Here we are again. The Mornington Peninsula is back to Stage 3 stay-at-home conditions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and times are challenging. We are all in the same proverbial boat, as it were, but it appears that some of us who aren’t included in the ‘metropolitan’ classification have sailed away on the lockdown-free liner to remain open for business.
While there has been a concerted push for some time to have the Peninsula classified as regional, it wasn’t until we were included in the metropolitan lockdown zone that the wider population became aware this wasn’t already the case. This has prompted a heightened discussion around changing that classification. Why? Here’s some of the reasons.
First, let’s talk safety. We all realise the health and well-being of all Australians comes first. That said, being classified as a part of the metro Melbourne lockdown has raised some red flags for Mornington Peninsula Shire Mayor Sam Hearn. Cr Hearn acknowledged the lockdown of Melbourne and Mitchell Shire as appropriate but was also concerned that the wider Melbourne community might see it as a reason to travel to the Peninsula. He asked if it might be better to exclude the Peninsula from the metro area to stop travel from high infection rate zones. Fair call.
The council also expressed concern that the ‘metropolitan’ classification is having a serious impact on many Peninsula businesses that are already struggling to stay afloat. “We feel that this is a disproportionate impost on Mornington Peninsula businesses compared to other municipalities such as Geelong,” Cr Hearn said. “In fact, we would welcome a conversation with the State Government about the rationale for our current classification as a metropolitan council when there are a number of compelling reasons to reinstate us as a regional municipality.”
Second, let’s discuss opportunity. CfMP representative Shannon Smit says: “While the CfMP acknowledge the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic from a health perspective, it is very confusing to industry on the Peninsula that we are included as metropolitan Melbourne, yet Geelong isn’t. We keep hearing time and time again that local employment, access to education and services and the opportunity for local businesses to compete is being hindered by the Mornington Peninsula being lumped in with metropolitan Melbourne. Not being designated regional is harming our capacity to provide meaningful jobs, ensure reasonable access to post-secondary education opportunities and to secure government support for key services, project funding and government program eligibility.”
Now let’s compare some statistics. Greater Geelong is 75km from the CBD, has a population of 252,000 and has regional designation. Mornington is 70km from the CBD, the Peninsula has a population of 165,800 and is classed as metropolitan. What’s the issue with this? Well, regional Victoria – including Geelong – has access to a wide range of State Government initiatives through such agencies as Regional Development Victoria, including reductions in payroll tax and land tax. Regional Victoria also has access to the $500 million Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund to assist in overcoming the challenges that come with living and working outside urban areas. Mornington Peninsula’s metropolitan classification means we don’t.
The ABS recognises the Peninsula as regional, and Peninsula tourism businesses were included in the Regional Accommodation Support Fund announced in early July as a result of an 11 per cent drop in employment opportunities because of COVID-19. So go figure.
Shannon continues: “In the coming weeks the CfMP will be seeking to meet with all levels of government to present a case for a change in the status of the Mornington Peninsula. Members of the committee have made it clear that being classified as metropolitan impacts them on a business, personal and health level.”
Stay tuned, everyone – more change is afoot. The time to retain and create jobs, expand education opportunities and invest in our ‘region’ is nigh. In the meantime, stay safe, stay strong and support our local businesses. They need it.