Rival Albury and Wodonga mayors Kevin Mack and Anna Speedie say councils will be stronger in partnership

MAYORS IN ARMS: Albury and Wodonga mayors Kevin Mack and Anna Speedie spoke publicly for the first time about the council's impending partnership. Pictures: JAMES WILTSHIRE
MAYORS IN ARMS: Albury and Wodonga mayors Kevin Mack and Anna Speedie spoke publicly for the first time about the council's impending partnership. Pictures: JAMES WILTSHIRE

Sitting side by side with one vision, Albury and Wodonga mayors Kevin Mack and Anna Speedie used their appearance at Thursday's decentralisation inquiry to preview what a formal partnership would look like. 

They were careful to not preempt councillors’ official decision to be made on Friday, but made it clear they were part of two cities united. 

Cr Mack said they had been on a slippery slope of an “us” and “them” attitude in the past, where both councils were less likely to get state government funding for projects that could benefit the rival across the river.

“I couldn’t understand it, hence the historic agreement that is coming into play,” he said

“That’s the message we’ll be sending tomorrow quite clearly – our communities are crying out for us to work better together and us two entities we are stronger together.”

The mayors argued the Border was ideally placed to benefit from decentralisation because the cities already collaborated in health, education and defence sectors.

“Anna and I will come knocking on the doors in Canberra and Spring Street and Sydney saying together we are here to do business, and that’s something they haven’t had in front of them before,” Cr Mack said.

Cr Speedie said the agreement would allow the councils to shine a spotlight on some of the “ludicrous” cross-border anomalies.

“There’s opportunity for us to be smarter on assets, smarter on services and deliver a better product for our community,” she said.

She said the only missing aspect was major federal infrastructure, like fast rail, but warned that if the government did choose to shift jobs to the regions, it should "move them properly", not just 10 staff.

“It will impinge of the productivity of that department, so if you actually want to make a real impact it needs to be sizable and it needs to be a whole of department,” she said.

Wangaratta Council economic development officer Eric Siegers also stood by the argument that the city would be ideal for the big departments of Defence or Foreign Affairs.

“When we raised the opportunity of the Department of Defence it was purely an example of a department that could find a good location within the Wangaratta space because it’s not far from Seymour, it’s not far from the other areas that use the Department of Defence’s services,” he said.

“We have been able to attract good people into a community that has everything a family wants: good education, a good lifestyle, fun things to do”

FUTURE PLANNING: Indi MP Cathy McGowan was on the regional development and decentralisation committee and said Albury-Wodonga was ready for investment.

FUTURE PLANNING: Indi MP Cathy McGowan was on the regional development and decentralisation committee and said Albury-Wodonga was ready for investment.

Indi MP Cathy McGowan said part of the discussion was about if and how government departments could be moved to regional areas.

“The national absolutely needs to do something about its population density in the cities … get them out of the cities, get them into the country,” she said.

“With Albury-Wodonga, we’re just on the cusp, we’re ready to fly so the timing of this inquiry is just fantastic for us.”

Voices for Indi was the community group that in 2013 helped Ms McGowan beat Sophie Mirabella for her federal seat, but on Thursday, three of its members were in the witness seats being grilled by the MP about how effective they had been in the region.

“I’m so proud to see those young people coming up, presenting to a committee of Parliament and having their voices heard – I’m really honoured by it,” Ms McGowan said.

Committee chair John McVeigh

Committee chair John McVeigh

Committee chair John McVeigh said businesses and jobs had to get out of Sydney and Melbourne, and into the regions.

“(Regional Development Minister Fiona Nash), the Deputy Prime Minister (Barnaby Joyce) and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull are looking very keenly at our inquiry and the outcomes of it, so it’s rated very highly,” he said.

The committee will present a progress report to Parliament by the end of the year.

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