By JOHN DOOLEY
MILDURA was left feeling like the ‘poor cousin’ of Victoria after receiving virtually nothing in Tuesday’s State Budget.
This was despite the Government allocating more than $4.3billion for regional Victorian roads, rail, schools and healthcare.
When you consider the almost $3billion contribution the Sunraysia district makes to the State’s economy each year, why are we being punished? Is it a symptom of our remote geographical location, which appears to have us completely off the Andrew’s Government’s radar, or is it a purely political stance, aimed at punishing us for having a National Party politician as our local member?
Member for Mildura Peter Crisp slammed the Budget this week saying it was a big taxing budget that pours funds into Melbourne, but has nothing but crumbs for Mildura.
“This Budget is another raw deal for Mildura from Daniel Andrews. It ignores the most pressing and important issues across the Mildura electorate, including the crime-epidemic and families struggling with the rising costs of living,” he said.
“There are also vital road works missing from the budget, including several C roads that have become economic arteries, the Robinvale to Sea Lake and Hattah to Wemen roads.”
Mr Crisp added that the need to complete the Benetook Bypass in Mildura to provide an alternate route for heavy vehicles to relieve congestion in Deakin Avenue remained a priority.
“Additional passing lanes on the Calder Highway are also vital. Our roads are crumbling, and yet there are no commitments from the Government to address these projects,” he said.
Another major disappointment is the failure of the Government to recognise the need for a residential drug rehabilitation facility, which should have been a commitment under the ‘Ice Action Plan’ for north-west Victoria, and for which Mildura had presented a strong case.
“A residential facility is the missing link in the service model for our region,” Mr Crisp said.
Mr Crisp added that Mildura Base Hospital also needs continued investment, and in particular more ward beds.
Mildura Rural City Council’s Mildura Future Ready (MFR) plan was also ignored in the Budget, something Mr Crisp is concerned about.
“Council presented a strong case in their MFR Plan, but it’s all been ignored by the Government,” he said. “It’s particularly disappointing that there are no funds for the vital next stage of the Mildura rail upgrades.”
Mildura Mayor Mark Eckel said that while there were “some crumbs that fell off the table,” there is nothing in this week’s Budget that will have the impact the region needs to turn around our “disturbing social and economic indicators.”
“I welcome the announcement of a Cross Border Commissioner for Victoria, which is something we as a Council, along with the Murray River Group of Councils, have been calling for over a number of years,” Cr Eckel said.
“This will help address the numerous issues faced by cross-border communities, including property matters, legal jurisdiction, health and community services, business investment, tourism, transport and departmental services.”
Cr Eckel said it’s now imperative that Victoria’s first Cross Border Commissioner is based in Mildura, where they can see first-hand the impact of cross-border issues.
Cr Eckel also said that while it was disappointing that Mildura largely missed out on any major funding in this year’s Budget, it was now more important than ever to lobby strongly in the lead-up to the State Election for the MFR advocacy and funding strategy.
“It’s vital that all political parties understand not only the potential benefit of MFR for our entire community, but more importantly, the burning need for the jobs and growth stimulus promised by MFR if we’re to finally address our region’s ongoing and concerning social and economic challenges,” he said.
“From my perspective, we need to be apolitical about this. We need commitments from the Opposition, we need commitments from the current sitting government, and this needs to be an election issue for our region.
“We need to keep challenging governments to realise we require large-scale infrastructure investment to diversify our economy and create jobs and opportunity.”
Cr Eckel said he was also disappointed to see that the ‘Fixing Country Roads’ fund established to provide grants to rural and regional councils to fix their local roads was reduced from a promised $160million to $100million.
“The other matter of concern for this Council, and the other Councils of Regional Cities Victoria, and the Murray River Group of Councils, is that the State’s infrastructure budget hasn’t invested the landfill levies already collected into projects that would develop solutions for Victoria’s recycling conversion industry.
“A recycling crisis has swept across Australia following China’s import restrictions on recyclable materials.
“The State Sustainability Fund needs to be funding new initiatives to ensure our recycling industry can be maintained, and so we call on the Government to allocate urgent funds for a priority project once the State’s recycling taskforce submits its report in the coming week.”
On a brighter note, Cr Eckel said he was thrilled for Mildura’s Deb Bogenhuber, who received a funding allocation of $600,000 for what he described as a great local initiative.
“Food Next Door is a project that aims to facilitate access to vacant land for new migrant farmers through establishing a community demonstration farm, and in doing so, continue to build community harmony and goodwill through food,” he said.
In a move that will benefit Mildura’s SuniTAFE, $172million has been allocated to make 30 priority TAFE and pre-apprenticeship courses free, including 13 course offered in Mildura.
The move is aimed at filling the skills gaps and to get more Victorians in to work.
More students will be able to access this training and ultimately get good jobs, with more than $300million being allocated to open new classes and over 30,000 new training places across the State.
Another initiative that may have some relevance to our region will see young farmers receive a helping hand to get a start on the land, with those buying their first farm having their stamp duty-free threshold doubled from $300,000 to $600,000, bringing it in line with first home buyer concessions.