SMILES ALL ROUND: Mildura Mayor Simon Clemence, with Deputy Leader of the National Party, and Federal Minister for Sport, Bridget McKenzie, left, and Nationals candidate for Mallee, Dr Anne Webster, with a group of happy sporting youngsters following Wednesday morning’s announcement.  Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By JOHN DOOLEY

AS the sun rose and cast its first ray of light on the site of the proposed Mildura South Regional Sporting Precinct (MSRSP), Deputy Leader of the Nationals, and Minister for Sport, Senator Bridget McKenzie, smiled, and delivered the good news.

Addressing a gathering of close to 60 stakeholders and Mildura Rural City Council representatives, Senator McKenzie was on hand to announce a further $7.5million from the Better Building Regions Fund for the Mildura Future Ready (MFR) sporting facility project.

The funding adds to money already committed to the project, which comprises $8million from Council, a further $10million from the Federal Government and $3million from the State’s coffers, which was announced prior to the election in November – a total of $28.5million.

This additional money will now allow for the completion of Stage 2 of the project, leaving  $8million to be found to complete all three stages.

The MFR plan was developed to revive the region’s economic and social well-being by securing substantial investment in major infrastructure projects. 

MFR includes Stage 2 of the Mildura Riverfront Redevelopment, the MSRSP, the Mildura Motorsports and Community Precinct and the return of Mildura’s passenger rail service, and is expected to generate more than 1000 jobs and $400million in economic output.

Making the announcement, Minister McKenzie said the Building Better Regions Fund is heavily oversubscribed with requests from communities for funding.

“Many communities like Mildura – all around the country – are wanting to get their hands on some much-needed Federal dollars to be able to leverage their local Councils and State Governments to deliver for their community,” she said. “I am absolutely delighted with the vision that you have for this community, and for sport in this community.

“We know that participating in sport and physical activity is core business for keeping our country towns and regional centres together, but increasingly it’s also big business.

“We also know that people are prepared to travel for sporting tourism, and to make Mildura one of those destinations means you need to have high-quality facilities that the AFL are prepared to come and play at – the AFLW is prepared to come to, basketball, netball, volleyball, badminton and cricket – you name it.

“This needs to become a destination for all of those sports – a destination for sporting tourism.”

Also present for the announcement was Nationals’ candidate for Mallee Dr Anne Webster, who said the major investment would be welcomed right across the region.

Minister McKenzie also highlighted the economic benefits that will flow from the construction and ongoing operation of the sporting facility.

“During construction phase, this project will create over 200 hundred jobs locally, and will see more than 100 people employed in an ongoing capacity, which is fantastic news,” she said.

“It’s not just about getting people active, it’s about stimulating the local economy with local jobs, which means this won’t just be a destination to play – it will be a destination to stay.”

The Minister also acknowledged that the State Government had contributed some money, but called on them to do more.

Member for Mildura Ali Cupper, meanwhile, welcomed the news of additional Federal money, and indicated that she has already spoken with Victorian Minister for Sport, John Eren, about the project.

“This is what I have been elected to do, and I am excited that the Federal Government has seen the merit in this project, and indeed in the broader MFR plans,” Ms Cupper said.

“I spoke to the (Victorian Sports) Minister again this morning, and reiterated the importance of the State Government contributing more to complete the project, and he is also aware that it’s not just about the Mildura South Sporting Precinct – that is an important component, but that Mildura Future Ready is a package deal.”

Mildura Mayor Simon Clemence welcomed the funding announcement, saying that we have now reached the point of reality with the project.

“With today’s funding announcement we are now only a few million short of the money needed to complete all three stages, and I think we can find a way around that,” he said. “This $7.5million is the gold standard – this is going to give us something very special. This is not just a sporting complex, it’s really something that is going to pull the community together. 

“We have an over-representation of a low socio-economic demographic, and what this community needs is a lift, and this project will give it that lift, and be a really good thing for Mildura.”

Cr Clemence said it was good to see that Mildura has finally been recognised by government.

“We’ve been in the wilderness with government for a long time as far as funding goes, and we are really grateful for the money from the Federal Government,” he said. “This is the one project where we can’t say the government hasn’t seen us, because they do have eyes over us on this occasion, which is fantastic.”

Cr Clemence said the MSRSP had been in the pipeline for more than 20 years.

“It’s been talked and thought about, and people have been really keen to see an indoor sporting facility built in Mildura,” he said. “It’s taken the vision of some particular people to get this happening, and I want to thank our Federal National Party Members in particular for their support in this project, they have done an excellent job.

“I think this is almost unprecedented to receive back-to-back funding for a project like this, and it is an outstanding effort on their part.”

Cr Clemence also paid tribute to the efforts of MRCC general manager Community, Martin Hawson, and his team, who he said had been working exceptionally hard on the project.

“Martin and his team have done an outstanding job to bring this project to fruition, and they deserve our grateful thanks,” he said.

Mr Hawson said that Council was aiming to get the project under way towards the end of the year.

“Based on our current timeline, we hope to turn the ‘first sod’ in the middle of the year,” he said.

“Designers are working as we speak on the project, and we have commenced our consultation with user groups to understand exactly what they will require to make the facility really work for them.”