Rural shires across Victoria have missed out on vital government funding that they say could have helped businesses as they struggle to recover from the pandemic’s effects.
- Rural councils miss out on the latest round of state government funding for outdoor dining
- 22 councils will receive a share in $5 million to expand outdoor dining areas in a bid to ensure a COVID-safe autumn
- Rural Councils of Victoria is calling for a review of the funding
The state government named 22 councils that were successful in securing funding in the second round of Outdoor Eating and Entertainment Package allocations.
Those successful councils will share in $5 million of funding to expand and encourage outdoor dining this autumn.
No rural councils were included in the latest round. Almost 60 per cent of councils that received funding were in metropolitan Melbourne, with the rest in the Greater Melbourne area and regional Victorian centres.
Rural Councils Victoria chair Mary-Ann Brown said the result was disappointing.
“The focus … appears to be on the Greater Melbourne region without taking into consideration the implications for other parts of the state where there is significant tourism activity,” she said.
Cr Brown is a councillor at Southern Grampians Shire Council in south-west Victoria. She said a number of towns in her local area could have benefited from the funding.
“You’ve got areas like Portland, Warrnambool, Port Campbell, Apollo Bay along the coast [and] the Grampians region, so places like Halls Gap and Dunkeld, in particular,” she said.
A few hours away in the state’s north-east, Beechworth also missed out on receiving funding.
Indigo Shire Mayor and RCV deputy chair Jenny O’Connor said the historic town was a tourist hotspot.
“It’s puzzling to us as to why some of the wealthier and, in fact, less popular destinations have received this funding,” she said.
Funding an ongoing issue
The frustration over funding for rural areas is growing, as it is not the first time the regions have been left out of the money pool.
Earlier this month, the federal government announced 15 destinations would be included in its $1.2 billion cut-price flights scheme to encourage tourism.
Only one of those destinations was in Victoria.
Cr O’Connor said grant funding allocation to rural communities had been a hot topic for some time.
“There are a lot of issues around why it’s difficult for rural councils to attract grants,” she said.
“Sometimes it’s because the councils themselves are very stretched budget-wise or resource-wise, so it’s a big process to be shovel-ready for a grant or have a business case established.”
Under-resourcing is also an issue and despite tight budgets councils are often required to provide matching funding.
“There’s a lot of barriers for rural councils … yet we often need the grants more because we are constrained in terms of our budgets and our rate base and our loss of infrastructure costs,” Cr O’Connor said.
She is calling for a review of the successful candidates in the latest funding round and would like to see the monetary aid spread more broadly.
“Our towns are very much in recovery mode … We are very much impacted by the lack of tourism that’s occurred over the last 12 months for a range of reasons — the fires, COVID, border closures,” she said.
“These are often owner-operated businesses. They’re very small [but] they’re really important mainstream businesses for tourists.