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    Wimmera Southern Mallee Development chief executive Chris Sounness.

Support through change a standout

By Jessica Grimble 

Working to a shared vision, and earning community support, is critical to preparing for change stemming from major future infrastructure and industry projects, a regional development leader says. 

Wimmera Southern Mallee Development led a study tour of 14 civic, regional development and business delegates to the Toowoomba Surat region of Queensland last week to learn more about the challenges and opportunities it experienced as agriculture, energy and mining industries co-habited the area. 

WSM Development chief executive Chris Sounness said a series of facilitated discussions considered the role of engagement between government, businesses, corporate, farmers and landholders, and community; policy; managing change and uncertainty; and business and tourism opportunities in the event of major workforce change. 

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“Everyone left feeling excited about the opportunities, but with the realisation it will take a lot of hard work and people supporting each other through change – and that we share a common goal that we all want to live in a great place,” Mr Sounness said. 

WSM Development, formerly known as Wimmera Development Association, works with the community and governments to attract new investment, further develop existing businesses 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. 

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

Mr Sounness said WSM Development would compile delegates’ lessons, feedback and ideas in considering next steps for united action. 

He said delegates recognised the need to be ‘thoughtful’ in their advocacy – including identifying commonalities to negotiate positive outcomes for the community.  

“Everyone realised they have to do something. Doing nothing was definitely not an option,” he said. 

“It highlighted the real opportunities if we can support our region to navigate the changes, but it’s not going to be easy. People have a whole range of different expectations. 

“The Queensland examples reiterated change is hard and it takes time, but while different groups undertook different components of the change, they were talking together and acknow-ledging each other. Everyone made sure they kept a seat at the table.” 

Mr Souness said land use changes and engagement with Traditional Owners were common lessons for the delegates in areas of sensitive engagement and conscious improvement on past practices.  

The entire November 29, 2023 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire November 29, 2023 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!