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Standing Committee on Regional Australia
13/06/2012
Fly-in fly-out work practices

NOONAN, Mr Kelvin, President, Maryborough Sports Association

[11:47]

CHAIR: I now welcome a representative of the Maryborough Sports Association to today's hearing, Mr Kelvin Noonan. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. Thank you, Kelvin, for taking the time to be here in your community.

Mr Noonan : It is a pleasure.

CHAIR: Could you please give us some opening remarks about how you see the state of the nation, particularly in relation to our terms of reference: what can a Commonwealth parliamentary committee do to assist a community of this size with the geographic issues et cetera? We would then like to ask you some questions.

Mr Noonan : I missed Garry's speech. I am sure it would have been a good one. He is very well sourced in this area. Essentially, the problem for Maryborough, and similar places, is that its size and its facilities to some extent count against it in attracting professional and other people to live here. That is a problem that has existed for some period of time and, I suspect, it is a large problem for which it will take a lot of pushing and shoving to get a solution that is satisfactory to everybody. I heard the end of Garry's speech. From my point of view, if I could talk as a lawyer, my succession plan is to close the building, I guess, or close my office. I do not necessarily see anybody wanting to come to Maryborough as a lawyer. I am from Maryborough, I was raised in Maryborough, I went to school with Garry and was educated here. I went to Melbourne, went to uni and came back; but there are not too many people who want to do that. I noticed recently in Castlemaine, for instance, a mate of mine who is a lawyer over there's succession plan was simply to sell out to a Bendigo firm—Rogers and Every, I think it was; one of the bigger firms over there anyway. He decided that that was the best option, that they could not get professionals to come to Castlemaine. Castlemaine probably has a few more advantages than Maryborough has, in terms of the train travel anyway—it is on the line to Bendigo. The main firm from Bendigo services the area of Castlemaine. There is only, I think, one law firm in Castlemaine now. I may be a little bit wrong there—I am not sure; there may be sole practitioner out there as well.

But, simply, his succession plan was to sell out to a firm in Bendigo and they service it. Bendigo is close enough to Castlemaine to do that. But I suspect that every solicitor who comes across does not live in Castlemaine; they live in Bendigo. That is the sort of problem we have here: there are three small firms here in Maryborough, and the discussions that I have with my contemporaries is that there is basically the same sort of problem. That is an option that I would certainly be looking at—getting a Ballarat firm or a Bendigo firm to come over and service the people of Maryborough with their legal problems. And that is fine but, as I said, it just accentuates the problem that we have: the lawyer does not live here, he does not play footy here or he is not president of the Rotary Club or whatever his or her interest is. That, essentially, is the problem.

There are a number of advantages living in Maryborough, and the smaller places, and that is sometimes the preference these days; but, again, being so close to Ballarat and Bendigo, it is obviously a bit of an issue—but it has some advantages: the hospitals, the education are all fantastic. There is a busload of kids that go out of Maryborough every morning to Ballarat—I think there might be two busload, I am not sure; my kids are a bit older these days. But it is a real drain on the community. Whilst they come back, I do not expect them to all stay here—and, when they turn 18, they don't stay.

From a sporting point of view, it is hard to relate to that. As president of the sports association I do not see any particular issue with that. I am also president of the Maryborough footy club. We have a major raffle at the moment. If anyone wants to buy a ticket, I have a raffle book in my pocket! But there are problems getting people to come here, for all sorts of reasons. Football is a great community asset and activity. I am trying to think of when the last policeman played for Maryborough. It would be a good 20 years ago. The last teacher? That would be less than that. But, again, essentially, when I was growing up and playing, there were coppers and teachers playing all the time, because they lived here—they don't live here now, so they don't play here. That is just a small example. But, as I said, I do not expect people to do that. If people want to live in Ballarat and Bendigo, and bigger places, and come here, that is the way it is going to be; but essentially it does present demographic and social problems for towns such as this. If that is what you guys are briefed to address, that is the problem. I do not have any particular answers to the problems. If there were some way of encouraging people to live in a place like this, that would be terrific; if there were some sort of incentive. We provided incentives for people to employ certain people—women, Indigenous people. Incentives were thrown out to certain sectors of the community to do that. I don't like doing that, but whether it is possibility—in fact, I don't like it at all, but sometimes we have to do things and, if that is going to be an answer to the problem, maybe it needs to be looked at. I think I have said enough for the moment.

CHAIR: Thank you. I appreciate you being here because I think you encapsulate the issue, in a sense, as a professional person who was born here, might have trained somewhere else but came back here because you cared about the place you came from. You are obviously involved in the community, in sporting clubs et cetera. I am interested in your comments about the policeman and the teacher. That was a generation ago but very much in line with the issues we are hearing about. The sorts of things you are saying could be found in Kalgoorlie, from a completely different direction, but they are gradually eating away at the fabric of the community. The question is how you reverse or at least hold that process.

Mr Noonan : It is good that you are recognising it and that we are being included in that, because I understand your brief was about Kalgoorlie and that type of really remote area. It is also a problem for places like this. When I left school here, the town was 7,000 or 8,000 people. It is still 7,000 or 8,000 people. The demographics have changed a little bit. It is becoming an older place. Ballarat and Bendigo had 50,000 people in the early 1970s; now they have 100,000. Those places are growing and, as I said, it is important that they do. My vision for regional Victoria is that there should be a greater number of bigger places in regional Victoria instead of nine-tenths of Victorians living in Melbourne. I just do not understand that, actually. Places like Castlemaine and Maryborough need to be recognised for the value that they have for regional development. If there is any way that the advantages of living in a place like this can be pushed, I would be all for that.

Mr GIBBONS: Could you give us a bit of a snapshot of sport within close proximity of Maryborough? Obviously there is a football club—you are the president of it. You are also the president of the sports association, but what sports facilities are here for women, for example, and particularly young girls? Is there netball, basketball or other sports?

Mr Noonan : My indications are that yes, there are those sorts of problems. There are the problems we addressed a moment ago about the people who administer it. But the facilities themselves are quite good. I do not have a problem with that. It is simply about the personnel to push the kids and direct the kids and about making they are the right people for the jobs. I don't think that is quite as good as it could be if we could attract more people to live here. I do not really want to be critical of the people who are doing the jobs—that is not what I am doing. I am simply saying—

Mr GIBBONS: No, I understand.

Mr Noonan : Yes. In terms of the facilities themselves, there is no particular problem. That is not the reason they are not playing. I think it is just a general social problem. I do not know whether we are any different to anywhere else.

Mr GIBBONS: I understand this is one of the highest youth unemployment areas, if not the highest, in Victoria. So I would have thought that sport would be a good way of encouraging young people and giving them the discipline that they are going to need if they ever get a job. I think young people participating in sport is very good for that.

Mr Noonan : It is, absolutely. We are all old enough to know that that is one of the things we probably all did to help us.

Mr GIBBONS: Not me!

Mr Noonan : Not you, okay.

Mr TEHAN: Is the cost of travel a prohibitive factor stopping some kids from participating in sport? In the past their fathers and mothers would always willingly take them, but these days we seem to have a generation where sometimes kids have to get to sports themselves and they could be a fair way—driving distance—from the nearest game. Is the cost of travelling a prohibitive factor?

Mr Noonan : I would have to say no. For some people it is but generally, as a whole, I think people in clubs can get around those sorts of issues with car pooling, buses and that sort of thing. If you are talking individually—say, you have a talented child who has to go to Melbourne every weekend to participate in fixtures or in coaching or in competitions that are going to meet his or her level of expertise—there is a considerable cost.

Mr McCORMACK: What about your average player who is playing in the reserve grade of the Bendigo league and he is never going to make the AFL, the VFL or any other league?

Mr Noonan : If you are referring to that in particular, then I do not see a great problem. It is not like Bairnsdale and the Gippsland League. They could not get a second side for so many years because they were in the Latrobe league, and the Latrobe league went from one end of West Gippsland to the other end of East Gippsland. They had to get up at five o'clock in the morning to travel. They said, 'I'm not going to do that.'

Mr McCORMACK: They do that in the Riverina, too.

Mr Noonan : Do they?

Mr McCORMACK: Yes.

Mr Noonan : Bairnsdale have now gone into the Latrobe league without a second side. That is the basis on which they have done that, and it works well—but for us, no. I think we are well placed. Again, Bendigo-Ballarat is terrific. My wife thinks it is fantastic. She goes and shops there every now and again. I keep hounding her about it, but I do not think 60 or 70 kilometres is a big issue these days. I said at the outset that we are very lucky in some ways because of where we are. Maryborough is so close to those regional centres, and they have fantastic educational and health facilities. It is great, but we need people to live here and that is really the question. We cannot make them. From a sporting point of view, it hurts us that they live somewhere else and do not play here, or they are not involved in the administration of sport—that is a problem.

As to the cost of it, I guess there are always going to be examples of problems with costs. One of the briefs of the association in which I am involved is to try to help people in that sort of situation. If someone came to us and said, 'Listen, I need 50 bucks a week for 12 months to pay for some petrol to get to Melbourne and back,' we would look at it. So there are measures, if that were to happen, which are accessible and available.

Mr TEHAN: I do not know how much you talk to other towns, but I get a sense that it is not something which is just Maryborough-specific. Other towns, especially inland regional towns in South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria, are suffering the same thing. There are good news stories. For instance, Essendon's year this year has no doubt been greatly improved by a local boy who is playing very well in the forward line. So there are all those success stories as well. Is this more about a huge demographic shift than about something that we can specifically target and say, 'Well, these are the sorts of concrete measures we need to take'?

Mr Noonan : I do not disagree with that, if that is the question. It is more of a statement, Dan. It simply gets back to people wanting to live here, and that is all there is to it. Can we somehow make it attractive? One of the recommendations from all this could be to employ one or two people to look at identifying exactly what numbers we have that do not live here. I think I am right in saying—and I am sure that Mark will let me know if I am not—that the director of nursing, the CEO at the hospital, the director of finance and whatever all live out of town. You are nodding, so I am presuming he is nodding, hopefully—

Mr TEHAN: No, it is 'she'.

Mr Noonan : Sorry, 'she'. That is an example. I do not blame them. I am not suggesting it is wrong. I am simply saying that it is a classic example of all the money going out of the town—Garry Higgins' bakery gets their lunches every now and again but that is about all he gets, because they spend their salary in Bendigo or Ballarat—as well as their expertise, which is generally very good in lots of areas. That is the problem. How we all address it, I am not sure.

Mr McCORMACK: Your roads are very good here in Victoria too, I have got to say.

CHAIR: Kelvin, you might not be the one to ask this question of, but we have heard a lot about people driving in, doing work and then driving out again. How many people are actually living here but drive to the bigger centres for work and bring their money back?

Mr Noonan : Well, that is probably what I alluded to before. If you could get someone to be able to actually get the figures for that, we would know exactly and you would have a better picture of what is happening. But I suspect that is not enough. I would love that to be a positive figure in terms of the ones going out. I would love it to be that.

CHAIR: As there are no other questions, thank you very much, Kelvin, for taking the time to see us.