Nine South Gippsland towns will share a $890,000 Advancing Country Towns Program grant from a funding program aimed at revitalising Victorian regional and rural communities.
The townships, in what has been identified as the Meeniyan “cluster”, include Fish Creek, Koonwarra, Buffalo, Dumbalk, Tarwin, Tarwin Lower, Middle Tarwin, Venus Bay and Meeniyan.
Victorian Acting Premier, Regional and Rural Development Minister and Gippsland South MLA Peter Ryan visited the KO Bar and Grill in Fish Creek on Friday July 8 to launch the $9.4 million program, which will also assist eight other Victorian communities and clusters.
These include Benalla, Colac, Lakes Entrance and Robinvale, and cluster communities centred on Alexandra, Clunes, Heywood and Mallee Track.
Mr Ryan said the project will help communities that may have experienced disadvantage but offer strong opportunities for growth and prosperity.
The program will pay for “grassroots projects that create new prosperity, job opportunities and a better quality of life,” he said.
“Small regional towns across Victoria are experiencing changes to their populations, their economies and their industries due to a variety of reasons,” Mr Ryan said.
“We understand local people know the key issues in their communities but they often don’t have the appropriate community resources to make a difference in their lives.
“Through Advancing Country Towns, the Government will ensure money is available for projects that lead to improved social and economic outcomes on the ground.”
“For Benalla, Colac, Lakes Entrance and Robinvale grants of $810,000 each have been provided to a local funds holder,” Mr Ryan said
“$890,000 has been provided to funds holders at Alexandra, Clunes, Heywood,
Mallee Track and Meeniyan, the additional funding being allocated to cover the greater expenses associated with the challenge of reaching small towns spread over a large area.”
In the case of the Meeniyan cluster, the funds holder is the South Gippsland Shire.
Mr Ryan said local project managers would be employed in each community during the coming weeks and that a local steering committee would also be appointed to help develop local priority projects.
The project officer and the committee would be responsible for developing partnerships with local businesses, community organisations and government agencies to deliver tangible local outcomes.
“The program will fund each town to develop its own local innovative solutions and to pilot these to achieve beneficial local outcomes,” Mr Ryan said.
“Locals are the best people to identify the needs of their communities and this program supports that local input.
“For example, the Meeniyan cluster will look at projects that focus on economic development, employment, skills and training and sustainable energy use,” Mr Ryan said.
Local grant holders will work across business, community and government to focus on solutions to challenges like changing population patterns, ageing populations, the migration of young people to larger regional centres and cities, and climate change.
The funding is designed to complement other already existing funding programs available in the region, such as the Gardiner Foundation program Strengthening Small Dairy Communities focussed on the dairy industry.
South Gippsland Shire community services director Jan Martin said the Meeniyan cluster funding would be expended over a four-year period.
“We will be advertising for the Meeniyan cluster’s project worker, a person with social planning experience, within the couple of weeks,” she said.
“A selection committee will also be chosen, which will include representatives from the Shire and from the Department of Planning and Community Development among others.
“The project’s steering committee will also have a Planning and Community Development member as the Department has indicated to us that it wishes to have a hands-on role in the whole Advancing Country Towns Program process,” Ms Martin said.
“Some of the areas that the project may examine include needed education skills and ways of increasing local employment, as well as how to encourage economic development and sustainable farming practices.
“The project officer will work with the steering committee and with the community
“The Shire welcomes the further injection of support to the Meeniyan cluster area as represented by the Advancing Country Towns Program grant, Ms Martin said.
“The grant, together with the Gardiner Foundation project that is running concurrently in the Meeniyan cluster area, is another chance to make a real difference in boosting local economic development.”