Pool proposal misses out

A BID for Federal Government funds to build a Gippsland Regional Aquatic Centre in Traralgon has failed amid accusations “regional” money had been “siphoned off to city-based projects”.

Late last week successful applicants to the Regional Development Australia Fund’s round four were announced and while a number of aquatic centres were among them – including a $10 million allocation to Ringwood – the Gippsland proposal missed out.

Latrobe City Council had applied for $15 million towards the $30 million facility which would include the only competition 50 metre indoor pool between eastern Melbourne to the New South Wales border. Council’s own 10-year financial plan includes a $12 million allocation to the project.

On Friday Councillor Dale Harriman said council would use the upcoming election period to lobby hard for alternative funding options for getting the project off the ground but said “we are very, very disappointed that funding meant for regional and rural Australia has gone to city centres”.

He was referring to numerous RDAF round four allocations announced by the Federal Government for urban areas, despite government claims RADF round four was for “strategic infrastructure projects across regional Australia”.

Among a list of successful projects on the RDAF website are the Western Sydney Community and Sports Centre, which secured $12 million, $9 million for a Werribee indoor sports hub and $4 million to another Sydney sports precinct.

Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester said last week’s announcement was “extraordinarily disappointing”.

“In the latest round more than $50 million has gone to projects in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth,” Mr Chester said.

“So I am most disappointed for the community leaders of the Latrobe Valley who have worked so diligently, and in good faith, to develop an outstanding project and they then have to watch as base party politics intervenes,” he said, suggesting funds had been allocated to areas within federal seats critical to the government’s chances for election victory.

Aquatic project proponents said they intended to seek funding through any alternate streams.

However, Mr Chester said he was “keen to keep working with them on this, but I am worried that the current budget situation will make it very difficult to source federal funding”.

The news was no shock to Traralgon Swimming Club head coach Brian Ford, who said “to be honest I was not 100 per cent hopeful because this (campaign for the facility) has been going on for 35 years”.

“The bottom line now though is that we are really organised, the pool plans are all in place, everyone is happy with the location, the formalities are done – all the hard work has been done, it is just a case of being able to get it built,” Mr Ford said.

“Politicians make decisions for certain reasons and unfortunately our promotion of the Gippsland area won’t be complete until we have got something to attract people down here, from a water sport point of view.

“This is a fantastic area we live in and our (local) MPs are doing a good job for us but, unfortunately, where the decisions are being made, it is not being recognised.”

Mr Ford said if the money was available he believed the aquatic centre could be completed within two years.

“Some department in the political scheme needs to say ‘we really want to help the Valley badly’… areas like Geelong have been hit by economic downturn and are being helped, well so has the Valley for 15 to 20 years and what have they given us?” he asked.

The Federal Government did not respond to The Express’ request for comment.