WODONGA residents were urged yesterday to fight for the $5.86 million revamp of Wodonga’s city centre.
The funding was announced just over a week ago but, within days, serious doubt was raised on any money being available when Nationals leader Warren Truss said a Coalition government would not honour Labor projects funded under the Regional Development Australia fund if contracts had not been signed.
Regional Development Minister Catherine King — who announced the funding on August 23 — hit back at the Coalition during a visit to Wodonga yesterday.
“It’s an important project identified by the council. It is a priority of Regional Development Australia and funded by Labor,” she said.
“What Warren Truss has unfortunately decided to do is he’s trying to tell regional Australians that suddenly they’ve plucked a billion dollars out of the air, which they’ve not done.”
Mr Truss has said the Coalition would set up a $1 billion fund to support regional areas and set its own road and rail priorities.
That involved spending $200 million a year over five years on a National Stronger Regions Fund.
Ms King said she would be disappointed if Mr Truss’ announcement was all about opposing Labor for the sake of it.
“These are not projects that have come from nowhere, these are projects that have come from local communities,” she said.
“To be blunt, your member, Sophie Mirabella, has never lobbied about this project or about any project to any Regional Australia minister.”
Ms King said the Wodonga community “has got a bit of work to do” if there was to be a change of government on Saturday otherwise “this project is, frankly, gone”.
She said she had had a lot to do with Wodonga mayor Mark Byatt through the regional cities group and that he had seen her twice about the city centre project.
“He was obviously very disappointed it didn’t get up through round four (of funding allocations) and I was very determined that I understood just how important it was for the community here,” she said.
The project was included under Regional Development Australia’s fifth round of funding.
“This community has already waited for this project and been extremely strong in its lobbying,” Ms King said.
“That is why I took the decision to fund it.
“But also (they need to) make sure in the five days now until the election that they get a commitment from the sitting member to actually commit to this important project for the region.”
Mrs Mirabella said late last week that she would lobby “for the funding our region deserves or needs”.
She would not comment specifically on the Wodonga city centre grant.