I missed the first forum of the campaign in Mildura but got to Nhill.
Let’s talk Nhill, I mentioned it briefly in the piece about Pyramid Hill but it is a truly remarkable community, another that has reversed its fortunes by embracing migrants and the economic opportunities they bring. At Nhill it is the Karen who are revitalising the town and surrounds.
A Wimmera town, Nhill was a major RAAF training base during WWII teaching the art of night flying. After the war, much of the base was torn down and sold off. The hospital ended up in Horsham as the local pipe band HQ. The local aviation heritage centre — do not call it a museum or you may not leave town in one piece — has done a sensational job of finding memorabilia and managed to find an example of each of the aircraft used for training, including the Australian-designed and -built Wirraway.
The community raised $300,000 (not a cent of it from the government) in two years to buy a beautifully restored Wirraway and on the day it flew the crowd was massive. They don’t fly it anymore but check out the centre’s web page for the days when it gets fired up for taxi run. If you like proper engine sounds you’ll be in hog heaven.
On the downside the small grandstand at Nhill’s main sporting ground Davis Park has been condemned and there isn’t enough money in the Shire’s coffers to rebuild it. This ground hosts footy, netball, hockey, cricket, concerts and community events, but the reality of a small shire with a low rate base and high infrastructure costs, mainly roads, has frustrated this important community project as has the management arrangements at the Park.
It was one of the questions raised on the night, and like a couple of other issues around local government it comes back to a decent funding model. As a former mayor of a neighbouring small shire Ray Kingston The Independent voice for Mallee knows this topic well, and the frustrations of a funding model that works in Melbourne but not here; particularly the cost-shifting model both state and federal governments use to fund something for a couple of years then take the money away, effectively daring councils to scrap good schemes.
The oft-quoted stat is that councils in Victoria get three per cent of the tax take but provide 30pc of the services. Ray favours a reverse approach where the three tiers of government sit down and agree on the level of services that need to be provided and then fund them.
It was interesting to see eight candidates onstage. Often there was furious agreement — local government getting more funds was one — but the stark contrast of the night was the picture of Mallee painted by seven of the candidates versus the rosy view from the National’s candidate Anne Webster, who opened by saying Mallee is prosperous and prospering.
A number of people travelled several-hundred kilometres to be there in order to ask questions. It was noticeable that, unlike the first forum in Mildura, there was nobody wearing a National’s T-shirt just the blue of Independent Jason Modica and the orange of Ray Kingston in the crowd. A number of councillors and one CEO from a neighbouring shire also asked questions, clearly keen to find out what any future federal MP would do for them.
The CEO of the neighbouring West Wimmera Shire David Leahy raised this fund-it-then-cut-it funding thing I mentioned above. They had a really good suicide prevention/mental health program running. This was the right program employing the right people and clearly working, and then they had to scrap it when the state government cut funding. Two years later something different but the same was announced but by then the momentum and the people had been lost, not to mention lives. As Ray said, this has to stop. If a program is working then government should just fund it, no two-yearly funding reviews, no competitive tenders, just fund it…again I ask of federal and state governments would it kill you to listen to the people on the ground in the regions?
To the future
One of the points Ray made strongly was about Mallee’s key indicators going backwards. His kids are unlikely to live as long and will struggle to get as good an education and, so when a question came up challenging him to make the case for an Independent he spoke of comparing the life and services of friends in the city to services in Mallee. He finished with his best line of the night, saying that if people made that comparison “they would know very well the differences in terms of access to services and health care and education and if that’s okay with you then that’s fine but that’s not okay with me.”
Also looking to our future and to help younger people ‘Back the Beard’ we are providing beards. What more could they want, avocados?
Climb ev’ry mountain
Finally Ray recorded a podcast with Margo Kingston (no relation) in which Ms Kingston described the campaign as “a long, hard climb”. I wish to inform Ms Kingston we have that base well and truly covered, having as one of our supporters Brigitte Muir the first Australian woman to climb Everest!
Until next time…