Rural Councils Victoria has welcomed a state and federal government announcement of $9.4 million Council Priority Betterment Program to improve the resilience of essential public assets such as roads, bridges and footpaths damaged as a direct result of the 2022 flood event.
“The announcement has important significance,” Rural Councils Victoria Chair Cr Mary-Ann Brown said.
“It is the first time that state and federal governments have embraced the concept of betterment in Victoria, which means building back assets to a higher standard to withstand possible future natural disasters.”
“In all our meetings with federal and state Ministers we have underlined the need to ensure that assets are restored to a more resilient standard so that they are not damaged or destroyed again in the next flood or bushfire.”
The impacted councils eligible to apply are: Buloke, Campaspe, Central Goldfields, Gannawarra, Loddon, Moira, Murrindindi, Benalla, Bendigo, Hepburn, Mildura, Pyrenees, Shepparton and Strathbogie.
The program is jointly-funded through the Commonwealth-State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA).
Cr Brown welcomed the fact that key assets that help communities stay connected and reduce hardship during and after disasters, such as culverts and roads, will be prioritised.
“Those assets were a key priority in RCV advocacy to state and federal governments and we are pleased to see them prioritised,” Cr Brown said.
“We see the program announcement as an important first step in building back damaged or destroyed assets to a more resilient standard.
“Betterment should be part of all disaster recovery packages into the future.”
“RCV notes that seven councils (Buloke, Campaspe, Central Goldfields, Gannawarra, Loddon, Moira, and Murrindindi) will be eligible to apply for up to $1 million each, while another seven impacted councils (Benalla, Bendigo, Hepburn, Mildura, Pyrenees, Greater Shepparton and Strathbogie) will be eligible to apply for up to $343,000 each.
“We note that applicants are required to provide a minimum co-contribution of 5% to the project and that a co-contribution is considered an ‘in-kind or monetary contribution from the council’. This is essential for small rural councils which have small rated bases and are struggling financially.
“The program is a good start, and we look forward to being in a position to welcome further resources for impacted communities into the future,” Cr Brown said.
Federal Minister for Emergency Management, Murray Watt said the upgrades will be significant in helping communities prepare for future emergencies.
“Betterment works mean infrastructure can be built back using more resilient methods or materials, so they’re less likely to be impacted again by future natural disasters,” Minister Watt said.
“This is the first betterment program of its kind in Victoria, so I’m very pleased the Albanese Government is co-funding it.
“In addition to reducing the risk of disruptions to communities from disasters, we know that betterment programs like this one, delivered in other states, have demonstrated savings and avoided costs for all levels of government.”
Victorian Minister for Emergency Services Jaclyn Symes said the program was one step towards easing the burden on towns affected by natural disasters.
“This package is about building back better – so communities aren’t hit as hard by more frequent and severe weather events,” Minister Symes said.
“We welcome the Federal Government’s co-investment in this – we’ll continue backing communities and advocating for what they need to stay prepared and recover quicker from natural disasters.”
Senator Watt’s office said the councils receiving betterment funding allocations will be shortly notified of the allocations.