Covering nearly 21,000 square kilometres, the Shire of East Gippsland has an abundance of natural and environmental resources. They also have a temperate climate, Australia’s largest navigable inland lake system and an extensive coastline with stunning visuals that make the Shire a popular choice for sea and tree-change lifestyle seekers. “We’ve got a really picturesque and unique part of the world down here,” says Mayor Richard Ellis.
East Gippsland is a Local Government Area in Gippsland, Victoria, Australia. Ideally located in the eastern part of the state, the area includes the towns of Bairnsdale, Benambra, Bruthen, Buchan, Ensay, Lakes Entrance, Mallacoota, Metung, Omeo, Orbost, Paynesville, Swan Reach and Swifts Creek.
With a population of around 44,000, East Gippsland stretches from west of Bairnsdale to the NSW border – making up 10 per cent of the state, with over 80 per cent as national park, state forest or other Crown land. “We offer an environment that provides good health services, good educational opportunities and of course, we have our environment. It’s spectacular,” Mayor Ellis says.
One of the key points that draw people to East Gippsland is their unique location. “We’re both a coastal and a high-country region,” Mayor Ellis explains. “We’re the second largest shire area in the state of Victoria.”
East Gippsland sees over a million tourists a year. Tourism is their seventh major economic activity in the district. “It’s worth $250-plus million a year to our economy and it’s growing. We’re a hidden jewel – most people don’t know about us, particularly from the northern states,” Mayor Ellis says.
For residents, the area offers a stable workforce of approximately 23,000, low unemployment, a strong industry-training sector and job opportunities across a range of sectors and professions.
Most jobs are found in retail, health care and social assistance, agriculture, forestry and fishing – though Skills Victoria estimates that employment will increase by 2.1 per cent in the next five years with growth in transport and storage, communications and business services. “We have a strong primary industry ranging from fishing to forestry, through to mining and a manufacturing base in our regional centres,” Ellis says.
Manufacturing is East Gippsland’s largest sector when it comes to output. Food manufacturing and production are also fundamental drivers of their economy, while the fishing industry is the largest employer of this sector in regional Victoria. “It just continues on and it keeps the economy in good shape,” Mayor Ellis says.
To attract additional industry, the Council established the Economic Development Advisory Committee and a marketing board. Their tasks are to provide information for the services East Gippsland has to offer. “We have plenty of good quality industrial land in our major towns,” Ellis says. “We have good interconnecting rail lines and road networks to the major population centres of the Latrobe Valley and then onto Melbourne.”
East Gippsland is proactive in trying to attract newer businesses to the district. “We work hand in hand with mining enterprises that may look in our regions for all the minerals we have in our high country,” Mayor Ellis says.
This year’s budget highlighted a continuation of the development of East Gippsland. A total of $89 million has been set aside – of which more than $30 million will go towards capital works to improve residential and enterprise facilities. “We’re looking for projects encouraging the arts such as a new library and a hub centre that will service our large geographic area,” Mayor Ellis says. “An upgrade of our Central Business District in Bairnsdale will encourage industry and improve roads and infrastructure.”
In regards to sustainability, East Gippsland has a number of initiatives to protect the environment, which is a key priority for the Council.
One of those initiatives is the East Gippsland Environmental Sustainability Strategy of 2008 through 2013 – a management tool that targets actions towards environmental sustainability. “It’s a principle driver of the Shire. We live in a pristine area of Australia. There’s virtually no pollution,” Mayor Ellis says. “We have areas that look like a picture book, so we have a responsibility to maintain that.”
Another initiative is the foundation of the East Gippsland Shire Council Environmental Sustainability Advisory Board, which acts as a consultative mechanism for Council and the community. It provides recommendations on the best way for Council to approach environmental sustainability in East Gippsland.
That Board also oversees the implementation of the East Gippsland Environmental Sustainability Strategy and yearly action plans. “The Council maintains a very stringent vision for maintaining a sustainable future,” Mayor Ellis says. “Anything that we do has to be environmentally friendly.”
One of the region’s key challenges is dealing with the negative environmental impact from floods and wildfires, which are common in the area. Council takes emergency management “quite seriously,” Ellis says. “We have a hard time in managing and providing plans to reduce the future threat of a bushfire or a flood. It’s another one of our responsibilities.”
Another challenge is attracting people to the Shire in order to strengthen their economy. East Gippsland has all the resources to support a larger population, but needs people to “grow the economy for us,” Mayor Ellis says. “We’ve got all the resources here, we just need the people to bring more people’s skills and money to invest and build us up.”
To address these challenges, the Council employs innovative approaches, and establishes strategic alliances and cross-sector partnerships with businesses and communities to pool resources, develop creative solutions and ensure East Gippsland has a strong, shared vision.
Going forward, Mayor Ellis believes East Gippsland will have a vibrant economy and a healthy community that will be the key to securing a great future for the entire Shire area. It’s just a matter of getting the word out to get people to the area.
“It’s trying to get that spark to get people to come here and make East Gippsland an even better place to be,” he says.