East Gippsland Shire Consultations by Angela Crunden

Mitchell River Bairnsdale (Crunden)

A late start was not enough to dampen the positivity coming from East Gippsland Shire Council’s Bairnsdale community consultation held on Tuesday night 2nd March. Overwhelmingly the environment was seen as the most valued asset of our region.

The sessions have been well attended with good numbers in Lakes Entrance (15), and 35 in both Orbost and Bairnsdale. The Local Government Act requires councils to conduct consultations to determine a new four year plan which is done in conjunction with 10 year Financial and Capital Works Plans.

Small groups worked together to list what they valued most about living in East Gippsland, what were future opportunities and what were the challenges for our region.

It was gratifying as each table presented their discussion summaries that our beautiful region’s lakes, forests, mountains and rivers were the first thing mentioned. People born here through to new residents lived here out of love for the natural assets we enjoy.

Support for often hidden members of the community including LGBTQI, cultural and ethnically diverse people emerged along with the regional challenge of higher rates of domestic violence, unemployment, poverty and lack of public housing. Council officers pointed to the shire relying heavily on rate revenue for its income, where city based shires were able to raise revenue from parking and other sources. Participants identified many traditional concerns of residents everywhere, such as roads, parking, and community safety. Social justice, business viability, tourism and environment protection were strongly present across all of the tables.

While not always using the term climate change, each table made reference to challenges that were impacted by this threat. By contrast, opportunities pointed to changes in farming practices, setting up micro grids especially in remote towns and expansion of solar and other power options. Issues of infrastructure to support more public transport, EV charging stations, and improvements for pedestrian and cycle traffic were also raised.

The participants finished the session by each making a short statement of what they would like to see in the region in ten years. The last participant praised the many good ideas raised in this final segment but he cautioned that none of these long-term goals would be of lasting benefit or even achievable until climate change was comprehensively tackled by all levels of government. This community consultation information will be used along with online surveys and a Community Panel process to ensure the needs identified by the community can be integrated into the plan over the term of this council.