Transcript - Horsham Press Conference

3:55PM

SUNIL BHALLA

We recognise the important and ongoing place that all indigenous people hold in our community. We respect their elders both past and present and we are committed to working together in the spirit of mutual understanding and respect for the benefit of the broader community and future generations.

Also, I would like to acknowledge our Mayor Councillor Robyn Gulline, the Honourable Michael McCormack, Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Anne Webster, Member for Mallee, Ms Danielle Green, Parliamentary Secretary for Sport and Regional Victoria, Ms Emma Kealy, Member for Lowan. We also have a number of councillors here this afternoon, Councillor David Bowe, Councillor Di Bell, Councillor Claudia Haenel and Councillor Les Power and Johnny Gorton, the Chair of the Community Reference Group, who has actually spent a lot of time working on this project. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome.

Well, we all know that this project has been talked about in the community for many, many years. People tell me, you know – 20 years – we’ve talked about the activation of the river. Well, guess what? It’s finally happening. So I’m really pleased to say that with the assistance from the Federal Government and the State Government, we are getting on with the project.

ROBYN GULLINE

Thank you, Sunil. So welcome Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, Parliamentary Secretary for Sport and Regional Victoria, Danielle Green, Dr Anne Webster, Member for Mallee, Emma Kealy, Member for Lowan, fellow councillors, ladies and gentlemen. Our community is delighted to see the commencement of these onsite works for this $3 million riverfront development. This is just the start of the City to River project. We appreciate the funding contributions of $1.65 million from the Federal Government and $500,000 from the State Government and council is contributing $850,000 towards this first stage.

The first element of project works to commence on site is the widening and sealing of 1.1 kilometres of pathway along the riverfront. We thank the Deputy Prime Minister and Parliamentary Secretary Danielle for being in Horsham today to mark the commencement of the project with the sod turning of the pathways.

Sustainability Victoria is also supporting sustainable elements of the project, including this shared pathway to be constructed from a recycled rubber asphalt composite. This exciting project commenced in 2019 with the City to River Master Plan. In April 2020, coinciding with the start of COVID restrictions, an enthusiastic Community Reference Group was formed to work closely with Council and design architects to develop the concept plan for the Riverfront project. We thank them for their willingness to work on this important project, mostly through Zoom meetings, and presented plans to our community that was endorsed in September last year. I would like to acknowledge and thank those who have joined us here today. The concept plan is available to view inside when we go in for afternoon tea shortly.

The funded Riverfront Activation Project encompasses a scope of works that will provide an exciting Wimmera Riverfront precinct that will link with the CAD and provide an arrival destination at the end of Firebrace Street just over here. This will be a civic gathering place with citing for a future café to be developed at a later stage. The scope of works also includes enhanced pedestrian pathways, riverfront activity nodes that will allow people access to enjoy the river for fishing or sitting, outdoor setting areas, new universal access public amenities, creative landscaping with new trees, grass and garden beds, signage and lighting upgrades, cultural artworks and extended upgrades to the Angling Club rooms, including a new pergola structure, all designed to add to the natural beauty of the Wimmera River. So we now look forward to the construction phase of this first part that will take approximately 12 months to complete.

Last week we were delighted – a few happy dances happening in council last week – with the confirmation of funding for our Horsham Nature Waterplay Park, which is the second part of this overall Riverfront Activation Project. And we thank the State Government for their $2.1 million from the Sport and Recreation Stimulus Fund, together with $350,000 to be allocated from the Federal Government’s Local Roads and Community Infrastructure Fund Phase 2. That will totally fund this $2.4 million that will be an amazing regional attraction and create further activation and enjoyment for people utilising our river.

So, thank you to both federal and state governments for your financial support of our municipality that is helping us grow as a regional city.

ANNE WEBSTER

Thank you so much, Robyn and thank you, Sunil, as well. It was actually wonderful to hear it all just piece together like a puzzle. Even more exciting is when it actually starts to take place, which doing the sod turn today will see that happen.

I am thrilled to have the Deputy Prime Minister here visiting Horsham – with this nice rain cloud – to start this project and get it going. I’ve been talking with Council over the last couple of years and hearing about all the plans and the new designs and the community consultation. I don’t think I’ve heard about another project that has had so much community consultation. So well done to the committee – I was just talking with Johnny then and the rest of the committee – for getting to this point. And without further ado – because my glasses now need windscreen wipers – I’m going to hand over to the Deputy Prime Minister.

MICHAEL McCORMACK

Well, thank you, Anne and Anne is very much a doer. She’s a builder. And I acknowledge the Mayor Robyn, I acknowledge Emma Kealy, acknowledge Danielle Green, and acknowledge Sue Sheridan. She’s the project manager. You can’t see her because she’s actually right here holding up this – that’s fantastic and it is a fantastic day. It’s a fantastic day for Horsham. Horsham was settled on the banks of the river. We can’t build towns and cities – or couldn’t certainly in the 1800s – without that water supply, without that water source. My own home town, Wagga Wagga, is built on the mighty Murrumbidgee and these waters are very much the elixir of life. The Aboriginal people know that and I acknowledge their presence, too. I acknowledge their ownership of the land then, now and always.

I acknowledge the fact that you people, you good folk are all here. Build it and they will come. Beautify these riverside precincts and people will come here. They’ll come here for the amenity. They’ll come here to relax by the river. They’ll come here for the various sports. Delighted – I can remember when I came here last time and the project was being talked about, being mooted, being funded. Well, we’re getting on with it. We’re turning the first sod. We’re going to make sure that this becomes a reality, because it’s been talked about for far too long and it’s time for a bit of action and that is going to be great.

Because what we will see here is a beautifying of this riverside precinct. What we’ll see here during the construction phase are jobs – and one of my staff members who came up from Melbourne today used the excuse that he was a little bit late because of all the roadworks that we’re going on and there are so many. That is true – well may you laugh – but there are so many roadworks going on. Indeed, I know that Horsham Rural City Council’s component of the Local Roads and Community Infrastructure – and this is community infrastructure, too – is around $5.7 million. In Anne Webster’s electorate alone of Mallee it’s $73,500,000.

So, we’re getting the money out the door for these projects, because if coronavirus has taught us one thing it is that rural Victoria, rural Australia, regional Australia, is the best place in all of the world in which to live in, it is the safest. Indeed, we know that 43,000 city-siders – I won’t call them city-slickers, although I could because, you know, you could forgive me for doing so in this regional environment – but 43,000 people who live in the metropolitan areas moved to the regions in 2020 because they wanted to seek a better lifestyle. They wanted to seek a COVID-free, COVID-safe lifestyle. And we know, because we live in the regions, we love the regions – and now the rain’s getting a bit heavier, so if I don’t wind up my comments, then we’re all going to get very wet. But a lot of people are going to get very wet when they come down and enjoy these facilities, enjoy swimming, enjoy angling, enjoy everything that they will do.

So congratulations, Horsham. Thank you to the Victorian State Government. Thank you to Anne Webster for being such a fighter for Mallee. Thank you very much.

DANIELLE GREEN

I too, would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. And thank you to Mayor Robyn and all of the Horsham Council employees and everyone that’s been on the reference group. You know, I really feel like I’ve been taken on this journey for this project. I’ve been briefed many times and having the jobs of sport and regional Victoria in the Victorian Government are two – I defy anyone to have two better jobs than those two in the Victorian Government and it’s just great to see this mix of Council, of State Government, of Federal Government and most importantly, the community. So it’s indeed, a pleasure to be here with the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, with the Member for Mallee Anne Webster, with my parliamentary colleague Emma Kealy, former parliamentary colleague Luke O’Sullivan – we even represented the area. I’ve always loved Horsham.

I grew up in Warrnambool and Mildura and so Horsham was always a stopping point for us with the family connections in between. And, you know, dry, hot summer trips, you need somewhere beautiful and refreshing to stop and for us it was the swimming pool. And a few months ago I got to open the – well, it was more than a year ago, wasn’t it, we forget the COVID year – the pool upgrade, because it was the first in the district that I swam in as an amateur swimmer. Horsham was the first carnival, so we always stopped there.

But I know we didn’t pay enough attention to the river and for those of us that came later than Johnny’s people we tended when we formed our cities and towns to have our backs to the river, whereas you always knew it was the life force and that we should face the river. I’ve seen numerous projects whether here on the Wimmera or in Mildura on the Murray where those of us who came a bit later and are trying to play catch-up have been seeking advice and wisdom from the traditional custodians of the land and are now – I think it’s part of our reconciliation journey to understand the importance to culture of these rivers. But I really want to commend Johnny and the team for the work that they’ve done here.

And I’m delighted to represent both my Ministers, the Minister for Community Sport, Ros Spence. The Deputy Prime Minister talked about COVID and so we’ve funded over 70 projects in community sport, in the community sport space, because we know that every council in the State always has a fantastic sport and recreation project – or 10 – in their bottom drawer. And this one was well ready to go. It wasn’t something that was just dreamt up on the spur of the moment. It’s been worked through. So that over $2 million that has come from the second round of the stimulus – the COVID stimulus money – is, I know, really welcomed.

But then on behalf of Mary-Anne Thomas, the regional Victorian Minister, Regional Development Minister, I’m also pleased to say that there’s $316,000 going into the caravan park upgrades. And if you’ve seen my big van over there we are a caravanning family, we are a camping family. So I look forward to coming back. I think we’ve seen really a resurgence of holidays in caravanning because it’s still going to be quite a while before people can travel overseas and for some older people who have immune issues, you know, they’re never going to be able to travel overseas and so they’re now looking further afield.

When I sat on the Tourism Advisory Committee that we did during our previous term we found that most Melbournians didn’t know much beyond 90 minutes past Melbourne. But now they’re all wanting to see, they’re yearning for it. And so it’s a fantastic opportunity to be building infrastructure like this. It’s perfectly timed because families do want to get out and see because they can’t go elsewhere, but they now are yearning to know our Australian and Victorian stories.

So thank you to the Horsham community for everything that you’ve done, the great work that Council does. You really do punch above your weight in securing government grants. So I hope that Sunil and Robyn, you remember to pat them on the back and say job well done. Because I deal with councils across the State and Horsham is doing really, really, really well. And I’m actually glad that you’re running a little bit late – usually I’m the one that runs late – but I was able to actually go over and have a look at the War Memorial that’s here. And I’m sure that families just like me will come for the water, they’ll come for the history and like me, I just discovered probably about a dozen relatives on those two boards there because my great grandmother was a Forest and my mother is a Plozer, which is a very well-known name in this area. So there’s all sorts of reasons why people travel and linking into local history and family history is one of the reasons they travel.

So thank you so much for having me here today. It’s going to be great doing the sod turn for stage 1. But I really can’t wait to see when the whole thing’s finished, having a play in the water, having a camp in the camping grounds and to see all the happy smiling faces of locals and the visitors. Thank you very much.

JOHNNY GORTON

G’day, everyone. Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners as well of the lands we meet today. For those who don’t know it’s actually Jaadwa country, for those that don’t know as well, the Wimmera River was actually called Barengi Djul back in the day as well. So I pay my respects to the traditional owners and elders past and present.

I’d like to thank first up the guys that were with me – the guys and gals, ladies – on the Community Reference Group. It was a bit different being, you know, over COVID meeting on Zoom all the time. It’s not something that’s organic, I suppose. You know, we imagined to get through that and I think we’ve got to a good place and we’ve got some good outcomes. I’d like to thank those guys that are here today as well. You know, I think we did pretty well to come up with the outcomes that we did.

I’d like to thank the Council staff for their support throughout the whole project, particularly the Community Reference Group. They supported me a lot. I’m probably the first Aboriginal person to chair a reference group for Horsham Council, so it was a little bit daunting. So, I’d like to thank those guys and I’d just like to thank the State and Federal Government, you know, for investing in this area. You know, as I was saying to Emma before, we don’t get a lot of investment in the west of Victoria, so to get this far out, particularly past Ballarat, you know, it’s a pretty big achieve. And I’m pretty happy about it and pretty chuffed, you know, that this stuff is going to happen. So I’d just like to say thanks again to everyone and all those involved. Cheers.

SUNIL BHALLA

Thanks, Johnny and now I would like to invite the Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Webster, Ms Green and the Mayor to officially turn the first sod.

ENDS 4:12PM

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