Regional Victoria is home to strong communities and plays a significant role in Victoria’s economy—it created 19 per cent of the state's Gross Regional Product (GRP) in 2017–18. However, regional Victoria also faces challenges compared with metropolitan Melbourne, including slow or negative economic growth, low job creation rates and slow population growth.

Successive state governments have focused on improving economic and social outcomes in regional Victoria through significant programs and grants. Regional Development Victoria (RDV)—a statutory agency in the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR), formerly the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources—is the lead agency responsible for developing regional Victoria and administering key regional development grant programs.

Since 1999, RDV has administered a series of regional development grant funds. The current fund, the Regional Jobs and Infrastructure Fund (RJIF), was set up in 2015–16 with the objective of 'growing jobs, building infrastructure and strengthening communities in regional Victoria'. We audited two of the previous funds—the Regional Growth Fund (RGF) and Provincial Victoria Growth Fund (PVGF). These audits found that RDV could not demonstrate that the grants had supported regional growth outcomes due to deficiencies in the funds' administration. Our 2015 RGF audit made nine recommendations to RDV about the design and implementation of RJIF.

This report examines whether investment in regional Victoria through these three funds has improved economic and social outcomes for regional Victoria.

Having administered more than $1 billion in allocated funds since 2011, RDV still cannot reliably determine whether their grants have improved economic or social outcomes directly or indirectly, or whether any benefits have been sustained beyond the immediate injection of funds into a community. There is a high risk that its next evaluation, scheduled for 2021, also will not provide the answers to these questions.

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