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Victorian budget delivers $45 million for digital connectivity across regional areas

The new Victorian Budget has delivered fresh funding for the state’s various tech efforts, with Treasurer Tim Pallas allocating $90 million to help “attract private sector investment and job creation, and protect existing businesses”, and $45 million to improve digital connectivity across regional Victoria.

The $90 million will go to the Investment Assistance and Attraction Program, which received $116 million in funding in last year’s budget. The program has helped bring the likes of Alibaba, Slack, and Zendesk to Victoria.

Renewable energy is also top of mind, with $88.8 million to go towards testing new technologies such as battery storage and micro grids to further develop the state’s renewable energy sector.

Almost $11 million will be put towards helping consumers “better manage their energy costs”, with another $9.5 million to help secure solar power for Melbourne’s tram network.

Receiving $45 million, meanwhile, the Connecting Regional Communities Program (CRCP) was born out of the state’s nine Regional Partnerships calling for updates to digital infrastructure.

The program will see the government work alongside each Regional Partnership to develop region-specific strategies and practical solutions for their community’s digital needs and priorities.

Projects include trials to improve broadband in industrial and business precincts in North Geelong, Morwell, and Horsham; extending regional Victoria’s free WiFi program, which is already in operation in Ballarat and Bendigo; and IoT demo projects in various regions to help local businesses connect with new technology.

The CRCP funding will be split between a number of projects: $11 million will be dedicated to the Mobile Black Spots Program, with a particular focus on boosting mobile phone coverage in flood and fire-prone areas with poor coverage; $12 million will help support the adoption of internet-enabled on-farm technologies; and $7 million will go to Digital Economy Plan initiatives to drive innovation and increase the competitiveness of regional industries.

Also funded through the program will be the improvement of regional services through access to government communications infrastructure.

Jaala Pulford, Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development, said the Regional Partnerships made clear that improving digital access is “an absolute must”.

“We know how important internet connectivity is for farmers, small businesses and families; that’s why we’re making it a priority,” she said.

Minister for Small Business, Trade, and Innovation, Philip Dalidakis added, “Like anywhere in our state, reliable broadband is vital for local businesses and local jobs. This investment will help fill some of the existing gaps, and make sure regional Victoria isn’t being left behind in our digital economy.”

A further $44.4 million will head to regional Victoria in order to help Agriculture Victoria maintain agricultural biosecurity over the next two years, in turn protecting access to international markets for local farmers.

The government has also allocated $1.7 million to re-establish the Victorian Rural Women’s Network, which was defunded in the state’s 2013 budget.

To be running once more from July 1, the Network aims to help bridge the distance and connect women who may feel isolated living in regional or rural areas, promote women’s economic participation and professional development, and connect women to information, health, and education services.

The government is also working on sending public service jobs to the regions with the development of ‘GovHubs’ in Ballarat and the LaTrobe Valley, with Bendigo also in the pipeline.

To be developed in partnership with the Ballarat City Council, combining government offices, community services, and local businesses, the Ballarat GovHub will house 600 government employees, while the government stated the LaTrobe Valley office will house 150 public service jobs.

Image: Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews and Treasurer Tim Pallas. Source: Herald Sun.

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