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    Member for Mallee Anne Webster announced the funding promise in Nhill last week.
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    Nhill and district communities are hoping a new promise for a long-awaited sporting facility to replace a now demolished grandstand becomes a reality. 

Nhill sports facility fear of being a political football

By Michael Scalzo

Nhill and district communities are hoping a new promise for a long-awaited sporting facility becomes a reality. 

Nhill and District Sporting Club president Dom Colombera said he welcomed the promise of an additional $1.64-million from a re-elected Coalition government for Davis Park upgrades and applauded the funding commitment. 

But he said at the same time, he lamented it had taken an election to prompt government action. 

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Mr Colombera said he could not understand why a small club kept being ‘tied up in national politics’.
“It is a bit of joke, and it makes you think the way funding is dished out needs to change. Half the time, here is the funding... ‘but’,” he said. 

“With the ‘sports rorts’ thing, it was too good to be true. There must be ways for a small club to progress, but at the moment we can only play the game we’re in.”

Federal Member for Mallee Anne Webster said the $1.64-million government election promise would aid a $900,000 local roads and community infrastructure fund and a $300,000 Hindmarsh Shire Council contribution to construct stage one of a multi-purpose facility at Davis Park. 

Dr Webster said some people called it ‘pork-barrelling’, but she rathered ‘fighting for community’.

“I find pork-barrelling a somewhat fraught concept. People get elected to government to fight for communities and for community interests. They want someone who is a megaphone for Mallee,” she said. 

Mr Colombera said the club was disappointed when it missed out on government funding before the 2019 Federal Election, after a Davis Park upgrade scored well in Sport Australia’s Community Sport Infrastructure Program, the so-called ‘sports rorts’ grants affair.

But he said this month’s election had perhaps come at the right time for the club. 

“We have been working on getting this funding for the past couple of years, so perhaps the election has come around at the right time for us,” he said.

“Obviously the money is tied to the government winning, so we don’t know what is going to happen. I guess we will have our answer on May 21.”  

Dr Webster said communities wanted someone who had a voice and an influence in federal parliament. 

“Every party commits money because they were elected to do so – if people think differently, it is nonsensical,” she said. 

Dr Webster said she expected there would be an appropriate sports grant or similar process prior to the May 21 election, but her government provided no avenue for sports facility funding. 

“I asked the question prior to the election about opening a sports grant. But it is nothing I have a handle on, there was no lever I could pull,” she said.

“It is a ministers call and has to go to cabinet – it is a high pay grade decision.”

The first stage of the Davis Park upgrades includes an undercover grandstand, multi-purpose change rooms and function room.

Nhill facility upgrades steering committee member and former club president Brett Wheaton has been involved with securing funding for Davis Park for more than eight years. 

He said the club decided it was necessary to make the funding ‘political’ after nearly a decade of unsuccessful grant applications and advocacy.

“We approached all candidates running for the federal seat of Mallee and used the candidate forum in Nhill to go in hard and reinforce our message,” he said.

“We used the fact we should have been funded in 2019 after Bridget McKenzie and ‘sports rorts’ and used that as a leverage point for us. 

“There has been nearly 10 years, hundreds of hours and frustration after Hindmarsh shire knocked down the old grandstand and wouldn’t get it repaired or use years of its local roads and community infrastructure fund. So now it has become a bit of a pork-barrelling situation.

“We realised it would be a perfect opportunity for us now when the election was called. We knew the only way was to make it political. That is the thing about regional communities, our communities are screaming out for help and get little return for providing a Victorian food bowl.

“With more than 500 members of the sporting club, we make up 58 percent of ratepayers in Nhill. The new facility would be an absolute gold mine for Nhill, and be used by clubs and organisations as a facility for hire across the Wimmera. It would be an important pull-factor for attracting people to the region.”

Dr Webster said if she was returned as Federal Member for Mallee, but in opposition, she would continue to advocate for funding and would ask the government to match the Coalition’s pre-election commitment. 

The entire May 11, 2022 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!