COMMUNITY user groups which have benefited from Latrobe Valley Authority funding met last Tuesday at the LVA’s annual community forum.
The forum served as a way for stakeholders across Gippsland to see the infrastructure and spending progress the authority had made in the past year, as well as seeing its strategic plans in place for the future.
This year’s forum was held at the Criterion Hotel, Sale, with representatives from sporting clubs, local hall committees and business leaders gathering to brainstorm ideas and generate feedback for the LVA to use moving forward.
A number of key projects were completed in the past 12 months with LVA assistance, including the refurbishment of many Wellignton Shire halls, upgrades to the Sale Showgrounds and a new synthetic green for Heyfield Bowls Club.
Other projects set to be completed include major upgrades to the Cameron Sporting Complex in Maffra, and new courts for Sale Tennis Club.
The LVA was also successful in bringing professional sport to the Gippsland area, which included in-season AFLW matches, preseason AFL games and a blockbuster Big Bash game involving the Melbourne Stars.
It is believed the Stars will return to play a primetime match in Gippsland just days before Christmas this year.
According to statistics presented at the forum, the LVA provided $15 million community funding as well as 1107 loans provided on no or low-interest terms.
Latrobe Valley Authority chief executive Karen Cain said the forum was a good opportunity to look for continual growth opportunities.
“What you don’t get to see in terms of the visual things is the partnership businesses and people behind the scenes are working,” she said.
“It’s not necessarily about infrastructure, but it is about how you bring people together and opportunities that we can then support.
“Like anything, it’s really understanding what our competitive advantage is here [in Gippsland], and we need to understand that in the context of what the rest of the state, the rest of the country and internationally what are we going to be really good at here that is really significant and puts us in a good place for long term prosperity.
“For us, it’s about demonstrating benefit, so this takes time. This is careful work, and we know there are many people with different views, so it’s not about convincing people, it’s about showing people and listening to what matters to people and we need to pay attention to that.
“If we’re not hitting the mark with some people we need to listen more and understand where the connection is for them, and that’s really important.”
Wellington Shire mayor Alan Hall said he looked forward to another year collaborating alongside the LVA and praised the work that had been completed.
“LVA has been incredibly important, not only for Wellington but all of Latrobe Valley and in particular, dealing with events since the closure of Hazelwood,” he said.
“I think what we’re seeing is a strategic direction being driven by Latrobe Valley Authority that we’re not necessarily seeing anywhere else in Australia, and so the framework, the way they approach things is really significant and there’s a great deal of national learning to come from the benefits of having the Latrobe Valley Authority.”
The LVA was established in 2016 as a response to the closure to the Hazelwood Power Station, and was set up to provide financial support to community minded projects in the Wellington and Baw Baw shires and Latrobe City, The authority has been allocated funding until June next year.
The authority found itself in hot water recently, after it was revealed Ms Cain had spent more than $18,000 on a company funded one-week trip to Spain.
The expenditure caused state opposition leader Michael O’Brien to call into question the relevance Ms Cain’s overseas venture had in serving her role to help the people of Gippsland.
Cr Hall said despite some backlash, councils trusted the LVA had not been affected in any way.
“When you think about deciding on direction for regional development … I think you’ll find more than ample justification for a trip to a conference that supported major strategic regional development,” he said.
“I’m not unhappy at all [about the trip].
“I’m sure Karen exercised appropriate skill and judgement in making that decision.”