Mr PURCELL (Western Victoria) (12:26:37) — My question is to the Minister for Regional Development. As the minister knows very well, Mortlake is a small town 30 minutes north of Warrnambool and has a population of around 1400. Historically the largest employer in the town has been Clarke's Pies and more recently, on the same site, Midfield international meats, which employed some 60 staff, this being somewhere around about 4 per cent of the population. Midfield's lease expired in February this year, and the site has been unoccupied ever since. The site is export accredited and is a very modern facility.
I understand from the owner, Mr Clarke, that Regional Development Victoria (RDV) are aware of the situation but have never made contact with him in regard to this property and finding a suitable tenant to create scores of much-needed jobs in Mortlake. So my question is: Minister, after four months of still no contact, what is Regional Development Victoria doing?
Ms PULFORD (Minister for Regional Development) (12:27:35) — I thank Mr Purcell for his question and his interest in the Clarke's site at Mortlake. I will take the opportunity while we are talking about Mortlake to commend the town and the community on a beautiful streetscape project. Mortlake is looking quite spectacular these days. If anyone is driving through, they should most definitely stop by and check out Mortlake and its flash new look.
Mr Purcell's question really goes to what government is doing around creating employment opportunities and work for people in the region and then specifically in relation to this site. Just for context, I indicate to the house that the unemployment rate in Warrnambool and the south-west at the moment is 3.5 per cent — it was 5.1 per cent when we came to government. There was a front page of the Warrnambool Standard just a little over two weeks ago saying that the region was looking for a thousand new people to fill the demand for employment. Without in any way wanting to make light of the challenge that some people in the region may be experiencing in finding work, it is also a very real challenge for businesses in the south-west to attract sufficient labour force to meet their needs. We are very, very conscious of that, and we work to create job opportunities in regional Victoria at every opportunity we can.
In relation to the former Clarke's site, what I would say at the outset is that it is not normal practice for Regional Development Victoria to assist commercial landlords to secure tenancies. That is a bit beyond the usual scope of what RDV does. In February this year Midfield Meats, as Mr Purcell indicated, ended its commercial leasing arrangements for the former Clarke's Pies site. In Mortlake they had been there about a decade. This was as a result of Midfield Meats consolidating all their boning processes at their expanded Warrnambool site. Staff availability in Mortlake could not, I am told, accommodate the extra capacity.
I understand Mr Clarke's other business, Mortlake Employment Services, also provides some services to Midfield Meats for workers at the Mortlake site, and the workers who chose to continue working for Midfield have been accommodated at the Warrnambool facility, which is obviously not as close, but it is still only half an hour down the road. But it is very much the business of our government to create jobs and to find pathways to employment for people wherever we can.
So what I can indicate to Mr Purcell and to the Mortlake community is that RDV is actively engaged at the moment with a potential new investor who is in the food sector. This is, as Mr Purcell said, a site that is well serviced and that is a valuable asset. This potential new investor in the food sector is being assisted by RDV to identify some sites, and they have looked at multiple potential sites, including the Clarke's site at Mortlake that has been recently vacated.
Without wanting to dive into the decision that that investor needs to make or into any commercial leasing arrangements that the owner of the site may wish to make with potential new investors, we can certainly remain hopeful of a good outcome there. Certainly we are aware of the vacant site and we are aware of the services connected to it, and as there are lots of people constantly interested in investing in the food industry in south-western Victoria, we will continue to make them aware of this opportunity should they wish to avail themselves of it.
Mr PURCELL (Western Victoria) (12:31:35) — I am sure the minister knows that you do not always believe everything you read in the papers, in particular about the thousands of jobs needing to be filled in western Victoria. Even though unemployment is relatively low in that part of the world, it is different from one place to another. I can tell you that away from the coast it is difficult to create employment. I understand that it is not Regional Development Victoria's job to actually become a real estate agent, but it is to create jobs and we have got this facility. So, Minister, I just ask: how many staff do Regional Development Victoria have in the Warrnambool office?
Ms PULFORD (Minister for Regional Development) (12:32:21) — I will need to take that question on notice. We have Regional Development Victoria staff right across regional Victoria, and in my observation of their work, a lot of it is done in the car. As to the workplaces of Regional Development Victoria in terms of specific numbers of people located in the Warrnambool office, I will get back to Mr Purcell on that.