GIFTS GALORE: Member for Northern Victoria Mark Gepp made a number of funding announcements this week while visiting Mildura. He is pictured with Chaffey Secondary College student, Jmara Clarke, 14, following a $310,000 funding boost for the region’s Koorie students.

By JOHN DOOLEY

WHEN an election is looming, the sight of politicians making funding announcements, opening new sporting facilities and presiding over the delivery of much-needed equipment is usually a common occurrence.

This week Member for Northern Victoria Mark Gepp was in town to do just that, and his first stop was at Chaffey Secondary College on Tuesday where he met with Year 7 to 10 students.

Mr Gepp was on hand to announce a new $310,000 funding package for Koorie girls attending secondary school in Mildura, students will soon have access to a new program to help them reach their full potential.

The funding will deliver a two-year program for female Koorie students at Chaffey Secondary College and Mildura Senior College in partnership with the Stars Foundation, providing support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander girls.

About 60 Koorie girls will participate in what will be known as the Mildura Stars program, which includes activities designed to boost confidence and personal growth.

Students will have the opportunity to take part in sport, art, music and dance, as well as volunteer through their local community.

On-site mentors will give students daily support to identify their goals and aspirations and work with students, schools and the community to develop individual plans to enable students to make active choices about their future.

Mr Gepp said the funding was a small start, but was hopeful it would set the tone for future funding from Government.

“I recognised the need for specific funding for Koorie girls from Mildura last year,” he said. “This package is designed to give Indigenous girls through sports, arts and community activity the confidence to get out there to do the things they enjoy doing, and to be the best they can be.

“There’ll be a lot of co-operation between the two schools, and so hopefully it’s the beginning of funding for Koorie girls here in Mildura, I believe there’s a lot more we can do, and we’re already providing resources for the young men at both schools and this is about building on that.”

Chaffey College executive principal Graeme Forrester said the funding builds on the positive work of the Stars Foundation, and will enable the College to put this initiative in place as part of the pilot program.

“We are running it for the first time here, because between Chaffey and Mildura Senior College, we probably have one of the largest numbers of Koorie students in Victoria,” he said. “Part of the program will aim to support our young Indigenous girls in coming to school and being engaged in the curriculum.

“At the moment we have the Clontarf Foundation for Indigenous boys which works very well by getting them engaged in learning, they attend camps and go on excursions which gives them positive experiences, as well as providing them with valuable mentoring.”

On Wednesday another key announcement was made by Mr Gepp at the Mildura Chocolate Company, a social enterprise of the Christie Centre, which received a ‘Boost Your Business’ voucher for Food Innovation which is valued at almost $41,000.

The business voucher will help Mildura Chocolate Company partner with RMIT and Murray River Salt to research an enhancement to increase the shelf life of a new salted dark chocolate sauce product currently in development.

Once in production, it could increase regional employment opportunities for people of all abilities.

Mr Gepp said that more than 100 businesses across the State have received a business voucher as part of the $3million first round of the program.

In congratulating the company on its outstanding enterprise, Mr Gepp also paid tribute to the contribution of Murray River Salt to the chocolate company, which he said was commendable.

“It’s not every company in the world that makes the sort of commitment that Murray River Salt has made to the company and kudos to them for their contribution, not only in a business sense, but also at a community level,” he said. “I haven’t met anybody who doesn’t like chocolate and so we all hope that the company is very successful with this project.”

Christie Centre Social Enterprise Coordinator, Melissa Tucker, thanked the State Government for its support, and pointed to the practical benefits such a grant delivers for enterprises like theirs.

“Our aim at the Christie Centre is to increase economic and civic participation of our employees and upfront investments like this one, which support people to improve their work and life-skills, is a really effective and efficient way to achieve that goal,” she said.

During his time in Mildura, Mr Gepp also opened the netball court and lighting upgrade at Kenny Park in Merbein, and attended the Mildura Fire Station to hand over a heavy-pumper vehicle to the local brigade.

The handover is part of the Statewide $10.9million rollout of 12 heavy pumpers and three heavy tankers. Each pumper costs about $800,000, and is funded through the CFA’s Growth Program.