By VINNIE RODI

ON paper the Victorian Government’s recently announced Community Sports Infrastructure Loans Scheme seems like a good idea, but in reality it’s a slap in the face to grassroots communities like Mildura.

Let me explain.

Under the State’s new program, local councils, clubs and organisations will have access to low interest loans to boost sport and recreational facilities.

The $100million scheme aims to provide ‘low-interest, government-guaranteed loans’ of between $500,000 and $10million to deliver infrastructure that boosts grassroots participation.

As well as providing access to low interest loans, the State Government will also make interest subsidy payments that will effectively halve the interest paid by borrowers – saving communities “significant money.”

Eligible projects include building or upgrading community sport and recreation infrastructure, such as pools, indoor sports stadiums and community sport precincts — including pavilions, grounds and synthetic surfaces.

Locally, it seems the scheme and Mildura Rural City Council’s Mildura South Regional Sporting Precinct (MSRSP) – which last week was awarded a $10million Federal Government grant – could be a good match.

However, the differences between a grant and a loan are quite clear, mainly due to the fact that at some point you have to pay a loan back.

In the case of the State’s new scheme and the MSRSP, the pressure to pay back any money secured would fall back on ratepayers.

Victorian Shadow Minister for Sport, Danny O’Brien, hit the nail on the head when he said that, “(Premier) Daniel Andrews’ loans, with interest, for grassroots sports clubs is not so generous.”

“Daniel Andrews, PICTURED, just doesn’t get community sport and the work that countless volunteers put into supporting their clubs,” he continued. “Why else would he be offering loans, with interest, to grassroots sports clubs, while handing the country’s wealthiest sporting organisation $225million to renovate Etihad Stadium as well as prime land in Melbourne’s CBD – for free?

“Labor has its priorities all wrong with its decision to gift the AFL piles of taxpayer cash, while forcing community clubs to beg for a loan, with interest.

“In Parliament… Daniel Andrews’ Sports Minister tried to claim it was what community clubs wanted, but then couldn’t name a single grassroots club that had asked for a loan instead of a grant.”

Meanwhile, Council’s general manager Community, Martin Hawson, said the organisation would look at the Community Sports Infrastructure Loans Scheme in the context of financing major projects “if it was seen as the best value available.”

It’s a stance that Council has to take at the moment, with the State Government still silent on whether it will kick in any funding to help get the region’s prized Mildura Future Ready (MFR) plan off the ground.

MFR includes four projects aimed at improving the region’s low socio-economic standing, and once implemented will increase job numbers while injecting money into the community.

The first stage of MFR includes construction of the MSRSP and the Mildura Motorsport and Community Precinct’s first stage.

These two projects will be funded through a mix of government, Council and private funding, and while the Federal Government and Council have committed funds, both sides of State politics are yet to commit to MFR’s first stage.

The State Opposition, however, has made an election commitment to upgrade rail crossings across Victoria to improve freight haul times, while also paving the way for a return of Mildura’s passenger rail service – one of the four MFR priorities.

Member for Mildura Peter Crisp has also been on the record several times in recent weeks stating that, “I’ll have more to say about my election commitments in the near future.”

Loans, quite simply, aren’t going to cut it in areas like Mildura. What we need is substantial State Government investment – not a handout that we have to pay back, with interest no less.

Forget the loans Mr Andrews, it’s time your government invested some real funds in regional areas.