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Minister confirms more cuts to regional development

Less funding allocated: State Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh has slammed regional development cuts. Photo by contributed

The Victorian Government has admitted there’s “less funding allocated” to regional development in this year’s state budget despite many country businesses saying they’re still struggling to recover from the pandemic.

The 2022-23 budget confirmed reduced funding for regional development, which takes the total cuts to $363 million since 2020-21 (from $539.2 million in 2020-21 down to $176.2 million in 2022-23).

Appearing at Victorian Parliament’s Public Accounts and Estimates Committee on Thursday, Minister Mary-Anne Thomas claimed Victorians “would not expect” COVID-19 support programs to continue this year.

State Nationals leader Peter Walsh said it was not the right time to pull support from regional communities, particularly for those towns that had recorded few COVID cases, but still had to close down and turn away business during lockdowns.

“Country Victorians did what we had to during the pandemic to keep vulnerable people in our community safe, but we’re getting nothing in return from the government,” he said.

Pressed at Thursday’s hearing to explain the funding cuts, the Ms Thomas claimed Victorians “would not expect the government to continue stimulus investments”.

Mr Walsh slammed the minister’s response, which came as hospitality businesses reported they still couldn’t reopen full time because they couldn’t get enough staff.

“The city-centric Labor Government has no idea the devastating impact its snap lockdowns and the uncertainty of yo-yoing in and out of restrictions has been for regional Victoria,” Mr Walsh said.

“This attitude of ‘it’s all good, Victoria’s recovered’ shows city-centric Labor really doesn’t care about fulfilling its responsibility to support country communities to recover and rebuild.

“Only a change in government in November will make sure the agenda isn’t just about Melbourne and that all of Victoria, including our regional communities, get a fair share.”