“What are you going to give us?” Election campaigns can come down to trust, popularity, loyalty, but often, voters want to know which candidate will deliver the most benefits.
The sitting Labor government has increased its spending in North East Victoria in recent months, perhaps with a point to prove that it will invest in the region dominated by Coalition-held seats.
Independent candidates have argued their election would increase spending, by forcing either a Labor or Coalition government to work to reclaim marginal seats.
But with their sights on the November 24 poll, the Liberals and Nationals have been dropping election commitments all year.
Incumbent Benambra MP Bill Tilley started making promises back in January when he announced the Coalition would create a High Country Hall of Fame honouring heritage, indigenous culture, exploration, mountain cattlemen, conservation and winter sports.
One of his big-ticket promises is $5 million towards a new visual, technology and performing arts centre at the Huon Campus of Wodonga Middle Years College.
School funding is hard to come by without a long-term campaign and the Liberals were quick to take aim at Premier Daniel Andrews for ignoring the Wodonga school.
“This funding means the school can move its excellent technology and performing arts programs out of classrooms and into a custom space,” Mr Tilley said.
Another $1 million promise was made to Tallangatta’s Lakelands Caravan Park for the creation of ensuite cabins and waterfront villas, upgraded caravan and camping sites, and a jumping pillow, playground and camp kitchen.
“The caravan park is a hidden gem -- close to the centre of town, cafes and supermarket and full of potential that will now be realised,” Mr Tilley said.
The funding promises continue with a $350,000 makeover for Rutherglen’s Barkly Park, $200,000 for new netball courts at Cudgewa Recreation Reserve, $250,000 for a makeover of the Corryong and District Memorial Hall and $116,000 to replace Middle Indigo Primary School’s long-drop toilets, heating and cooling.
Kergunyah Hall has been promised a ”desperately needed” $115,000 makeover to fix uneven flooring, a failing roof and a sub-standard kitchen the Coalition said would threaten its future.
Walwa Bush Nursing Hospital was also promised an extra $10,000 over the next two years to help with an increase in nurse wages.
Further south in Ovens Valley, incumbent MP Tim McCurdy had a slightly smaller cheque book, but still promised $5 million for a basketball stadium at Wangaratta High School.
“This upgrade will provide our local basketball association with access to more courts to accommodate those growing player numbers and encourage participation in sport,” he said.
The controversial North East rail line has also attracted funding promises, with the Victorian Coalition taking things a step further than their federal colleagues and committing to spend $15 billion on high-speed rail.
Travel times between Wodonga and Melbourne have been promised to drop from three hours and 27 minutes down to two hours and 44 minutes by reaching speeds of 160km/h.
It comes after a previous commitment to fund a faster variety of VLocity train with more leg room, safety and amenities.
Labor’s Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan did not match the commitment, but did not believe it would happen under a Coalition government either.
“These sorts of proposals just will never be delivered because you just can't trust the Liberal and National parties when it comes to supporting regional public transport,” she told The Border Mail last month.
Underdogs in North East polls
Day one of Premier Daniel Andrews’ tour around Victoria in his big, red Labor bus last month was met with a big promise for Ovens Valley: an extra $10 million for Wangaratta hospital.
“This is the biggest investment in Wangaratta hospital in the history of this outstanding hospital,” Mr Andrews said.
It came after Labor announced an extra 500,000 specialist appointments in regional Victoria so patients did not have to travel long distances.
Labor sits behind the Coalition and independent candidates in favouritism to win either Benambra or Ovens Valley. Since the Wangaratta hospital commitment, neither Mark Tait or Kate Doyle, candidates for the respective seats, have made any big promises during the election campaign.
But they were by the side of upper house MP Jaclyn Symes as she embarked on a spending spree in the weeks before the government went into caretaker mode.
One of the Coalition’s angles in the campaign has been to label Mr Andrews as the premier for Melbourne, rather than all of Victoria, but he has said spending in regional areas would continue regardless of which parties held the seats.
“We have and we aim to continuing governing for every single Victorian, not just those who vote for us,” he said.
“That’s what a good government does and we are all about making investments right across Victoria, it doesn’t matter where you are on the electoral pendulum.”
Independents plan to be cash magnets
There is a common theme among the wave of independent candidates who have nominated in the North East. They want to be Suzanna Sheed.
In the time between her election in 2014 and the 2018 Victorian budget, the Shepparton MP claimed the electorate had been on the end of more than half a billion dollars in funding.
Jenny O’Connor, Jacqui Hawkins and Tammy Atkins want Benambra and Ovens Valley to be the same.
This week’s letter from Border doctors, about the need to vote strategically to highlight the need for funding at Albury-Wodonga Health, renewed that argument.
“In contrast, the funding is pouring into Shepparton since the seat was won by an independent and I believe that if people use their votes wisely the same outcome could be achieved here,” Ms Hawkins said yesterday.
While they cannot make concrete funding commitments themselves, the independents have promised to fight for certain key issues.
Ms O’Connor said if she was elected, her “core priority” would be a regional deal for Benambra to entice more people to start up new businesses and fill empty shops.
“Billions is being spent on roads, trains, hospitals and schools in Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong, yet we don’t have enough money flowing to our region for the infrastructure we need to grow,” she said.
“This centre could play a large role in breaking negative cycle of drug use, criminal offending, and unemployment,” she said.
As a candidate for the Country Party in Ovens Valley, Julian Fidge has taken his own approach with policies relating to water security and the court system.
His election would keep the courts in the limelight - after previously calling for magistrates to be stripped of lifetime appointments, he this week said a specialised drug court should be established in the North East to help deal with the area’s “significant drug problem”.
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