Indigo mayor Jenny O’Connor is optimistic an announcement on long-awaited infrastructure funding for the town’s secondary college is not far off following a speech by Victorian Regional Development Minister Jaala Pulford.
Ms Pulford, in her opening address to the Ovens Murray Regional Assembly at Wangaratta on Wednesday night, said the assembly had received feedback about the issue online before the event.
“For all of those of you who said that you wanted to talk tonight about the condition of the Beechworth Secondary College, I can certainly assure you that this is well known ... we’re feeling very hopeful of being able to have some positive news for that project before too long,” she said.
Asked later if the community could expect an announcement of funding infrastructure upgrades this year, Ms Pulford said she would leave any announcements to the Education Minister James Merlino.
“But I've certainly discussed this with James Merlino and I know Jaclyn Symes who represents the government in this region has been a fierce advocate for this project and has had many conversations with James about that,” she said.
“The school has done all the hard work; they had funding a couple years ago as part of our big boost for school capital projects, we've made huge inroads compared to our predecessors.
“And so the school and broader community in Beechworth feel they are absolutely ready to go, we know and understand that, we understand why it's important … and I hope we'll have more to say on that soon.”
Ms O’Connor, who attended the event with a number of her other colleagues at Indigo Council, said both sides of government had recognised the school’s condition was a problem but had not put forward any money and took Ms Pulford’s comments as an “indicator that would change”.
“I don't think a minister gets up at a public forum unless there's money behind it – I'm expecting an announcement, I might be wrong, but I'm really hoping that was an an indicator,” she said.
“I feel really committed to this school, it’s incredibly important for our community this school thrives and they have been working in sub-standard conditions for far too long.
“I think both sides of government have acknowledged that it's a problem but we just haven't seen the money.”
There were a group of Beechworth Secondary College students in uniform sitting at workshops for the regional assembly.
A community campaign for upgrades has re-emerged after the 2018-2019 Victorian budget revealed no new money for the school, despite receiving planning funds in the 2016-2017 budget, though the school has been publicly pushing for funding since 2014.
Minister Pulford mentioned another long-running issue for the North East, stating the government’s regional rail revival program was underway across the state.
“I know you’ve all got plenty to say about your train service – we know, we understand and we’ve worked with the federal government,” she said.
“Sometime very, very soon we’ll be able to share with the community the three-year (track) work plan happening ... so we'll all be able to see how that’s going to unfold.
“When the track’s right, we get the trains right to sit on top of them.”
The assembly, packed into the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre, also heard work would start in July on a renewable energy plan for the Hume region, following a $300,000 funding allocation in this year’s budget.
As well as Indigo, the mayors of Alpine, Wangaratta and Mansfield attended, and Ministers Martin Foley (Housing, Disability and Ageing, Mental Health, Equality and Creative Industries) and Ben Carroll (Industry and Employment), Northern Victoria MP Jaclyn Symes, and Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism, Major Events and Regional Victoria Danielle Green represented the state government.
This was the third assembly to take place, last year being held in Wodonga, with more than 200 people attending.
At closing time on Monday, there had been 1121 visits to the Ovens Murray Engage page from 838 visitors, who posted 111 responses to the Engage questions.