With 12 months to the next state election, the major parties are beginning to position themselves for campaign that will look very different to 2018.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy took charge of the Victorian Liberal Party after a leadership challenge in September, toppling Michael O'Brien.
Mr Guy led the party to the 2018 election, and was thumped.
Last week, the state government approached The Courier about interviewing Premier Daniel Andrews about Ballarat issues - in the interest of fairness, we then approached Mr Guy's office for a similar interview.
READ MORE: Read the interview with Daniel Andrews here
The topics covered are similar, aiming to provide voters in Ballarat with background on how the major parties are approaching Ballarat-specific issues like booming growth and the need for more infrastructure.
At time of writing, the state Liberal Party is going through its pre-selection process, with Ripon MP Louise Staley looking to hold onto her seat, and candidates nominating for Wendouree and the renamed Eureka electorate to take on sitting Labor MPs Juliana Addison and Michaela Settle.
Interestingly, Mr Guy echoed Mr Andrews by stating there will be a "real choice" for voters by next November, but made no new commitments specific to Ballarat.
"Our research says that regional cities, particularly Ballarat, are sick to death of being treated like a suburb of Melbourne, that's certainly something we hear from them, and we won't be doing that," he said, noting voters wanted "less government interference".
"It's not an election that will be focused, as the last one might have been, infrastructure or law and order, this will be focused on economic recovery, particularly private business, small business, and mental health, where waiting lists have blown out.
"They're different issues, and from our point of view, we've got a different approach, which is more constructive, it's about listening to Victorians, taking the lead from other organisations, not like the government's doing dictating to others."
On Ballarat's growth, he said councils needed more powers to control planning, particularly as more people moved out of metropolitan areas.
"From our point of view, we want to see Ballarat's population grow, that means it will need better serivces, better infrastructure, but in Ballarat, to make it more affordable and keep the price on land affordable, we've announced some planning reform to speed up the system around planning applications so land can come to market quicker and keep house prices down," he said.
"There are upgrades like the (Ballarat) Link Road and others that need to be done, we need to get them under way so the city, now that it's over 100,000 people, has got reasonable infrastructure in place to grow - it can't grow out west unless it's got infrastructure in place, and it can't grow out west unless it's got more than just a press release from government saying they're going to do it.
"That's one of the reasons why we focused heavily on decentralisation, allowing planning controls to be given back to the council away from the government, so they can manage the growth into the future.
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"At the moment, the Victorian Planning Authority, which effectively sees Wodonga, Ballarat, Melton, and Narre Warren as the same, that needs to be given the flick, and councils need the flexibility to manage those processes through the planning authority."
Previously, Mr Guy said his party would "end lockdowns" in most circumstances - in regard to the pandemic's impact on small business in the regions, he said his government would follow national cabinet on issues like the vaccinated economy.
"It's a sensible way forward for the country and gives us the best way, the most stable way, forward for all of us, it's the best way forward," he said.
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW BELOW
Q - 12 months from an election, here in Ballarat there are some quite specific issues - what do you see as the plan for Ballarat, what will you be focusing on?
A - We're pre-selecting candidates, getting everyone selected so we can give Ballarat a real choice at the election.
We see a huge opportunity for Ballarat and growth into the future, and more to the point, housing affordability for those wanting to stay in places like Ballarat.
We've already announced planning reforms to bring more land to market so it's cheaper and stabilises house price, we've opposed some of the state government's new taxes on land release, particularly in regional Victoria, that'll make it more expensive.
From our point of view, we want to see Ballarat's population grow, that means it will need better serivces, better infrastructure, but in Ballarat, to make it more affordable and keep the price on land affordable, we've announced some planning reform to speed up the system around planning applications so land can come to market quicker and keep house prices down.
Q - the main issue we're having is that growth, the exodus out of the city, people are moving to regional areas were land was cheap, it's not as cheap any more, they're expecting services that might be some years away - how would you approach that balance?
A - we had a view at the last election, which we'll take to this election as well, around decentralisation - getting population out of Melbourne and building the whole state, not just Melbourne.
This state government has spent more than $50 billion of infrastructure in Melbourne, but promised upgrades to the Ballarat line, such as putting four tracks up to Melton and taking Ballarat trains off the suburban service out to Melton, has never eventuated, and that delays Ballarat and Bacchus Marsh trains.
There are upgrades like the (Ballarat) Link Road and others that need to be done, we need to get them under way so the city, now that it's over 100,000 people, has got reasonable infrastructure in place to grow.
It can't grow out west unless it's got infrastructure in place, and it can't grow out west unless it's got more than just a press release from government saying they're going to do it.
That's one of the reasons why we focused heavily on decentralisation, allowing planning controls to be given back to the council away from the government, so they can manage the growth into the future.
Q - you've mentioned planning controls - there are cosy relationships with council, and developers are seeing the massive demand, and there are tracts of land that they can start planning and developing on, but often, the end result isn't quite optimal - would you support greater control in that sense, to make sure we're not building little shoeboxes, to make it more liveable in regional areas?
A - Well, the government's planning policy, with no disrespect, is to literally drop the City of Casey in Geelong, and Ballarat, and Bendigo, and the Latrobe Valley.
I think that regional centres should be able to have a competitive advantage, which is bigger blocks and different styles of housing development rather than having Melbourne growth being put into cities like Ballarat.
By that I mean, no cul-de-sacs in any development, they're all through roads, the same size blocks, there's no difference in the market in any part of the housing development - what that says is you can't get a difference in the product, in the homes being built.
We want to give people a choice, and that means some people might want a townhouse, some people might want 600 square metres, some people might want 800sqm - but there needs to be choice.
Places like Ballarat can provide better choice than any others, certainly than the Melbourne market.
At the moment, the Victorian Planning Authority, which effectively sees Wodonga, Ballarat, Melton, and Narre Warren as the same, that needs to be given the flick, and councils need the flexibility to manage those processes through the planning authority.
At the moment they have very little mandatory input, they get told "this is what you're going to get, and you tell us what colour streetlights you want".
That's treating Victoria as a one-size-fits-all policy, and that's been a sub-standard outcome - you should be able to get different styles of development right across the state, that's the way to go.
We've announced that plus the flying planning squads, which would speed up planning, development, and approvals, they'd be responsible to councils and not the department.
It's all about giving planning and development control back to those councils where it's happening rather than centralising it all in Melbourne, our view is that it should go back to the councils where it's happening and not all come out of Exhibition Street.
Q - the City of Ballarat has been quite clear about its priorities ahead of the state and federal elections - small, medium, and large, like the Link Road, which no one has committed to yet, but they've said is something we really need; a new animal shelter, and a materials recovery facility or all-waste interchange - what's your approach to these proposals?
A - We look positively on all three of those, I look positively on all three of those because I think council should have a greater say in what's being built in its area, rather than being dictated to by the state government in Melbourne.
They've committed to more than $50bn this term alone for infrastructure in Melbourne, but can't find the money to make small announcements in Geelong or Ballarat.
They can find time to remove level crossings in Melbourne that have very small traffic movements - my view is, we have to invest where growth occurs, and growth is occuring in places like Geelong and Ballarat very quickly, we need to provide those infrastructure upgrades now.
I trust the council on the priorities they've put forward, I think they're good.
Q - is the growth happening too quickly?
A - No, it's manageable, if you've got a strategy to deal with growth outside the metro area of Melbourne, and it's also manageable if you wnat to decentralise.
If decentralisation is an afterthought from policy, as opposed to deliberate policy, then you won't get it right.
We have a deliberate policy for decentralisation, and that means we're focused on it, we'd again have a minister for decentralisation, and we want councils to be part of the process because they're there on the ground.
At the moment, the attitude is that "it might occur, so we'll respond to it in the same time we'd respond to growth in the City of Casey or the City of Whittlesea", that's treating it as an afterthought.
I think we can manage the growth in Ballarat, and Bendigo, and the Latrobe Valley, but we have to manage it as a deliberate intent and not an afterthought.
If we know it's going to occur, and we actually want it occur, then we can plan for it and do it right first off instead of saying "bloody hell, we're getting 5000, 7000 people in Lucas planned over the next few years, what are we going to do after they've moved in or the blocks have been sold off?" - that's not the way to do it.
Q - the hospital upgrade has been announced, which is desperately needed but won't be finished for another seven years -
A - and in seven years into the future Ballarat's population will be 15 per cent larger, that's one in six people larger, so where you'll see five people there's six people, where you see 10 patients there'll be 13 patients, that's where you'll see the on-the-ground impact pretty promptly.
Q - We do a lot of work with the courts and police, there are grassroots initiatives coming from smaller towns like Creswick to deal with youth crime, which is driven from the community linking up with police and councils to address the problem - it's the same 15, 16 year olds coming out of custody and stealing more cars - how would your government address this?
A - We can't always have a punitive response, we can't always have a response that sends someone off to youth detention.
We've actually got to look at the root causes of these problems, and we have some policy on this, whether it's mental health or family related, we're going to make some announcements on this early next year.
Our view is to focus broadly on what some of these problems might be, and particularly in disadvantaged communities, where we can intervene at a school level to keep these kids involved, to prevent them becoming repeat offenders.
You can't put them around with adults, you can't have these kids being surrounded by people who will exaggerate the problem for them - it's fine to be tough on crime, and I'm all for that, I don't hide that one bit, but we also have to have measures to prevent it.
If you're seeing the same kids come through again and again, if drugs are part of the problem, you have mandatory rehabilitation in some instances, which a magistrate can deal out.
I'd rather see these kids out of the system forever, rather than coming back - petty crime gets into violent crime gets into serious crime, so we've got to stop it where it starts.
Q - Ripon will be in play for the state election, pre-selection's under way, how is that all going at the moment?
A - Nominations are open, we'll be looking for some candidates pretty quickly.
Louise (Staley) is obviously pre-selected again, her seat is now notionally Labor, but we're very confident she'll be able to retain it, she's a good candidate, a good campaigner, she's got good name recognition in her seat, and we're very confident about her ability to hold onto her seat, she's hung onto it pretty closely before, but we don't take anything for granted.
We want to win more than just Ripon, we want other seats up there and we'll put our best foot forward to do that.
Q - So you're confident of putting up a good fight and winning both Wendouree and Eureka?
A - Absolutely, our research says that regional cities, particularly Ballarat, are sick to death of being treated like a suburb of Melbourne, that's certainly something we hear from them, and we won't be doing that.
Q - What other things are you hearing from people in Ballarat, what's making its way to shadow cabinet, what else is on the radar a year out?
A - I think people want certainty to be able to get on with their lives, particularly outside of Melbourne, where they've been locked down because of Melbourne.
They want to know they can get on with their lives, open their small business, get their kids back to school, have a 2022 that is not going to be interrupted by lockdowns, they want to get on with their lives and focus on just having government away from them rather than interfering in their lives, shutting their businesses, sending their kids home.
Outside Melbourne, I think people are very angry they have been lumped in with Melbourne on a number of occasions when they haven't had cases.
That's affected the local economy, and of course it's affected kids who have been thrown out of school and sent to home learning for long periods of time.
We're very conscious of the fact that Ballarat is not a town, it's now a major Australian regional city, it needs to be treated with respect and treated as such, that's why I default to the city and some of its larger advocate committees on some of those policy ideas, because I think Ballarat people know best what their policy needs to be.
Q - With the vaccinated economy - there's no advice to change it yet, but people are quite fed up, and it's coming out as frontline workers copping abuse, which is more than they signed up for - what are your thoughts? It seems to be having a disproportionate effect on regional communities.
A - From my point of view, we should be following national cabinet, and national cabinet's advice says once you get beyond 90 per cent, you don't have a vaccinated or unvaccinated economy.
I'm perplexed as to why the premier keeps saying he's got health advice to tell him otherwise, because he never releases it.
We should just have an economy, beyond 90 per cent.
We encourage those who have not been vaccinated to hurry up and go and do it, as much for their own health as anyone else's, because it is the right thing to do and I certainly encourage people to do that.
More to the point, I don't think people should be locked out of daily life because of that, we have to move on beyond that, and that's what national cabinet says, and all the premiers and chief ministers, the majority of whom are Labor, agreed to.
My default on all of this is to what the national cabinet agreed, it's a sensible way forward for the country and gives us the best way, the most stable way forward for all of us, it's the best way forward.
Q - What have you learned from the last campaign, how will this one be different?
A - I think it will be very different, simply because of the issues - clearly the economy will be front and centre, the recovery of the state is going to be front and centre.
It's not an election that will be focused, as the last one might have been, infrastructure or law and order, this will be focused on economic recovery, particularly private business, small business, and mental health, where waiting lists have blown out.
They're different issues, and from our point of view, we've got a different approach, which is more constructive, it's about listening to Victorians, taking the lead from other organisations, not like the government's doing dictating to others.
I think it will be a very different approach.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity
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