Mental health services and better access to the Hume Freeway at Wallan will be the focal point of a Mitchell Shire wishlist ahead of the Federal election.
In a first of its kind for the shire, the council launched a federal election advocacy campaign on Wednesday, calling for funding for mental health services and the construction of the Watson Street interchange in Wallan.
At the launch event in Wallan, Mitchell Shire Council Mayor Bill Chisholm and youth mayor Ebony Layley spoke to a crowd, which included business people and community members, on the importance of the two issues.
The council is encouraging residents to send an email or postcard to all candidates for the McEwen, Nicholls and Bendigo electorates.
Cr Chisholm said Mitchell Shire residents had difficulty accessing mental health services and had to resort to travelling to Melbourne or Shepparton.
“The lack of access to local crisis and support services is already forcing vulnerable people to endure significant wait times for help,” he said.
One in 15 people in Mitchell Shire are reported as experiencing high or very high psychological distress, higher than the state average.
Council’s advocacy for mental health services was inspired by its own youth council’s passion for the issue.
Youth mayor Ebony Layley said the topic was important to her and the youth council.“On top of the wait times, people seeking help need to travel long distances to access services and with the lack of transport options, this can become an ordeal,” she said.
“I have to travel 45 minutes to Laurimar in good traffic just to seek the support I need. If were to use public transport, I would have to take a train from Wallan to Southern Cross, then board a train to Mernda and use a taxi to get to my appointment.
“I’m very lucky to have my mum take me out to appointments but no everyone has that luxury.
“Youth council wants this to change. We want to start the conversation about youth mental health here.”
With the shire’s population expected to grow to 270,000 people in the next 20 or 30 years, and Wallan’s population expected to grow from 13,000 to more than 50,000, Cr Chisholm said the Hume Freeway diamond interchange at Watson Street was crucial to easing the town’s traffic bottleneck.
“Our community is dealing with long and frustrating commute times and difficulty going about their daily lives on our local roads,” he said.
“We have major safety concerns with traffic banking up on a national freight corridor. Large trucks and cars need to come to a stop on the freeway with no warning at 110 kilometres per hour where the off ramp joins the freeway.
“The business case for the interchange ramps is complete. It is ready to construct. We need a commitment to stage one funding from the Federal Government now so our community can get on with their lives safely and so we can keep our national freeway and freight corridor moving.”