A RURAL Councils Victoria Rural Summit at Nhill has highlighted job creation and young people as the future of small communities.
Local government delegates gathered for the Hindmarsh Shire Council event on Thursday and Friday.
Wimmera Development Association executive director Jo Bourke facilitated the conference, themed ‘small communities, big opportunities – facing the future and embracing change’.
Rural Councils Victoria chairman and Hindmarsh Mayor Rob Gersch said this year’s summit focused on stimulating the economy for smaller communities.
“All our speakers were on that theme,” he said.
“It was about small rural communities, innovation, entrepreneurship and what we can do to make sure we can survive in the future.”
Cr Gersch said the take-home message was from Local Government Minister Tim Bull, who said Victoria needed strong rural and regional communities to be successful.
“We are keen to continue to live and do business in our communities and that is important to our survival in the future,” Cr Gersch said.
“The way things are going, there is a big push for people to relocate to rural and regional areas – the government is very supportive of it.
“It is a positive step in assisting small councils in promoting what we have to offer.
“We do see a big future for small communities, but it is not going to be easy – there are certainly some challenges ahead.”
Cr Gersch said a major challenge was keeping young people in the region.
“That is something that we have to work on – it’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs,” he said.
“Communities have to increase their capacity of job creation – through innovation, entrepreneurship and the love of rural life.”
Delegates at the summit heard from economist Saul Eslake, along with Kaielela Institute chairman Paul Briggs, who spoke on Aboriginal heritage, economic development and tourism.
Other topics include corporate farming, the benefits of migrants to rural communities and a showcase of rural councils’ innovative programs.
Mr Bull said rural councils and communities had distinct needs that required dedicated funding.
He said the summit highlighted the role Victoria’s regional and rural councils played in advancing the interests of regional Victorians.
“Roads are the arteries of our rural communities so their maintenance is critical,” he said.
“That’s why we have money set aside for rural and regional councils to invest in roads.
“Our Local Government Infrastructure program is delivering $100 million in funding directly to rural councils for their capital works projects.”
More than 170 people attended the summit.
Cr Gersch said it provided an economic boost for the shire.
“The summit first started as a way to stimulate smaller communities and it certainly did that,” he said.
“It was also about the promotion of Hindmarsh, which was very important.
“Small towns can achieve anything if they are given the opportunity.”