If elected, I plan to fight hard for the people of Greater Shepparton - ratepayers, business owners and tenants alike.
I'm committed to achieve the outcomes set out below. Some will require state and federal government cooperation, all will require the agreement of a majority of Councillors - but together we can get a lot done.
MENTAL HEALTH FIRST AID
Mental Health First Aid Australia runs a number of courses that teach every-day Australians how best to provide support to those in need of psychological help.
Much like ‘traditional’ (or ‘physical’) first aid, the object of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training is to teach community members how to provide immediate support and to assist them to find professional help, when required.
Given the relatively low cost of this training, I believe Council can easily fund ‘Standard MHFA’ sessions in every sporting club and town hall, right across the Municipality.
I also hope to gain the support of local schools and parents to have Teen Mental Health First Aid training delivered to our young people – as well as other specific courses designed for those working with Older people, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people and our Youth. As well as a number of other 'specialist' courses.
For more information on the MHFA courses available, visit MHFA Australia.
CONNECTING WITH THE SILO ART TRAIL
With Silo Murals to our east in Devenish, Goorambat, St James and Tungamah, to our west in Colbinabbin and Rochester and coming soon to our north in Picola - it's high time Greater Shepparton joined the Silo Art Trail.
The communities of Dookie, Cosgrove and Tallygaroopna have already expressed an interest.
These projects would allow us to celebrate our heritage, history and culture, to grow visitor numbers to our region and to increase - or at least complement - the experience of those visiting the controversial new Shepparton Art Museum, due for completion in late 2020.
REPLACING RATE HIKES WITH COMMERCE
I believe that Greater Shepparton City Council should explore business opportunities, to decrease the need for future rate increases and/or to fund programs that will benefit our communities.
Such options may include collecting soft plastics and selling them on to businesses like RedCycle, accepting more waste from other municipalities into our landfill sites, installing more solar panels on rooves and unused council depot land.
Council could purchase residential land that has been for sale for more than, say, 12mths. They could then contract local tradespeople to build on that land and then lease it at market value or to those on limited incomes for reduced rent - depending on their circumstances. The properties could be sold 7-10 years later, for a profit. This would support local businesses, apprentices, those at risk of homelessness and may help to keep rents affordable.
There are also a number of cost-neutral opportunities that could help support local towns and businesses. For example, Council could buy retail property in Wyndham and/or High street in Shepparton, or McLennan St in Mooroopna and set the rent below market value (whilst still covering costs). These premises could then be rented to fledgling businesses for a set period, whilst they get established or run as a community gallery. The City of Wangaratta has trialled a similar in recent years.
The Gladstone Hotel in Dookie is also currently for sale. After a feasibility study, Council may be able to purchase it sell it once the aforementioned Dookie Silo Mural is completed, as this is surely going to improve the pub's viability.
Some may describe these as 'thought bubbles' - and they'd be right. However, it's essential that Council explores every option available to grow our region and limit rate increases into the future.
Given Regional Victoria currently has no crisis accommodation, a waiting list for public housing and very high occupancy rates - it's incumbent on Council to be making representations to our local State and Federal representatives and the relevant housing ministers.
Once we see a reduction in COVID-19 cases, those governments will be seeking to rapidly grow our economy. One way to do that, is to support small businesses and apprentices through increasing our public housing stock.
Council can also assist in this area by building new houses to be rented on the open market and/or at reduced rates for those at risk of homelessness - as discussed above.
Additionally, I would like to see a Domestic Violence Shelter established for women, one for men and - if necessary - one for women with teenage sons/men with teenage daughters.
Domestic and Family Violence doesn't discriminate between age, gender, class, ethnicity or sexuality. Whilst the publicly available statistics are often disputed, having worked in the Emergency Services sector, I estimate that close to 90% of domestic violence offences are perpetrated by men, against women. Therefore, there is a clear need for accommodation for women fleeing harm.
As per the publicly available statistics - and my anecdotal numbers - many men also need a safe place to go when fleeing family violence. Furthermore, as anyone who has worked in the sector can tell you; many perpetrators - regardless of gender - paint themselves as victims. Therefore, providing refuge to all is important.
Given our central location within Victoria, 24 hour Police presence and increasing public transport connections - I believe Shepparton is well placed to accommodate those in need.
LEARNING DISABILITY SUPPORT
Shepparton is blessed with a large TAFE campus and two universities. Whilst I'd like to see a broader range of courses offered, they service our communities well.
However, we seem to have a large number of both adults and children struggling with learning disabilities - in particular, dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia. These conditions can hamper educational outcomes, but they can also often be remedied.
I would like to see Latrobe University's Education faculty and Melbourne University's Health Faculty work together to devise better and more targeted treatment to remedy those learning difficulties most afflicting our community.
Working with GoTAFE and those Community Houses that offer adult literacy and numeracy support, they could identify those students who are struggling, test their programs, improve outcomes in adult education and then apply them to primary and secondary schools to test their validity with younger learners.
We may even see a Learning Disability Study Centre or Centre for Excellence established right here in Greater Shepparton.
With such a high youth unemployment rate in Greater Shepparton and the increasing need for workers in orchards and other farms and agribusinesses, I'd like to see an idea I heard from Cr Dinny Adem come to fruition.
That is, for an orchard to be purchased - or contracted - to provide a Certificate of Agriculture Operations. This would be a short course that teaches those seeking work - or a career - as a picker, pruner or farm hand to gain the skills required to get the job and to do it efficiently.
So many young people discount orchard work as it's a lot of hard work for - if paid per piece/kilo/bin - not necessarily a lot of pay. However, if a young person is willing to work hard and has been taught how to work efficiently - we may just solve the youth unemployment rate and difficulty finding workers through one modest program.
AFFORDABLE WASTE DISPOSAL
I support any policy that will give residents of Greater Shepparton the ability to dispose of a limited about of waste each year for free or at a subsidised rate.
Most municipalities have free kerbside pickup, supply tip tickets or provide some way for residents to get rid of around 1 cubic meter of hard rubbish each year for 'free'. As a former resident of Strathbogie Shire - a municipality with a lower rate base and more roads and bridges to maintain, but who gives tip tickets - I was quite surprised that the same opportunity isn't afforded to residents of Greater Shepparton when I moved here in 2016.
It should be said that much of the cost to Council of this kind of scheme comes from State Government levies. Council always has the option to lobby the government to change their policy - as discussed below. However, having reviewed the most recent budget, I struggle to see why Council are dragging their feet on this issue.
ASSERTIVELY LOBBY GOVERNMENTS
Whether in regards to waste levies, housing support, policies being foisted on us with minimal consultation or infrastructure funding - as discussed above - I believe Council needs to be more assertive in it's representations to government and out local representatives - on a whole range of issues.
For example, in addition to housing; I would like to see the Shepparton Bypass under way - it would be a nation-building project with road safety benefits, increase the livability of our region and deliver jobs during our pandemic recovery.