Furore after state opposition reshuffle drops regional development portfolio

Opposition leader Matthew Guy along with Peter Walsh announcing a new shadow ministerial line up. Photo: Scott McNaughton
Opposition leader Matthew Guy along with Peter Walsh announcing a new shadow ministerial line up. Photo: Scott McNaughton

The state opposition narrowing its regional development portfolio could disadvantage country Victoria, key south-west MP James Purcell says.

An opposition reshuffle announced on Monday got rid of the regional development portfolio, with leader Matthew Guy taking on population policy and Nationals leader Peter Walsh picking up decentralisation.

Mr Purcell, upper house MP, said he supported the focus on decentralisation but other areas could lose out.

“Regional development is about more than just moving people,” he said.

“(It’s) about all the issues relating to country Victoria. It may be fixing up the public halls, it may be job creation, so it covers a whole gamut of things rather than just decentralisation.”

Mr Purcell praised the Coalition for bringing the issue of decentralisation to the fore.

“If you drive through any of the inland country towns, if they’re not dead, they’re dying,” he said. “We need to get some people out of Melbourne – that is strangling itself with too many people – and get them into areas where services are already there.

“They’ve already got water and power and everything else, we just need more people to keep those communities alive.”

Acting Minister for Regional Development Jacinta Allan said abolishing the regional development portfolio was “a kick in the guts to thousands of hard-working families in regional Victoria”.

In announcing the changes, Nationals leader Peter Walsh said country Victoria was at the heart of the Liberal National “plan to better manage our whole state – not just Melbourne”.

“As Shadow Minister for Decentralisation, I will work closely with Liberal Party Leader Matthew Guy, in his role of Shadow Minister for Population, to develop a population policy for Victoria which includes maximum benefit and opportunity for regional communities,” he said.

South West Coast MP Roma Britnell described the opposition’s move as “exciting”, and linked it to a population task force initiative.

“Labor are trying to make fun and silly games using words,” Mrs Britnell said. “What you’ve seen for the last 18 months is an opposition who have been very focused on population and distribution so we’ve got a state that functions so regions really develop and flourish and the city is complemented by the regions.”

The MP said she was “very happy” with the opposition’s decentralisation approach.

“My colleagues understand the value of country Victoria. We will play an important part in the future of Victoria in the south-west coast,” she said.