to regional areas like Ballarat,” Ms King said in a statement.
The jobs push form part of Ballarat’s CBD revitalisation goal, which ultimately aims to boost commercial space in the heart of the city by 60,000 square metres.
“New government jobs in the CBD is the number one priority for not just CBD retailers but for the further prosperity of Ballarat,” Commerce Ballarat chairman David Wright said. “The flow on effects everyone, not just retail and hospitality.”
One month after V/Line returned its worst figures in recent memory for the Ballarat line, it comes as no surprise that speedy rail sits high on the priority list for the city ahead of the imminent state and federal budgets.
Ballarat commuters enjoyed a major windfall investment from the state government in the 2016/17 budget of $518 million, which will be rolled out across 2018 and 2019 to improve reliability along the corridor.
Committee for Ballarat chairman Janet Dore said the focus at the upcoming state election would be securing additional carriages to ease the growing pains along the line, while a coordinated effort from across regional Victoria was needed to lobby Canberra to invest in commuter rail statewide.
While 48 new carriages were ordered in October last year, the monumental growth along the Geelong and Ballarat lines in particular means demand for new carriages is far outstripping supply.
“I’m very encouraged by the state and federal discussions and I’m hoping the Commonwealth will add investment so we can continue to improve our capacity,” Ms Dore said. “These five (rail) corridors are the key to keeping Melbourne liveable.”
Ballarat Sports and Events Centre
While the City of Ballarat alongside Basketball Ballarat had lobbied hard to find room for the Ballarat Sports and Events Centre at the federal election last July and then again in October through the National Stronger Regions Fund, the elite sports complex has repeatedly been overlooked.
The $24 million project already has commitment at both a council and a state government level, however an additional $10 million of federal funding is needed to develop a facility to make Ballarat a viable location for national championships in the eyes of Basketball Australia.
While the project looks set to go ahead on its stripped back budget, a boost on May 3 would be a welcome one.
Waste to Energy Plant
A state of the art waste to energy plant has been one of the cornerstones of the Ballarat West Employment Zone since it was first unveiled back in 2014. While the total cost of the project is anticipated to hit $18.7 million, council is expecting more than $16 million in private investment and is looking to the federal government to tip in the remaining $2.5 million.
Mayor Samantha Mclntosh said the waste to energy plant was one of a number of projects which had received significant interest from the federal government.
While it is anticipated the plant would put a major dent in council’s $9 million annual landfill costs, experts have suggested the plant would need to access greater amounts of waste than the city creates to be viable.
Western Link Road – Stage Two
Another pivotal element of the Ballarat West Employment Zone, funding for all four elements of stage one of the Western Link Road has already been acquired and construction has begun.
In May last year council identified land for the 12-kilometre stretch of road which makes up the second stage of the project, which will connect from south of The Terrace in Alfredton to the Midland Highway.
While jobs will be critical for the CBD, connections to Melbourne and modern infrastructure including the link road and emergency hub will be vital for Ballarat's future
While the state government has so far chipped in $38 million for the planning and construction of stage one, a further $75 million is being sought from the federal government to complete the mammoth road which will stretch across 16 kilometres.
“Stage one (of the road) has so far been very successful and we’ve sold out the first stage of BWEZ, so we know this is bringing new business operators to Ballarat,” Cr Mclntosh said.
While this infrastructure isn’t slated to be fully complete until 2030, it will be critical for access to both the Melbourne and Geelong ports should BWEZ be the success story council has suggested it will be.
Emergency Services Hub
While the potential Australian-first emergency services aviation hub in Ballarat west is certainly filled with potential, big question marks remain around what a final cost might look like.
The aviation hub which would make Ballarat the home of firefighting aircraft for south-east Australia was initially costed at $33.8 million, which council unsuccessfully lobbied for at last year’s federal budget.
Since then, however, Emergency Management Victoria revealed the total cost of the project could fall somewhere between $70 and $100 million.
While council has estimated the hub would provide an economic benefit of $43 million to Ballarat, funding may be hard to come by given the potential cost blowout.
Funding for a permanent bus interchange within the Ballarat Station Precinct will be a key focus for Ballarat commuters at the upcoming state budget on May 3.
The interchange was the notable omission from the government’s $25 million investment which was announced in November last year, which instead focused on the development of a convention centre in the goods shed, accommodation and a multi-storey car park.
In March Wendouree MP Sharon Knight confirmed Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan had placed a bid to have the interchange funded in the 2017/18 budget.
While the revamped timetable which sends all buses to the Ballarat Station is currently using temporary bus terminals along Lydiard Street and Ararat Street, the long-term aim of the timetable is to use a permanent home within the precinct.
“I’ve always talked about the bus terminal going inside the precinct...but you can’t do everything at once,” Ms Knight said in March.