Community hopes that Member for Mildura Ali Cupper could secure the $8million funding shortfall required to complete all stages of the $36.5million Mildura South Regional Sporting Precinct project were dashed in this week’s State Budget.

By JOHN DOOLEY

DESPITE saying that he was delivering for every corner of the State, Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas failed to find a cent for the Mildura South Regional Sporting Precinct in Monday’s budget, which splashed cash virtually everywhere except Mildura.

The hope that Member for Mildura Ali Cupper could secure the $8million funding shortfall  required to complete all stages of the $36.5million project was stopped in its tracks – for the time-being at least.

Ms Cupper said that the budget was one of mixed results for our electorate. 

“It was strong on services, but weak on infrastructure,” she said. “There was excitement and optimism about some elements, but that was underlined by a genuine concern at the lack of big-ticket funding – a concern that once again the Government doesn’t quite get it, that we’ve been left out in the cold, that we haven’t been heard.” 

Glimmer of hope

There was, however, a glimmer of good news for the Mildura Rural City Council’s Mildura Future Ready suite of projects, with the $80.2million Mildura Motorsports and Community Precinct to receive $150,000 in special funding and $150,000 in-kind support for the recruitment of an investment broker to move the project forward.

Ms Cupper said that while Mildura didn’t get the $8million for the Mildura South Regional Sports Precinct in this round, there are three rounds to go. 

“I fought as hard as I could in the time I had, and setbacks only make me more determined. It’s not game over, it’s game on,” she said. “There are gains for Sunraysia in this year’s Victorian Budget, including the Mildura Motorsports Precinct – but Mildura South Sporting Precinct is not among the winning projects.”

In her budget-reply speech, delivered in the Victorian Parliament on Tuesday, Ms Cupper said it was great to see the State Government acknowledge the value of the Mildura Future Ready initiative with a significant funding grant towards the motorsports component.

“This has breathed new life into this project, and given motorsports fans across my electorate hope that their long-held dream will indeed become a reality,” she said.

In commenting on Monday’s budget, Mildura Mayor Simon Clemence said that it was obviously disappointing that the $8million for the Mildura South Regional Sporting Precinct didn’t materialise.

“While it was disappointing, at the end-of-the-day it was a big ask at the last minute by Ali Cupper – but much respect to her for having a crack at the last minute,” he said. “She had been lobbying prior to that, but she gave it another last-minute shot, and put her neck on-the-line to do that.

“Ali has been quite open and public about that. I was impressed that she was willing to do that.

“It didn’t succeed on this occasion, but we still have a project, and we are still very pleased with the progress, and hopefully we can obtain the $8million out of the next budget to complete it which would be great. 

“I’m sure Ali, and I know Council, will be pushing very hard to get it out of the next budget, or even sooner if we can obtain some grant funding along the way.”

Cr Clemence said that he was pleased to see the funding allocated for the Motorsports Precinct to enable the recruitment of an investment-broker, something he said Council has a fully researched business-case which shows the Motorsports Precinct would be profitable. 

“As it stands, neither the State or Federal Governments have suggested that they would fund money needed for the motorsports precinct – possibly partially, but not fully – and so we have always known that we would need to attract a private investor,” he said.

“These funds will allow us to cast our net wider to use that money to attract an investor, and our enquiries may extend overseas and we will hire a firm to seek interest from private investors for the project.”

Expectations fail

Speaking from the floor of the Parliament, Ms Cupper said that this year’s budget fell short of her and the community’s expectations in various ways, and that the region was tired of being neglected.

“I have said it before, and I’ll say it again, we are sick of being treated like second-class citizens of this State,” she said. “While we are grateful for the highlights of this budget, without more, these wins are not capable of overcoming our isolation and unlocking our true social and economic potential or moving the needle on our socio-economic indicators.”

Ms Cupper said that game-changing investment in the quantities we have, and are seeing in other electorates, is needed.

“We need a first-class indoor sports stadium to promote a healthy and cohesive community,” she said. “We don’t want our aspiring young basketballers or gymnasts training in poorly air-conditioned sheds. 

“We don’t want our Mayor returning from a stadium tour of Bendigo, bewildered by the eye-watering funding disparities between us and them.”

Ms Cupper said that she was pleased to see payroll tax reforms which will relieve small businesses of an estimated $13.8million in payroll tax. 

“When drought hits, the ripple effects are felt by our businesses and they don’t always receive the same level of government support as other sectors of the economy,” she said. “Our business community needs and deserves this break and we were thrilled to see their contribution recognised and rewarded in this budget.

“It is also great to see an injection of funds into Mallee Drive at Hattah to help develop its potential as a mecca for 4WD enthusiasts.”

Cr Clemence expressed disappointment that Mildura wasn’t going to benefit from the Government’s free pre-school for three-year-olds program.

“The other thing I would say about the budget is that there is very little specifically for Mildura and I really would have liked to have seen the three-year-old pre-school funding come here,” he said.

“The way the budget is structured at the moment, there will be nothing allocated to any of our pre-schools for this in the immediate future.

“There is nothing allocated for 2019-20, and there isn’t anything for 2020-21 for Mildura, which is disappointing, because we have a very low socio-economic demographic, and one of the ways to improve that is to start educating our children at a young age to give the kids a good head start. 

“It would have been good to see Mildura higher up the totem pole with the timing of that, it will come, but it would have been good to see that now – it’s important.”

Victorian National Party Leader, Peter Walsh, meanwhile, was scathing of the budget’s lack of support for rural and regional Victoria.

“Daniel Andrews’ latest State Budget confirms he is a Premier with no plan and no money for Regional Victoria,” he said. “Under Daniel Andrews, Regional Victoria is being robbed of funds while the Premier blows the budget on metro projects.

“Labor has axed the $1billion Regional Growth Fund – there is now no dedicated grants investment program for regional Victoria.”

Mr Walsh cited examples of where Mildura was being ignored by the Government.

“There’s no funding to expand rail services for the people of Mildura, Horsham and Hamilton and there’s no funding for the Mildura South Sporting Precinct,” he said.

“As well as axing the Regional Growth Fund… Daniel Andrews has also slashed Regional Development Victoria’s base-funding, which will mean program closures and job losses in regional communities.

“The program successfully helped businesses to move to Regional Victoria, like bringing more than 200 jobs to Maryborough when True Foods relocated, and invested in important community assets like the Mildura Riverfront Precinct.”