Ballarat has been let down again by the Federal Government. Hot on the heels of an election campaign that saw almost nothing promised to Ballarat from the Coalition but conspicuous largesse showered on neighbouring marginal seats, the latest round of the National Stronger Regions Fund has turned its back on the Ballarat Sports and Events Centre in Wendouree. Something appears to be very wrong with its workings when a project with this many strong arguments, with this comprehensive and articulated a business case, is rejected for the third time running.
While there are some who think there is too much emphasis on sport for funding, The Courier has taken a keen interest in this project because it is about so much more than basketball, any single club or code. Sport is the great social glue for regional communities with incalculable health and social wellbeing benefits. The Midnight Basketball program is just one such activity showing how sport and participation can even have a constructive and proactive impact on at-risk kids and by turn on the crime rate and community wellbeing.
For those who like to see the evidence in cold hard cash, the facility is also a winner. The case made by Ballarat is not only for the city but of benefit to the whole region; in economic terms a $5.5million boost each year. These are precious tourism and visitation dollars for small businesses around Ballarat that are being leached to Geelong and Melbourne as our facilities further decline. All these arguments were made forcefully and meticulously in the case for the BSEC upgrade.
Even more startling is just how many people have backed this project only to be ignored by Canberra. From the grass roots parents who are forced to use the outmoded facility, the multitudes of young people whose voices are rarely heard in Canberra right up to the full spectrum of government. Ballarat council has backed it to the tune of $5million. All the surrounding councils in western Victoria have also backed the project as “transformational infrastructure”. Does the State Government have a better grasp on Ballarat and know what the people need? They certainly see its value and have pledged $9million. The State opposition seeing the inherent benefits in the project went even further and promised $15M before the 2014 election. It appears the only tier of Government unwilling to grasp this rock-solid value is the Turnbull Government. This hints at a deep disconnect from what is known locally and what Canberra bureaucrats base decisions on.
It is a credit to its advocates, all the players, clubs and families who after a decade of generous, hard-work have been rebuffed again that they have themselves to fight on and make the best of the resources. Canberra could learn a lot from this resolve and community spirit.
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