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    Wimmera Southern Mallee Development chief executive Chris Sounness.

Queensland study tour to shape future

By Jessica Grimble 

A regional development leader hopes a study tour of regional Queensland can celebrate commonalities and foster a ‘negotiation mindset’ amid impending change. 

Wimmera Southern Mallee Development is leading a study tour of civic and regional development leaders and business representatives to the Toowoomba Surat region this week. 

WSM Development chief executive Chris Sounness said the emergence of the gas fracking industry in the Toowoomba Surat region in the early 2000s had been ‘tough going’ – however, the tides had turned, and Wimmera and southern Mallee leaders were seeking to understand and learn from this transformation. 

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Developers have identified the Wimmera and southern Mallee for major future infrastructure, mining and renewable energy projects. 

Mr Sounness said agriculture, energy and mining industries had co-habited regions of Queensland for some decades and tour delegates could learn valuable lessons to shape this region’s future. 

The contingent will meet with civic, community, business and industry leaders during their stay. 

“There’s a focus now on making sure there are opportunities for local businesses, that the community is at the centre of any change and discussion, and the corporate sector isn’t about transactional relationships – it’s about how they can transform the community together,” Mr Sounness said. 

“For a lot of people in the community, the changes are still not what they want, but we need to consider how to negotiate the outcome. 

“There are only three choices a community can make: Do nothing, the project happens around them, and all evidence shows the community gets very little benefit when they’re not an active part of discussions; second, the community actively opposes projects, the project goes ahead and the community ends up divided and gets no benefit while the companies focus on doing the work without community interaction; or third, we negotiate an outcome, which the community has helped shape. 

“The main advantage of rural communities over urban communities is their sense of community – and it’s hard to put a value on that. 

“If we’re effective and can harness change for the better, some of the challenges we will face are lessened.” 

Mr Sounness said Wimmera and southern Mallee people generally shared a common outlook and passion for their community. 

“This study tour will help us consider how we, as rural and regional communities and leaders, have these discussions. I’m not saying it’s easy or everyone will agree, but I believe we have far more in common,” he said. 

“What does our community look like in 20 to 30 years? 

“We know during the past 20 to 30 years, we have experienced population decline, loss of services and amenity and shopping. 

“How can we get a different outcome so our children see the region as a great place to live with the services and opportunities they need and want to raise a family; so our towns have doctors and professionals who want to live here, too.” 

Grampians New Energy Taskforce, GNET, is funding accommodation and other costs while the contingent is in Queensland, and delegates will fund their travel arrangements.

WSM Development, formerly known as Wimmera Development Association, works with the community and governments to attract new investment, further develop existing business and promote sustainable development opportunities – both within and outside the region. 

It is a vital link between industry and government and has a proven track record of advocating for and attracting new development to the region. 

Its membership consists of Horsham Rural City municipality and Hindmarsh, Northern Grampians, West Wimmera, Yarriambiack and Buloke shires. 

The entire November 22, 2023 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!