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Commitment to rebuild communities welcomed

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The 2020/21 Victorian Budget’s strong focus on supporting communities and businesses, as they rebuild in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been welcomed by the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV).

In a budget featuring big ticket items for housing, transport and energy, MAV interim President, Cr Josh Gilligan, said the government’s response would help communities bounce back as well as creating a much-needed jobs boost.

“Our funding asks, informed by the experience of our member councils, focused on supporting and accelerating economic and social recovery at the local level,” Cr Gilligan said.

“If this budget delivers what it has promised, it could result in positive and lasting change for Victorian communities.

“We look forward to seeing more detail of these initiatives. There is a real opportunity for the State Government to work collaboratively with councils, drawing on councils’ strong connection to their communities and local businesses, to deliver the best outcomes for all Victorians.”

Cr Gilligan added that there was relief to see several programs, which were due to lapse, receive funds for one more year.

“We were truly concerned for the future of these programs that communities really value – they are important, albeit modest, programs,” Cr Gilligan said.

“This included the school crossing supervisor program, the roadside weeds and pests program and the Officers for the Protection of the Local Environment (OPLE) program. We are relieved to see them considered in this budget but councils will need certainty for future years.”

Other programs of particular relevance to the sector are the $465 million for Victorian Tourism Recovery Package, which includes the $107 million Visitor Economy Industry Support Package; the $450 million road maintenance blitz; and the $75 million funding for the Growing Suburbs Fund, which will now include peri-urban councils alongside interface councils.

Cr Gilligan said addressing mobile black spots as part of the $626 million Victoria’s Digital Future Now allocation would support people continuing to work from home now and into the future.

“What we would now like to see is more information about programs such as the planned regulatory reform, which was given some $75 million in funding to enable councils to streamline approval processes,” Cr Gilligan said.

“There are also some budget allocations that may not hit the headlines. We think access to low interest loans from the Local Government Community Infrastructure Loans Scheme, which is supporting the development of smaller-scale but important infrastructure like dog parks, bike trails and community hubs, is worth talking about too.”

Cr Gilligan concluded the additional $30 million funding for kindergarten refurbishment and minor works program would be welcomed by local government, along with the $2.5 million for Early Start Kindergarten for refugee and asylum seeker children.

“The benefits of early years learning are well-documented and the Early Start Kindergarten program ensures accessibility by families, who may need some additional support,” Cr Gilligan said.

“The $49 million over two years for families for financial support for their children to access kindergarten and services provides a greater level of certainty regarding income for the 2021 year.

“We’re still keen to see sustainable and ongoing funding for the National Partnership on Universal Access to Early Childhood Education.”

For further information, contact the MAV Communications Unit on (03) 9667 5590.