AN abysmal year 12 attainment rate and fixing the crumbling Princes Highway will be the top priorities at talks between south-west council bosses and the federal government next week.
Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne will be told firsthand that south-west students are struggling to reach the end of secondary school, with no real solution in sight.
Both employment and education leaders are warning a generation will struggle to find work without skills or a decent education.
A Great South Coast Group (GSCG) delegation of chief executives from Moyne, Southern Grampians and Corangamite Shires will meet with ministerial advisors as well as Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss next week.
Figures from 2011 show only 57 per cent of students reached year 12 or equivalent.
Great South Coast Group chief executive Karen Foster said the attainment project needed government backing for “generational change”.
“This is an opportunity to explain (to the minister) why this is so important,” Ms Foster said.
Dedicated working groups across south-west towns are still trying to understand why so many young people fail to the finish VCE.
GSCG will ask the minister to consider providing $500,000 over three years as backbone support for the community groups.
“We’re at the point where we need to resource it properly,” Ms Foster said. “We’re looking to fund the groups with an over-arching co-ordination role.”
GSCG will also make a plea to deputy prime minister and Infrastructure Minister Warren Truss to pour cash into the Princes Highway, which is buckling under the strain of carrying a third of Victoria’s road freight.
Up to $220 million is needed to bring south-west roads up to statewide standards.
Corangamite mayor and Great South Coast Group chairman Chris O’Connor said delegates would start pushing for the Princes Highway west to be declared a federal road of national importance — a move that could unlock millions of dollars in Commonwealth support.
He said he would also start making a case for Canberra to seriously consider the “two-for-one” highway upgrade that would involve building a continuous passing lane from Colac through to the South Australian border.
Such an upgrade would be a fraction of the cost of duplicating the entire highway.
Cr O’Connor said the clock was ticking with more traffic likely to burst on to the highway once duplication works are finished between Winchelsea and Colac.
“It will create a ridiculously poor highway from Colac to Port Fairy,” he said. “South-west roads are the worst in the state.”
He said the two-for-one model highway was achievable costing “a third to a quarter of the price of a dual highway”.
“In our lifetime it’s very difficult to see a double highway through to the South Australian border.”
A two-for-one model would cost between $3-$4 million per kilometre, compared to $12 million for a double highway, the mayor said.
A raft of other key south-west issues will also be covered in meetings.
“We’ll also be meeting with an advisor to the federal health minister to talk about the National Centre for Farmer Health, which unfortunately was not funded in the federal budget,” Ms Foster said.
A strategic plan to sell more food and fibre into Asia will also be raised to gain a higher profile on the federal radar.
Moyne Shire chief executive David Madden said the “Midfield model” had shown countries were more interested in dealing with specific business rather than state or federal governments.
“Often China and Asia tend to deal with the same company for multiple products,” Mr Madden said, citing Midfield’s expansion in the milk market.
GSCG is also looking for $500,000 to manage the strategy.
He said ecotourism would also be discussed in meetings with advisors to Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb.