Last month, Fairfax newspapers polled almost 3000 people living in regional Victoria on the issues that mattered most.
When it came to the results, there should have been no surprises, with health, education, transport, and roads all topping the list of priorities.
There was, however, another message that came through loud and clear.
People living in regional Victoria expect the same access and opportunities to jobs and training as those people living in Melbourne.
And so they should.
But unfortunately, all too often and for too many country communities, a lack of opportunities can force young people or families to move elsewhere.
Over the last 3½ years, it’s an issue that the Andrews Labor government has dedicated itself to addressing.
Daniel, who grew up in Wangaratta, knows firsthand what it means to live in a regional community.
People living in regional Victoria expect the same access and opportunities to jobs and training as people living in Melbourne. And so they should. But unfortunately, all too often and for too many country communities, a lack of opportunities can force young people or families to move elsewhere.
It’s why his government has made such a big effort to boost regional jobs and grow opportunities for regional Victorians.
Under the previous Liberal government, Victoria’s skills and training sector was close to collapse.
By contrast, and as part of this year’s state budget, the current Labor government hasn’t just rescued the TAFE sector – it has revitalised it.
That includes $172 million to make a total of 30 priority TAFE courses and 18 pre-apprenticeship courses absolutely free from next year.
These courses have been specifically chosen because they link to jobs in demand, wherever you live.
Things like building and construction, nursing and healthcare.
This year’s budget also included $120 million to upgrade TAFE campuses in Bendigo, Morwell and Sale, as well as an extra $304 million for 30,000 new training places across our state.
Understanding that, for some kids, their career path starts early, this Labor government is also establishing new tech schools in Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Gippsland, giving local students hands-on experience.
But this Labor government hasn’t just committed itself to the acceleration of regional skills.
It has also been active in regional job creation, too.
That includes establishing new government procurement offices in places like Ballarat, Bendigo, Geelong and Shepparton.
These new offices will provide dedicated support to regional businesses, making sure they get the information and opportunity to work on the big infrastructure projects, building our state.
And of course, those very same businesses will benefit from further cuts to regional payroll tax.
Down to 2.425 per cent – half the metropolitan rate, and the lowest in the nation – it’s an investment that is dedicated to supporting local businesses and backing local jobs.
Having headquartered the Transport Accident Commission in Geelong all the way back in 2006, I’m pleased to see that the city is now also home to WorkSafe, bringing with it hundreds of local jobs.
Soon, Ballarat will also benefit as the proud home of Regional Roads Victoria, a dedicated roads authority for country Victoria.
And with GovHubs coming to Ballarat, Bendigo and the Latrobe Valley, these too will attract new jobs and new people to these parts of our state.
All of this goes to the heart of this Labor government’s commitment: making sure that regional Victoria shares in our state’s success.
Ballarat-born Steve Bracks was Premier of Victoria from 1999 to 2007. He and Warrnambool-based former Liberal Premier Dr Denis Napthine will be writing exclusively for Australian Community Media newspapers throughout the 2018 state election campaign.