GAME ON! Labor candidate for the seat of Mildura in the upcoming State election, Dr Tony Alessi, is flanked by fellow Labor Party members and Minister for Regional Development, Jaala Pulford, and Member for Northern Victoria Mark Gepp.

By JOHN DOOLEY

IN a low-key event at the Working Man’s Club on Tuesday, Labor’s candidate for the seat of Mildura, Dr Tony Alessi, launched his election campaign. He pledged to be a strong voice for the people of the electorate he hoped to be able to serve after the November 24 election.

The campaign launch was attended by more than 30 party faithful and supporters, as well as Member for Northern Victoria Mark Gepp and Minister for Regional Development, Jaala Pulford, both of whom spoke in glowing terms about their candidate.

Minister Pulford said Dr Alessi was a true local, and noted that he was someone who works in health care – one of the most important areas for State Governments.

“We are about ensuring that the community has the health care it needs, in the places that it needs it,” she said. “Tony is a chiropractor and he understands the importance of quality health services for people in our community.”

The Minister also emphasised Labor’s track record in the education sector.

“The other area of enormous importance is education, having great schools and school buildings, and there has been some important work done by our Government in terms of investing in our schools across the State,” she said.

The usual ‘all’s fair in love and war’ sledging of their political opponents was also a feature of the launch, with Mr Gepp taking a swipe at the National Party.

“The Nationals say one thing up here and then when they are with their Liberal colleagues in Melbourne they say another thing,” he said.

It was then Dr Alessi’s turn to make his pitch, which he did in an at times emotional speech.

“When you look more closely at the investment Labor has made in our community, it’s pretty astounding really,” he said. “More than $25million in our schools across the region, which compares to about $7million spent by the previous Government.

“The previous Government decimated TAFEs. Under Labor we’ve seen SuniTAFE rescued and expanded, with more than $15million being invested creating new courses that will produce people with the skills for the jobs required in this region.

“Health, roads and the environment have all been very well served by this Government.”

While light on specific election promises, Mr Alessi pledged to be a strong advocate on a number of key issues.

“We need to look after our farmers who are reliant on a healthy river, just as tourism, which is the second biggest earner for our economy, also depends on the river,” he said. “I will advocate for the protection of our river. The whole community deserves a healthy river.

“You only have to take a drive up the road and look at the Darling River to see what happens when you allow corporate mates to be more important than your community.”

Dr Alessi also expressed his support for the Mildura Future Ready project, saying it deserved funding, adding that he had a strong view regarding the management of the Mildura Base Hospital.

“I will advocate for the return of Mildura Base Hospital to public management and ensure GP shortages are addressed,” he said. “I promise that I’ll be a strong advocate for my community, and if elected in November, I will be a loud and consistent voice for a public transport system that connects our small towns to our bigger towns and our bigger towns to our cities.”

Earlier in the day, Minister Pulford had been asked if her Government was committed to completing the Murray Basin Rail Project and upgrading level crossings on the rail connection between Mildura and Maryborough. 

“We have commenced that project, finished the business case, secured the funding and it’s now under way, it made a really solid start and it has been a more complicated project in more recent times, but I give you our absolute assurance that this project is on track and we are absolutely determined to finish it,” she said.

On the subject of providing funding for the Mildura Country Music Festival next year, the Minister was non-committal.

“I understand how valuable events like this are to local communities and economies, and I can certainly assure you that the Tourism Minister and I are committed to regional events funding and we are happy to work with the organisers,” she said.

“It is, however, fair to say that the general view of government is that we prefer to use grant funding to enable organisations to get started rather than providing ongoing subsidies for decades.”

Speaking after the launch, Dr Alessi said he had considered standing as an independent candidate, but had decided to join the Labor team.

“I did think about being an independent, but ultimately I decided that if I was going to have a voice in Government, a voice that actually mattered sitting around the table with the people that were actually making the decisions, controlling the budget, then I needed to be in government,” he said.

“(Obviously) The National Party wasn’t an option for me so I chose Labor, which I consider to be the best vehicle to follow that path.”