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Drought group working for community

Saturday 16 February

Behind-the-scenes work undertaken by the East Gippsland Drought Reference Group (EGDRG) in response to the prolonged drought being faced by East Gippsland communities is gaining momentum.


Employment opportunities, community group assistance and planning for larger infrastructure work that could provide longer term economic stimulus are hitting the ground, thanks in part to the EGDRG that was formed in late 2018.


Mayor Cr Natalie O’Connell said the intent of the group was to provide strategic advice, guidance, advocacy and action required to support drought-impacted communities in the shire, and maximise support and funding opportunities across all tiers of government.


“We are bringing together key stakeholders to assess on-ground intelligence to ensure that the needs of the community are able to be addressed as this current drought persists,” Cr O’Connell said.


“It’s important the group is able to provide strategic guidance in respect to the potential long-term consequences for our rural communities and the actions that might be appropriate to minimise any longer term negative consequences


“Among our terms of reference is to ensure a coordinated approach to communication about drought support and activities and ensure that programs and activities delivered contribute to the long-term resilience of our rural communities.”


The East Gippsland Drought Reference Group (EGDRG) includes representation from:

  • East Gippsland Shire Council
  • East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority
  • Rural Financial Counselling Service – Gippsland
  • Federal Member for Gippsland
  • State Member for Gippsland East
  • Agriculture Victoria
  • Victorian Farmers’ Federation
  • Orbost Regional Health
  • Country Women’s Association
  • Gippsland Farmer Relief Inc
  • Other members may be co-opted as required or identified to join the group.


Cr O’Connell said EGDRG members are expected to consult with and report back to their organisation or group.


“We will continue to meet regularly or on an as needs basis to ensure the group is responsive to potential projects, funding opportunities and applications, and considering any other initiatives,” Cr O’Connell said


East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority chief executive officer and EGDRG chairman Graeme Dear said over 20 people have been employed in off-farm activities following a Drought Employment Program managed by the East Gippsland, West Gippsland and North East CMAs.


“The Victorian Government has allocated $1.2 million for the program within Wellington and East Gippsland shire boundaries,” Mr Dear said.


“The CMA has contracted Workways Australia (Bairnsdale office) to act as the employer for crews to complete weed control in priority public areas such as Livingstone Park in Omeo and the East Gippsland Rail Trail between Bairnsdale and Nowa Nowa.


“There are more opportunities for people from a farming family or working in an agriculture-related industry to gain flexible work, and I would encourage anyone interested to make contact with Workways in Bairnsdale or visit the Workways website.”


Cr O’Connell said Council, with guidance from the EGDRG, was putting significant energy into grant applications for the Commonwealth Government’s Drought Communities Program, now criteria for the potential $1 million in funding is known.


“This funding was not automatically allocated to Council and does require an eligible application to be made,” Cr O’Connell said.


“Projects that could fall under this program funding include the East Gippsland Regional Livestock Exchange sheep pen renewal yard roofing, emergency water supply installations at strategic locations across the shire, and a tourism attraction and marketing initiative to assist in economic stimulus in conjunction with Wellington Shire Council.


“These are all projects Shire CEO Anthony Basford and I briefed the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack on during his visit to Sale last week.


“Identifying projects that will provide ongoing benefits to our community and that meet grant guidelines and timeframes for delivery has required careful consideration. Given our understanding of the pressures being experienced by many people, these projects have been pursued as part of the overall packages of household and community initiatives.


“The Commonwealth funding guidelines are clear in that the intent of projects should be to create projects that lead to employment and contribute to the retention of business, services and facilities. It excludes subsidising rates payments, providing vouchers/gift cards and the replenishing of water tanks on private properties.”


Council has been allocated $150,000 under the Regional Development Victoria Community Resilience Program, with organisations such as Far East Victoria Landcare, the Omeo District Health, Orbost Regional Health and various community groups allocated money to assist with running events, health checks, wellness days and concerts etc.


A further $100,000 will be available to Council in early March for the continuation of activities under this funding stream, to be expended by the end of June.


Cr O’Connell said it was heartening to see large organisations through to community groups all playing their role.


“Employment opportunities have been created, while farming families are also receiving welcome assistance to ease the burden of home expenses, and there have been events that are putting a focus on the mental health of our community members,” Cr O’Connell said.


“On behalf of our community I thank groups such as the Country Women’s Association of Victoria East Gippsland Group, Gippsland Farmer Relief and others for the financial and other assistance provided to local families in need.”


The EGDRG and Council will also develop a page on the Council website eastgippsland.vic.gov.au that will consolidate the information about drought organisations and groups, frequently asked questions, what assistance is available and from where, and community events.




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