Dear valued subscriber,
This week's release of census data provided valuable insights into some of the south-west's biggest issues. And it didn't make pretty reading.
Our mental health has long been a concern and anecdotally we have known instances have been rising. But the data revealed there's a greater prevalance of mental health conditions among the south-west's population and it's higher again among the region's women. This should intensify efforts to improve mental health outcomes. It should also help highlight the need for greater understanding in our community of those with mental health concerns and their families.
The data revealed south-west Victorian residents had higher than average rates of major chronic health conditions. Our health sector is already under pressure with the COVID-19 pandemic exposing cracks in the system. Our GPs are overworked, underpaid and meaningful change at a federal level is needed more than ever. Based on the data, their workload and that of specialists and associated workers will only get worse.
It wasn't that many years ago the region's policymakers were worried about declining populations in centres across the region. The census revealed Warrnambool's population grew 4.95 per cent between 2016 and 2021, Port Fairy's 12 per cent, Mortlake 7.65 per cent, Koroit up more than six per cent, Portland and Hamilton each up four per cent. Cobden, down 1.9 per cent, Terang 1.5 per cent and Camperdown 0.5 per cent had declining populations.
This data could help explain the region's housing crisis where rental vacancy rates have been at all-time lows and those looking to buy have experienced unprecedented competition, sparking sharp rises in prices, which have in turn seen rents reach unaffordable levels.
The rise of short-stay accommodation like Airbnb has been cited as a reason for a lack of rental properties, partly fuelled by new tenancy laws and increased rates of return for investors. Warrnambool City Council this week adopted its budget for the new financial year, including a new charge on owners of short-stay accommodation. Those properties exclusively used for short-stay accommodation will be hit with a $400 fee - - a move designed to level the playing field with motels, caravan parks that pay rates. Will it persuade investors to switch their properties back to rentals? We won't know until after it is introduced some time in the next year after the council embarks on consultation but it could help.
The region's councils are under pressure to address a shortage of housing for workers because businesses are finding it difficult to attract workers. Moyne Shire, thanks to state government assistance, have started work on a worker housing project in Koroit.
Warrnambool councillor Ben Blain used this week's budget meeting to call for the council to consider investing in houses and then make them available for new workers to rent. "This is one of the biggest things holding back our city," he said of the worker housing shortage.
Food for thought. So too the census data, which needs to be considered and then used in driving meaningful policy discussions that improve the lives of south-west residents.
In other news this week, the city council changed its language around a proposed upgrade at Warrnambool's saleyards, throwing doubt on the project.
More houses are on the drawing board for Warrnambool's Wollaston Road with a new estate announced.
Terang Co-Op continues to defy the odds, recording another bumper year.
Moyne Shire is investing in Mortlake's Mount Shadwell quarry in a bid to have enough materials for its ambitious big build roadworks blitz. The pic above was taken by photographer Chris Doheny.
Don't forget to check out some of the other stories that made headlines this week, below.
Until next week,
Greg Best, editor, The Standard
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