Member for McEwen Rob Mitchell.

MEMBER for McEwen Rob Mitchell has called out the Federal Government for ‘short-changing’ regional communities as it ignores calls for more funds for a grass roots grants program.

Mr Mitchell said he wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison urging funding the Stronger Communities Grants, SCG, program was doubled to meet communities’ needs. The program provides grants between $2500 and $20,000 to organisations and councils for small capital projects that provide social benefits for communities.

Under current guidelines each electorate can take applications for a maximum of 20 projects, valued in total at $150,000.

But in the latest round, Mr Mitchell received applications for more than 70 projects in the McEwen electorate, with a total value of $1 million.

Mr Mitchell said the locally-based consultative committee formed to review expressions of interest for round six of the program had their work cut out for them.

“We were genuinely overwhelmed with the unprecedented level of interest in the program this year,” he said.

“This huge uptake could be due to a range of factors including the lack of opportunities for groups to fundraise due to the pandemic, but also because the program has been a proven driver of enthusiasm and inspiration for our local groups and organisations to improve and expand facilities and services within their areas.”

Mr Mitchell said the government had not increased the total nationwide funding pool since the program’s inception in 2015 and now the inspiration and enthusiasm was being replaced by defeat and discouragement.

“These applications are almost all from local community volunteers and this program is now creating more losers than winners,” he said.

“While the requirement for matched funding was removed for this round, it didn’t go far enough to support the many community organisations who have struggled to continue throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Mr Mitchell said the needs of growing electorate, with its mix of urban and semi-urban communities, smaller rural towns and villages and regional towns, were increasing enormously, while the level of funding had been stagnant.

“The SCP is now fast becoming a victim of its own success, with more applications having to be rejected due to massive oversubscription, and the losers are not just those hardworking volunteers putting in their time and effort on the application, but the communities they serve,” he said.

“The government needs to acknowledge that electorates like McEwen include many towns and villages needing improved facilities, unlike urban electorates which have their facilities and services concentrated in small area.

McEwen has more than a dozen towns, such as Kilmore, Lancefield, Riddells Creek and Gisborne that all need their own dedicated facilities, such as CFA stations, sporting facilities, community halls, etcetera.

“The PM should recognise the difficult circumstances we’ve found ourselves in during the pandemic and acknowledge the gaping need to support the many worthy groups that will unfortunately miss out.”

The Prime Minister’s office responded to Mr Mitchell by saying the government had committed more than $122 million over six rounds for more than 10,000 projects across Australia. It also said the government backed communities, including more than $550 million in measures to help regional areas.

Mr Mitchell described Mr Morrison’s response as ‘a word salad with no meaning’.

“Typically, the PM hasn’t said yes or no. For what it’s worth, he tells me he’s flick-passed it to the Deputy PM, with a cc to one of his Victorian Senators,” he said.

“It doesn’t sound like he cares too much about the many great proposals for our communities.”