Regional Victoria appears likely to become a key part of the Liberal opposition party’s plan to manage critical challenges relating to population growth and housing and infrastructure needs.

The Victorian Liberal Party has established a new taskforce formed by a panel of independent specialists to engage and consult with the community and produce a comprehensive set of recommendations designed to turn Victoria into a state of cities.

In a new discussion paper, the party says the state’s population challenges are real.

Drawing on projections from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, the paper  said the state’s population would grow from just under 6 million people in 2011 to just over 10 million by 2051, whilst Melbourne’s population would grow from just over 4 million to just over 8 million in that timeframe.

It said almost nine in 10 people who moved to Victoria from overseas moved to Melbourne, which the party says is placing enormous pressure upon infrastructure and housing costs.

By contrast, the Liberals said regional cities offer more to young Victorians in terms of affordable housing and have a crucial role in terms of the balancing of population growth across the state.

“With Melbourne bursting at the seams, there’s never been a more vital time to look to regional Victoria,” the party said in a statement. “We need to regionalise our growth, and not just focus on Melbourne alone. We cannot continue to grow the way we have the past 30 years for the next 30 years.”

The language regarding a ‘state of cities’ is not new.

The notion of creating a ‘state of cities’ was first used in the original version of Plan Melbourne which was released by the then Liberal government in 2012.

This included plans to encourage regional growth in places such as Geelong, Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton, La Trobe City, Wodonga, Wangaratta, Warrnambool, Horsham and Mildura.

In addition, the previously planned East-West Link project which was dumped by the Andrews Labor government upon assuming office in 2014 remains a high priority for the Liberals.

In their paper, the Liberals say Melbourne needs a ‘genuine congestion busting project’ and suggest that delays on the Eastern Freeway to CityLink corridor could double to $144 million by 2031 if this project is not revived.

But Labor Leader and current State Premier Danial Andrew attacked the plan, saying the Liberals had a secret plan to ‘wreck the character of regional Victoria’ by forcing more people out into the regions with no plans for additional infrastructure.

“The Liberals need to come clean and detail how they will deal with the traffic chaos and infrastructure backlog in our regional cities that will inevitably happen under their secret plan, just to appease Green voters in Melbourne’s inner east,” Andrews said in a statement, declaring the paper to be a policy which “only a person from Kew could write.”

“This is a typical Liberal Party policy – it abandons the outer suburbs of Melbourne and seeks to overcrowd and wreck the character of our regional cities and country towns.”

Shadow Planning Minister Tim Smith hit back, describing the Kew comment as derogatory and divisive and says that the Andrews Government has “no interest in managing Victoria’s population.”

The taskforce panel is made up of former president of the Australian Population Research Institute Bob Birrell, Property Council of Australia (Victoria Division) deputy executive director Asher Judah, regional banker David Matthews, president of the Australian Population Institute and former Mayor of the City of Hawthorn Jane Nathan, immediate past president of the Urban Development Institute of Australia’s Victoria Division David Payes, RMIT economist Professor Jason Potts and community representative Joanna Stanley.

The panel will make its interim report within six months.