THERE was optimism that regional Victoria would be rewarded when Premier Daniel Andrews unveiled his COVID recovery roadmap.

After all, for the best part of a week the Premier had employed phrases in his daily media conference script that pointed to a very different map in communities like Mildura where there has not been a local case of coronavirus since March.

Our region had been playing its part by towing the line on tough restrictions for all Victoria and when confronted by the heavy-handed and belligerent colonial grandstanding of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and her South Australian counterpart Steven Marshall.

Their hard-border closures devoid of commonsense, reality and understanding of life in Sunraysia and the Riverland – at times equally devoid of compassion and empathy – have heaped unnecessary inconvenience on business and agricultural communities.

They have damaged the economy for no reason other than because we live in Victoria and Melbourne the capital city hundreds of kilometres south has been a raging COVID-19 hotspot.

So much for the spirit of federation forged more than 120 years ago!

But Daniel Andrews had given hope that areas doing the right thing would have a good map to follow in their recovery and rebuild from six months of uncertainty, confusion and annoyance.

The disappointment on Sunday has become a bitter after-taste for local businesses.

The Premier’s Sunday media conference was a disaster in articulating what the roadmap was for country Victoria, in fact a few fumbled phrases and a deflection to information being in material already distributed to journalists present.

When the detail was later discovered, the bottom line showed no real change for now to the current Stage Three lockdown.

Sure, there were the trigger points for movement through the promised steps out of restrictions but those data points only fuel questions on why the delays.

A golden opportunity for country Victoria – Sunraysia in particularly – to kick start social and economic recovery has stalled, or been missed, with the messy roadmap that instead has everyone doing circles at a roundabout.

On published trigger points, Sunraysia should already be down on the lowest level of restrictions. We’ve been free of cases and unknown transmission for months.

But we’re in the same category as Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo – all regional Victoria lumped together as one. What’s the answer? An immediate trade and travel bubble needs to be added to the roadmap. One that may allow travel within Mildura Rural City, Bulloke Shire and other adjoining Victorian and interstate municipalities with similar or even better no-COVID statistics.

Local community leaders have been loudly calling on governments to take a reality check for months. Local people with local knowledge who know that local answers will strengthen resilience and productivity across the region.

Were these people consulted when the Victorian Government began drafting its COVID roadmap? On the face of things, it seems not … or government did not listen to their messages.

Mildura, Ouyen, Red Cliffs, Merbein, Irymple and the other smaller villages and towns across Sunraysia and the Mallee have been dished a disservice with a Melbourne-drafted map nothing more than a one-size-fits-all presentation. The data already has us clear to head into the “COVID-normal” future.

We just need the green light from government and with it, acknowledgement from all governments that rural and regional areas across Australia are indeed very different to the “big smoke” of capital cities.