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Government needs to do much more for rural Victorians

Rural Councils Victoria (RCV) has expressed its bitter disappointment that the State Government has overlooked the needs of rural communities in its 2017-18 Budget, neglecting to include a $150million Rural Community Support Fund that would have delivered essential services and upgrades to rural Victoria.

While RCV welcomes regional rail and road improvements announced in the Victorian Budget handed down today, as well as the $1million Regional Sustainability Reform Program, the Government needed to do much more to specifically support rural communities as distinct from larger regional centres.

RCV Chair Cr Rob Gersch said Victoria’s 38 Rural Councils had called for an annual, dedicated $150 million Rural Community Support Fund but the budget announcements continued to lump regional and rural Victoria together, failing to address the specific issues of Victorian country communities and their councils.

“The $1million for the Regional Sustainability Reform Program is welcomed but it is only a very, small step in the right direction. In November 2016 the Victorian Auditor-General reported that financial sustainability issues are emerging for small shire councils. We’ve known this for some time and have been advocating for a number of years for greater financial support, which was the catalyst for the Rural Community Support Fund.

“This budget was a chance for the State Government to take action and deliver more tangible outcomes to help rural councils be sustainable.

“We’ve been contacted by the Minister’s office in regards to the Regional Sustainability Reform Program already and we look forward to working closely with the Government and other key players to continue the financial sustainability conversation in a more formal sense.”

Cr Gersch said the challenges facing Victoria’s small rural communities were distinct from those of larger regional centres, and more Government support was essential.

“Councils servicing Victoria’s smallest rural communities face very different financial pressures than the large regional centres, with more assets to manage and fewer resources and revenue streams, yet the Government continues to recognise regional and rural Victoria as one and the same.

“Increased support from the State Government is vital to continuing service delivery, to keeping libraries open, to maintaining safety at school crossings, managing environmental weeds and pests, and building and maintaining roads and bridges.

“The Budget included some significant improvements for roads and rail which we hope will go a long way to giving Victorians better and safer access to regional and rural areas, and we applaud the Government on these commitments, but they don’t help rural councils to deliver essential services and infrastructure to its communities.

“In its Budget announcement, the Government said it has ‘listened’ to regional communities. But it hasn’t heard the pleas from our 38 rural councils,” Cr Gersch said.

RCV said it was pleased some rural priorities would receive funding via the Regional Partnerships program which outlines $29million over five years and looks forward to receiving more detail on this program.

“Although some rural communities may benefit from the commitments made via the Regional Partnerships priorities, RCV’s Budget Submission provided the Government with more than 130 example projects that could have benefited from the dedicated Rural Community Support Fund,” Cr Gersch added.

The request for the $150 million annual, dedicated Rural Communities Benefit Fund was the key request in the joint submission from Victoria’s 38 rural councils to the 2017/2018 State Budget. Download a copy of the Budget Submission here.

Rural Councils Victoria (RCV) represents 38 rural councils across Victoria, generating around one quarter of Victoria’s Gross State Product and employment. The combined population of these local government areas is 740,000 or fifteen per cent of Victoria’s total population.

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