INFRASTRUCTURE spending, environmental water flows and funding for health and education services were on the agenda in Kerang on Thursday at a Putting Locals First Forum.
Local residents and council staff met with Deputy Premier, Peter Ryan and Member for Swan Hill, Peter Walsh for the hour-long foum.
It was an opportunity for people to raise matters of interest and concern with the two politicians, who are responsible for a number of important regional portfolios.
Mr Ryan is Minister for Regional and Rural Development, while Mr Walsh is in charge of Agriculture and Food Security and Water.
A point of contention raised by a number of people was that of environmental flows and specifically the watering of the Gunbower Forest.
Mr Walsh said the Federal Government wouldn't buy more water out of Victoria and the emphasis was on the efficient use of environmental water, aiming to irrigate rather than flood and return water to the river for reuse where possible, as is being done at Gunbower
"We want to see water for the environment used as efficiently as possible to achieve better outcomes with less water," he said.
"Whether we like it or not… it's about working to get the best outcome."
Concerns were also expressed about the condition of the district's roads and the performance of VicRoads.
Mr Ryan said the State Government was spending $500 million on roads this financial year, two thirds of that in regional Victoria.
Mr Ryan said the government also provided the Country Roads and Bridges Program, which Gannawarra Shire Council chief executive Jason Russell said he hoped would continue.
"Without that program we would be going backwards," he said.
Tricia Currie from the Northern District Community Health Service raised the recommissioning of drug and alcohol services, saying $1.5 million that could have been allocated to the Loddon Mallee region had been lost.
"Our capacity to address issues in small communities has been severely impacted," she said.
Mr Ryan said while he would ask Minister for Mental Health, Mary Wooldridge to respond to Mrs Currie in writing, it was "always difficult to achieve maximum service delivery versus having the facility to deliver it in multiple locations".
Mrs Currie, who is also chairman of the North Central Local Learning and Employment Network, also spoke about the federal government's announcement that it would withdraw funding for the State-wide LLEN.
"We're looking at that finishing up at the end of December; what a loss that is for our communities," she said.
Mr Ryan said the government remained committing to funding the network and was "in earnest discussions with [majority funding partner] the Federal Government about the contribution they make".
Mr Ryan said of the $100 million the federal government has put up to improve mobile coverage in regional Australia, the state government wanted $25 million and would provide $45 million of their own funding.
Other matters raised included the pressures small businesses faced because of the off-shoring of jobs and the impact on subcontractors and suppliers when large contractors went bankrupt owing money.
Another question asked whether the government was considering relocating government authorities from Melbourne to the regions.
Mr Ryan said while the government had a process of identifying such potential relocation, it had to run parallel to regional development rather than be treated as regional development in itself.
The potential for a heated swimming pool in Kerang was also raised, as was the need for more frequent train services between Swan Hill and Bendigo.
"There are conversations all around the regions where getting the right mix of service is very much under review," Mr Ryan said.
He said increased public transport services needed to be demand driven.
The final point of discussion centred around the federal government's aged care reforms and preschool funding arrangements.
The current funding agreement is due to expire in December and while the state government remains committed to its funding contribution the federal government is yet to make an ongoing commitment.
Currently the state government provides funding for ten hours of preschool, while the federal government provides funding for five hours.
"Those discussions are of paramount importance to us; I'd say there's more reason for optimism than pessimism," Mr Ryan said.
During his visit to the region Mr Ryan announced $2 million to build a drag racing track at Swan Hill's Chisholm Reserve Motor Sports Complex, and $4.5 million for initial works on a second bridge over the Murray River at Echuca.