“THIS was not a talkfest. I can assure you that things will happen.”
So said the Deputy Premier, and Minister for Education, James Merlino, at the end of a day-long visit by six State Government Ministers to Bass Coast last Friday.
The cavalcade of Ministers included: the Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Jill Hennessy, the Minister for Agriculture and Regional Development Jaala Pulford, the Minister for Energy and Resources Lily D’Ambrosio, the Minister for Tourism and Major Events John Eren, the Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water Lisa Neville and Mr Merlino.
No one can remember the last time six State Ministers visited Bass Coast in one day, let alone sit down with members of the local community at a roundtable forum.
But little more than three weeks out from the next State Budget, on Wednesday, April 27, they succeeded in raising expectation levels to fever pitch that at least one, if not several of the region’s key infrastructure projects will be funded.
Top of the list is the redevelopment of the Wonthaggi Secondary College, which, if funded as expected in the upcoming budget, will have a domino-effect on development in the town.
Mr Merlino, who led the Education Roundtable, after making his second visit to the secondary college in six months, as good as guaranteed that the project would receive funding this year.
“I can assure you that the needs of the Wonthaggi Secondary College are high on our agenda and the situation there is well understood,” Mr Merlino said.
He acknowledged the poor condition of the buildings and the cramped space for students and teachers, agreeing that the reasonable expectations of the school and the local community were not being met at Wonthaggi.
“At the education roundtable it was noted that Bass Coast has the highest level of teenage pregnancy in the State. You’ve got a lot of challenges here, I appreciate that,” he said, commenting also on the need to raise aspiration levels among those wishing to study at a higher level.
“There are several projects that the council is interested in and we’ll be taking those forward,” he said, giving special mention to the proposed Education Precinct.
Principal of the Senior Campus of Wonthaggi Secondary College, Darren Parker, was delighted.
“Even though we have reached this point twice before and came up empty handed, I am tremendously excited about our prospects after today’s meeting,” Mr Parker said.
“He’s been here before and he knows what’s needed. He’s right across what the situation is here.”
Mr Parker agreed that expectations for funding in the April 27 State Budget was at an all-time high.
It wasn’t the only major infrastructure project spoken about during the visit by the six-pack of ministers.
What they said
• Health Minister Jill Hennessy announced $30,000 for a Clinical Services Plan for Bass Coast Health, which new CEO Jan Child said would further advance the health service’s sub-regional development plans.
• Water Minister Lisa Neville described the Northern Towns water infrastructure proposal for Korumburra, Poowong, Loch and Nyora as “a critical project for the region”, and as good as promised that it would also be funded in the budget.
• Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford acknowledged the record dry conditions in Bass Coast and South Gippsland, promising another local visit and an announcement on Wednesday, April 20.
• Energy and Resources Minister Lily D’Ambrosio, quashed any suggestion that reforming the state’s Earth Resources Ministerial Advisory Council would lead to an expansion of coal or CSG industry in Gippsland.
• CEO of Phillip Island Nature Parks, Matthew Jackson, said he was particularly buoyed by the comments made by Tourism and Major Events Minister John Eren and others about the bid to redevelop a visitors’ centre at the Penguin Parade and associated conservation works (stage one price tag $70m).
“Every time we have a meeting as positive as this, we are a step closer. The project is a comprehensive one, not only for Phillip Island, but also for the State and for Australia. You’ve heard what they said today, and the fact that the government understands what we are trying to do,” Mr Jackson said.
“We need to acknowledge the great challenges that tourism brings,” the Deputy Premier, Mr Merlino said in summing up the day’s visit.
“One of the things I learned today is that this economy (Bass Coast) is the second-most reliant on tourism in the nation.
“Local, State and Federal government investment in infrastructure is needed here.
“The thing that struck me most was the unity of purpose and optimism today. There are exciting times ahead,” he said.
“This was not a talkfest. I can assure you that things will happen for Bass Coast.”
Time to shine
Bass Coast Mayor, Cr Jordan Crugnale, said the group visit was a first for the Ministers to any Victorian municipality, and was a rare and valuable opportunity to not only advocate on behalf of the community, but to give community members a chance to engage in discussion with the Ministers themselves.
“The best part is bringing the community, private and public sector conversations to the table and strengthening the partnership with State Government,” Cr Crugnale said.
“For Wonthaggi to transition well into a thriving regional centre it needs this collective approach, followed by an integrated plan then the social and capital investment to get it there.
“The whole of shire then begins to shine,” she said.
More reports on the visiting six State Government Ministers in this weeks edition of the South Gippsland Sentinel-Times.
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