Comm Games cancellation hits again

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CALLS for state government accountability and commitment have been made by local National Party members and community leaders amidst alarming rates of housing insecurity in the Latrobe Valley.

Standing on the site of the proposed Commonwealth Games Village to discuss the dire state of the public housing crisis in the Latrobe Valley were the Leader of The Nationals and Shadow Minister for Regional Development, Peter Walsh; The Nationals Member for Eastern Victoria Region, Melina Bath; and Pastor of ENJOY Gippsland, Sarah Copland.

The athlete’s village would have housed about 1000 athletes during the Commonwealth Games from March 17 to 29, 2026, with plans to be redeveloped into social and affordable housing after the Games finished.

Mr Walsh said there was a need for more affordable housing given the recent rise in homelessness in the region.

“The paddock we’re standing in now (English Street, Morwell), if the Commonwealth Games had been delivered, was going to be the athlete’s village that was going to house 1000 athletes, but more importantly, post-Commonwealth Games would’ve then provided accommodation options for the people of the (Latrobe) Valley and particularly Morwell,” he said.

“The statistics are that there’s a huge increase in homelessness in Gippsland and particularly in the Valley, that this would’ve been one of the things to solve that.”

Mr Walsh slammed the state government’s decision to cancel the 2026 Commonwealth Games as a broken promise where “everyone misses out”.

“The government are very poor at delivering what they promise,” said Mr Walsh.

“With the deadline of the Commonwealth Games in March 2026, this (athlete’s village) would have had to been built in time for the Commonwealth Games so people knew that there was a deadline; deadline makes things happen,” he added.

The state government has yet to confirm the future of the homes meant to be built on English St in Morwell, but has proposed a $1 billion package to build 1300 social and affordable housing in regional areas across the state.

Mr Walsh further criticised the state’s regional social housing fund as financially wasteful.

“I’m a cynic, and I don’t necessarily think what’s been promised will be delivered; if you look at the promise is a billion dollars for 1300 houses, that’s (around) $770,000 per house; that is quite the expensive house to build. I would’ve thought that money could be spent better by actually having an increase in the numbers so there’s more housing stock available.”

The Nationals leader questioned if the state government’s $2 billion reinvestment into the regions would even be delivered at all, given the lack of concrete timelines.

“There was a panic to have some ‘announce-ables’ when they cancelled the Commonwealth Games, again is this a thought bubble on the run, or is it actually going to be delivered? And I’d be really concerned as when there are no timelines, it tends to drift,” he stated.

Mr Walsh questioned why the state treasury would sign off on a $2.6 billion cost projection of the games in the May state budget for it to blow out to $7 billion within two months.

“What changed in the two months that’s more than doubled the price?”

“It’s very poor management by the government that they didn’t know this issue was coming and didn’t inform Victorians,” he said.

The Nationals leader suggested the way to solve the housing crisis was with private investment.

“It is a private investment that will generate the housing stock,” he said.

“At the moment, the government keeps introducing rules that are a disincentive for people to invest in residential rental properties. They’ve increased the taxes, they’ve changed the rules on how the relationship between the owners and the rentals actually operate … that is actually driving investment into other states.

“They are just mums and dads who have got a second house they’ve invested in as part of their retirement, and now they’re now being taxed and making decisions to sell those properties and shift their investment somewhere else.”

Sarah Copland, pastor of ENJOY Church Gippsland and co-organiser of the Restore Pantry food bank, has seen firsthand the rise of homelessness and food insecurity come through her door.

“COVID definitely caused a lot of that or an increase. And from that, we’re finding that it’s just continuing to increase,” she said.

Homelessness in Victoria has surged by 24 per cent in just five years, and data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows 2783 people in the Latrobe Valley region accessed Specialised Homelessness Services (SHS) last financial year – more than any other regional municipality in Victoria.

“People are becoming more and more anxious, they’re coming through our doors just so thankful they’s somewhere to get food, but also so many other things like housing that are causing that anxiety and worry,” Ms Copland added.

Ms Copland said she believes the higher cost of living pressures stems from years of COVID and recent industry shutdowns in the region, which had been further worsened by the state governments’ loose commitments to relieve the pressures in the regions.

Ms Copland is often confided in by the community, where they tell her their stories of struggling to get by.

“We’ve got multiple families living within a single dwelling purely because they can’t afford rent; it’s just increasingly harder for people to get into rentals to be able to stay in rentals,” she said.

“We’ve got elderly now who are not turning on their heat during winter and then getting sick.

“The cycle just continues; it’s never-ending at the moment.”

Ms Bath said the state government must be held accountable for providing housing for the regions.

“They’re saying, ‘trust us’, we’re going to see new public housing to support our region on this land that we’re standing right now. Yet the accountability of us being able to ask those questions, the community being able to prosecute the issues, they (state government) have got a hands-off approach now,” she said.

“I am very concerned as a member of Eastern Victoria region. I work a lot in the Valley, I do see what Sarah is speaking about and people coming to my electorate office with housing stress in homelessness and with food insecurity; where is the accountability going to be from the Andrews government in relation to the processes committed when there’s no timeline.

“(The year) 2026 is gone. It can go on to the never-never for public housing, but the real and important need is here today.

“From one census to another census, there has been an 85 per cent increase in homelessness figures in the seat of Morwell in the Latrobe Valley.

“These statistics are alarming, and I want the Andrews government to stand up and be accountable and provide a timeline for when we’re actually going to see brick-and-mortar plans and peaks.

“Victorians are not silly, they want a commitment to remain committed. The backflip on the Commonwealth Games is massive, not only for our region in terms of loss of tourism and infrastructure or on the never-never but reputation damage across Australia and internationally. That has to have an impact on whether other countries or local businesses want to invest in our regions.”