Funding snub

By Southern Riverina News

Regional leaders are furious at the latest snub to the Southern Riverina from Federal Government grant money to support rural communities.

Despite being recognised as one of the most heavily impacted regions under Basin Plan implementation, neither Berrigan nor Finley will get any money from the latest funding program.

Instead, much of the funding will go to South Australian communities, despite the fact they are receiving most benefit from having additional water.

The latest decision has incensed Berrigan Shire Mayor Matt Hannan and General Manager Rowan Perkins.

They went to Albury on Friday to discuss the snub with federal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley, who has subsequently expressed concern to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and federal Water Minister David Littleproud.

The latest $20 million under the Murray-Darling Basin Economic Development Program is administered by the federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. It named 15 towns which will be eligible for funding: Berri, Cobdogla-Barmera, Colignan, Collarenebri, Cunnamulla, Dirranbandi, Loxton, Lower Lakes, Merbein, Red Cliffs, Rochester, St George, Swan Reach, Wakool and Warren.

Mr Perkins said he was “gobsmacked” that Finley and Berrigan are not on the list.

The sc Southern Riverina News understands one of the key issues outlined during the meeting with Ms Ley was population and workforce decline.

Compared to the 10 southern basin communities which will receive funding, Finley ranked fifth in population decline whereas Merbein, Loxton and Lower Lakes — all eligible for funding — enjoyed population increases.

Berrigan and Finley have also suffered the worst among full time employment, falling by seven per cent.

‘‘There’s this spin put together saying ‘nothing to see here’ but looking at the facts it’s quite a different story,’’ Mr Perkins said.

‘‘I wouldn’t have thought the Lower Lakes was suffering as much as us.

‘‘This funding would help us diversify the local economy. We could spend some money on our two aged care facilities creating more jobs in that sector.’’

Berrigan and Finley have also experienced the biggest socio-economic impact of any basin community, according to Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA).

Cr Hannan said there hasn’t been enough acknowledgement of the Basin Plan’s impact on Berrigan and Finley.

‘‘We have lost over 600 jobs in the last 10 years and our SEIFA rating has dropped dramatically. If we can get access to a water allocation then our communities can hold their own, because farmers will able to do what they do best,’’ he said.

‘‘Berrigan and Finley had a SEIFA rating of seven and it now sits at three. If you drop one point of the SEIFA rating it can be considered severe and we’ve dropped four points.’’

Ms Ley said Berrigan Shire had provided a ‘‘very comprehensive and sober argument’’ into the impacts of the Basin Plan.

‘‘Following our discussions on Friday I contacted both the Prime Minister (Scott Morrison) and Water Minister (David Littleproud) passing on my strong support for their case,’’ she said.

‘‘Water recovery targets are not just a set of numbers.

‘‘Real people across a wide area are being affected and it’s very important all decisions taken in Canberra clearly reflect this,’’ she said.