Releasing its latest discussion paper, Infrastructure Victoria said the state should afford greater focus toward regional infrastructure initiatives were well placed to respond to the challenges and opportunities of record population growth.

“Every region in Victoria has its own unique opportunities and challenges and effective infrastructure initiatives will target these,” Infrastructure Victoria Chief Executive Officer Michel Masson said.

“We think regional infrastructure investment should seek to maximise economic development or address local disadvantage. Identifying initiatives that achieve these aims will be a key focus of our work over the next year as we update the 30-year infrastructure strategy.”

According to the paper, research by Infrastructure Victoria suggests that each of Victoria’s nine regions had both strengths upon which they could build and challenges which they faced.

On opportunities, it said several areas could exploit opportunities associated with a strong agricultural industry, tourism and development of other sectors such as energy or freight.

On challenges, it said many regional areas exhibit clear and persistent difficulties in terms of declining population growth, poor health and early childhood outcomes and lack of availability of services relating to mental health as well as drug and alcohol addiction.

On these measures, a map included in the paper based on the SocioEconomic Indexes For Areas (SEIFA) developed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that eight of the ten most disadvantaged Local Government Areas in Victoria are in areas characterised by regional centres and small towns.

As well, the paper highlights the growing divergence in areas which are considered to be regional hubs and surrounding rural areas.

In particular, the outlook for regional centres such as Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo and Albury Wodonga enjoy relatively diverse industry structures, greater service economies and a broadly positive economic outlook.

These, however, are drawing skilled workers away from less populated areas which have greater dependence upon single industries or a more restricted range of industries.

Masson said addressing these issues will be a key focus for Infrastructure Victoria when it releases its update of the state’s 30-year infrastructure strategy next year.

“Whether it be a strong agriculture industry, popular tourist destinations or potential to develop key sectors like energy or freight, Victoria’s regions are well placed to help grow Victoria’s potential.

“We want to identify infrastructure initiatives that help regions harness this great potential to ensure they share in the benefits of Victoria’s record population growth.

“But our research has also revealed key challenges that need to be considered across regional Victoria including the effects of climate change, social disadvantage and the changing shape of local economies.

“Through our strategy update we will identify key infrastructure initiatives to tackle these challenges because we want not just strong regional economies, but good social and environmental outcomes too.”