IT'S hard to derail Tim Fischer from his favourite conversation topic trains but it's an entertaining journey.
The former political leader, military veteran and recently-retired ambassador to the Holy See travelled to Warrnambool by rail for an appointment as guest speaker at last night's Better Connections conference.
He will return as a railway passenger to Melbourne this morning.
The 66-year-old used the transport topic as part of his pitch on how regional Australia could improve opportunities for business and education to work together.
"Regions will be in better shape with better transport and education," he told The Standard before the conference.
"The real key to decentralisation is transport infrastructure.
"If you can offer travel of one-and-a-half hours from Warrnambool to Melbourne or one hour from Warrnambool to Geelong the population will boom.
"The connection between business and education is essential in building the fabric of the region's economy.
"It is about education, energy and export the three Es."
He referred to a quote by John Monash in 1930 that the best hope for Australia was the ballot box and good education.
He saw good examples of co-operation between business and schools, TAFEs and universities producing good ideas for regions.
"The south-west is very well located and plugged in," he said. "Education and opportunity will make or break regions."
Mr Fischer said high-speed broadband was part of the change.
He referred to completion of the telecommunications line between Melbourne and London 140 years ago.
"Suddenly the communication time dropped from three months to three hours or less," he said. "Think of the revolution that caused.
"Modern communications are opening up new opportunities for people in the regions and outback."
Last night's conference was organised by South West TAFE and the Local Learning and Employment Networks.
The network, which aims to help students move from school to work and tertiary studies is celebrating its 10th anniversary.