Candidates clash over Nicholls’ lack of cash splash

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Dispute over funding: Liberal candidate Steve Brooks on stage with independent candidate Rob Priestly. Photo by Max Stainkamph

The final question of Tuesday night’s Committee for Greater Shepparton candidates’ forum proved to be the one where the most sparks flew, as candidates clashed over how much funding the electorate of Nicholls received.

A question from former Greens candidate Nickee Freeman, who stepped down from running after a clash with the party over vaccine mandates, asked candidates what they would do to ensure more funding was allocated to Nicholls.

Independent candidate Rob Priestly offered to “open the batting” by answering the question first, and said money hadn’t been spent in Nicholls because it was considered a “safe seat”.

"In the $21 billion being spent in regional Australia (from the federal budget) there’s not great transparency about where all that money is going. However, there’s not anything dedicated to this community and that comes from our sustained period as a very safe seat,“ Mr Priestly said.

“Just by running and making the seat marginal you can see what's happening; the amount of attention, the amount of media, and the amount of involvement that it is driving to this community.”

However, that statement drew the ire of Liberal candidate Steve Brooks, who spoke after Mr Priestly’s minute in the spotlight and said the comments were “hard to listen to”.

“I just need to respond to that. It's a narrative that I understand that the independent has to say that we're missing out and we're not getting our fair share because the politics of envy can be really harsh,” he said.

“Unfortunately for him it’s just not the case ... in the nine years the Coalition has been in power we’ve had $2.6 billion in infrastructure spent in Nicholls.”

He said he and Nationals candidate Sam Birrell had been with Senator Bridget McKenzie and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce announcing $19 million of funding to build a new nursing school.

“We’re about delivering outcomes, not just pointing out problems in the electorate,” Mr Brooks said.

Labor candidate Bill Lodwick immediately responded to Mr Brooks, saying six per cent of infrastructure funding in the last budget made its way to Victoria, with no major projects for Nicholls.

“You can’t sit there and say that that you (the Federal Government) are favouring Nicholls when the whole state of Victoria has been dudded by the way it’s been allocated,” he said.

Mr Birrell said infrastructure was a priority and Nicholls was heading in the right direction.

“I think we’re on the right track now doesn't equate with the narrative of people who say time for change,“ he said.

“I think we’re on the right track. I think we need to be doing more of the same stuff, which is building up the investment in Nicholls.”