Published by Cobram Courier online and in print on March 26, 2014.

Moira Shire Council has remained tight-lipped over multiple complaints lodged with workplace and local government regulators.

A Victorian Local Government Department spokesman last week confirmed the Local Government Inspectorate was ‘‘assessing’’ three complaints it received.

The spokesman would not discuss who lodged the complaints, or who the complaints were made against, instead recommending the Courier direct questions to council acting chief executive Peter Bertolus.

Australian Services Union lead organiser Billy King said his organisation had received ‘‘half a dozen complaints’’ from Moira staff, including one which had been lodged with the Fair Work Commission.

ASU, the peak representative for municipal and administrative staff, held a meeting in Cobram this month at the request of Moira staff. Mr King said it was attended by as many as 100 people from council.

‘‘Staff are suffering high stress levels and low morale, and they’re fearful for job security,’’ Mr King said.

He said people at the meeting instructed him to ask Local Government Victoria head Nick Foa, to talk to staff during his recent visit to Cobram, where he met with Moira Shire councillors and Mr Bertolus.

Mr King said then-Local Government Minister Jeanette Powell declined the request.

‘‘(She) recommended we direct everything through the CEO’s office, which I’m a bit hesitant to do given some concerns that have been raised with me are in relation to the CEO’s office and his directors,’’ Mr King said.

Municipal Association of Victoria chief executive Rob Spence said Moira Shire councillors had contacted the organisation ‘‘asking for advice’’ in recent months, but it was ‘‘normal’’ to receive occasional calls from councillors.

‘‘We haven’t been inundated from calls (from Moira councillors), but we do get calls,’’ Mr Spence said.

‘‘From some councils, we can get a lot. I wouldn’t put Moira in that category.’’

Despite numerous requests, Mr Bertolus and Mayor Peter Mansfield were unavailable for comment.

AuthorToni Brient

Published by Cobram Courier online and in print on March 12.

Fast and furious: Jarrod Duff tears up the track. Picture: Toni Brient.

Fast and furious: Jarrod Duff tears up the track. Picture: Toni Brient.

As many as 500 spectators turned up to see Victoria’s best decked-out lawnmowers in the Cobram Lawn Mower Races on Sunday.

But it was more motocross and less grass cutting as the machines took to the course set up at Scott’s Reserve.

Some 20 racing mowers competed across four classes.

Most of the state’s regions were represented, with competitors from as far away as Gippsland entering the race.

But local racers dominated the podium, with Berrigan father-son duo Gavin and Blake Barry taking out first place in the A class and junior divisions, and Barooga’s Stuart Eliott winning the B class.

Eliott was named the overall winner of the day after wining the ‘‘all in’’ race, which put the A, B and C class winners on the track to battle it out for the coveted Cobram Barooga Apex Perpetual Trophy.

Eliott, who was also the event organiser, said it was a tough race.

‘‘The flag dropped and I knew I had my work cut out for me,’’ he said.

‘‘I did not get a good start, so I pushed my wheels through a small hole in the pack.

‘‘It paid off — I passed two mowers and was on the hunt for the leader.’’

Eliott took the lead in the third lap with nine to go, and said he ‘‘never looked back’’.

‘‘It’s a great feeling to win at your home track with all your family and friends watching,’’ he said.

Berrigan’s Gavin Barry took out second place in the race, while third went to Numurkah man Andrew Bock.

Eliott said the event was a huge success, and was especially impressed with the junior competitors’ performance.

‘‘It was a big turn out for our junior class with a few new mowers,’’ he said.

‘‘It was also good to see four females racing through the day — two in the junior section and two in the C class for 200cc (mowers).

‘‘The kids really enjoyed the Junior Mud Run Race.

‘‘We flooded the track and let the juniors skid it up.

‘‘It was a very, very muddy outcome but fun was had by all.’’

AuthorToni Brient

Published by Cobram Courier online and in print on March 12

The region’s farming industry has hit the spotlight last week, with more than $50 million pledged by the Victorian Government for initiatives in the Goulburn and Murray valleys.

The Goulburn Valley Fruit Industry Growing Ordinal, released by Agriculture Minister Peter Walsh on March 4, contained the government’s 15-year plan for the Goulburn Valley fruit industry.

The package includes a horticulture Centre of Excellence in Tatura, a $16 million concessional loans package and a business planning program.

The 41-page roadmap document outlines ‘‘the current situation of the fruit growing industry in the Goulburn Valley, including opportunities and threats (and) develop strategic actions for government, industry and individual businesses’’.

The initiative was released alongside the Goulburn Valley Industry and Employment Plan.

Announcing the plan, Deputy Premier Peter Ryan said it would set out strategic approaches to leverage new industry, trade, investment and employment opportunities.

‘‘Food production and food processing have a strong future in the Goulburn Valley and this plan will implement a long-term strategic approach to manage structural change in the region,’’ Mr Ryan said.

‘‘The region produces 90 per cent of Australia’s processed fruit and has trade links with domestic and international markets, including expanding premium food markets in Asia.’’

Mr Ryan also announced the $5 million Goulburn Valley Industry and Infrastructure Fund open for applications.

On Wednesday, the spotlight shifted from regional production and processing to offshore distribution as Premier Denis Napthine released the Food to Asia Action Plan.

Dr Napthine said Victoria’s food sector would thrive in Asia as the continent’s demand for food increased massively by 2050, and stressed the importance of capitalising on Victorian food and fibre exports.

He said the plan would drive the trade ties with Asian markets and ensure the sector’s long-term growth.

‘‘By 2030, the number of consumers in Asia with discretionary spending will increase sixfold to about 3.5 billion people as demand for food increases exponentially,’’ Dr Napthine said.

‘‘We need to capitalise on Victoria’s strong track-record in international agricultural production with food and fibre exports increasing to more than $9.4 billion in 2012 to 2013, up five per cent on the previous year.’’

Last week’s announcements followed the government’s $22 million co-investment with Shepparton’s SPC Ardmona last month.

AuthorToni Brient

Published by Cobram Courier online and in print on March 12.


Fruitgrowing body heads have welcomed the Victorian Government’s investment in the Goulburn Valley industry, with one saying the government should be more concerned with saving the sector before growing it.

The $55 million investment portfolio announced last week included a 15-year strategic plan for fruit production and processing in the region, a $16 million concessional loans scheme, a horticulture Centre for Excellence and a trade strategy to secure a supply chain on Asian markets.

Victorian Peach and Apricot Growers Association president Tony Latina said the government needed to focus on helping struggling farmers rather than big-ticket items like free trade agreements.

‘‘When the government puts money into agriculture, it’s a good thing,’’ Mr Latina said. ‘‘However, they’re not doing anything to help growers in financial difficulty.

‘‘It’s good they’re trying to encourage exports, but if growers are not viable they can’t expand.’’

He highlighted the concessional loans scheme as an example some farmers were being left behind.

‘‘They’re only helping viable growers who are well off and can afford to buy out their next door neighbour,’’ he said.

When asked whether he thought the government’s strategic plan and Centre for Excellence would help struggling farmers, Mr Latina said the money would better be spent on initiatives such as eradicating fruit fly.

Cobram Fruitgrowers Association president Frank Diaco said many Cobram and district growers were doing it tough, but the government’s new initiatives signalled ‘‘a step to solving the problem’’.

‘‘It looks like (the government is) getting proactive now in trying to support growers,’’ Mr Diaco said.

‘‘There’s a lot of detail still to come out of all these other things, but at least the government is listening to growers and trying to do something.

‘‘I think it has come too late, obviously, to be good for some people still in the industry — it’s a pity that the government as well as the (SPC Ardmona) cannery weren’t a bit more proactive.’’

Mr Latina echoed Mr Diaco’s question of timing, saying the government should have intervened last year when SPC Ardmona cut the supply contracts of farmers across the region.

Mr Latina was one of many Cobram farmers forced to pull thousands of trees after his contract was cut.

‘‘When it all boils down to it, growers doing it really tough don’t get any help,’’ he said.

‘‘There was no assistance to remove trees.

‘‘Growers had to bear the cost themselves.’’

Last week’s announcements followed the government’s $22 million co-investment at SPC Ardmona last month.

Deputy Premier Peter Ryan yesterday said the government’s position was ‘‘vindicated’’ by SPC’s $70 million deal with Woolworths.

‘‘If we... had bowed to ill-conceived calls to fund the removal of fruit trees just a few short months ago, the growers of the Goulburn Valley would not be in a position to meet this increased demand for their product,’’ Mr Ryan said.

AuthorToni Brient

Published by Cobram Courier online and in print on March 5.

The latest crime statistics for the Wangaratta Local Area Command are ‘‘alarming’’, says Inspector David Ryan.

Victoria Police on Wednesday released the crime data which shows the region, which includes Moira Shire, recorded an eight per cent increase in criminal offences last year.

The data compared the number of offences issued during the last calendar year to those issued in 2012.

Police issued a total of 4152 offences in the region last year, compared with 3839 in 2012.

The sharpest rise was in drug offences, which rose 42 per cent, from 297 in 2012 to 422 last year.

Insp Ryan said one third of the total drug offences last year were recorded in November during Operation Strawberry Fields, when police set up a road block near Koonoomoo to intercept drivers on their way to and from the Strawberry Fields music festival in Berrigan.

During the operation, 51 people were caught driving under the influence of drugs and 77 people charged with possession.

Insp Ryan said police would continue to seize drugs in the community, targeting drug dealers and aiming to combat the ‘‘youth culture’’ where young people ‘‘protected’’ drug dealers instead of reporting them.

‘‘Let’s call them what they are,’’ Insp Ryan said. ‘‘It’s a loser walking around nightclubs or about the community handing out ecstasy tablets or handing out points of ice or other amphetamines for their own gain.

‘‘Young people favour protection of drug dealers over the protection of their friends.

‘‘We need that to change.’’

Insp Ryan highlighted the 17 per cent increase in assaults as another concerning figure in the crime statistics.

He said family violence accounted for almost half the total assault offences in the region.

‘‘My message is quite simple regarding family violence,’’ Insp Ryan said.

‘‘It is time for all men in this community to stand up and say no to violence.

‘‘Family violence must become so socially unacceptable that perpetrators are left under no illusion that they will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and that their continued freedom is at risk.’’

Insp Ryan said the 41 per cent increase in residential burglary was also concerning, and urged residents to be vigilant around the home.

‘‘Successful reduction in burglary offending is usually through the observation activities of the community,’’ he said.

‘‘If someone or something is possibly suspicious, then people report it to police.’’

However, the data revealed a drop in crimes against property, with property damage offences falling almost two per cent and non-residential burglaries decreasing by 13 per cent.

Motor vehicle thefts were also down, with thefts from motor vehicles decreasing 15 per cent and thefts of motor vehicles decreasing by 14 per cent.

The region’s rate of crime per 100000 people was higher than Victoria’s, which increased 3.1 per cent during 2013.

Statewide, 420719 offences were issued last year, compared to 408112 in 2012.

AuthorToni Brient

Published by Cobram Courier online and in print on March 5.

Barooga residents will soon be able to do their grocery shopping without crossing the bridge, with an IGA Xpress supermarket opening next month on Vermont St.

For new owners Daniel Rowe and fiancee Emma Ornberg, this is their first business venture — but not their first experience with supermarkets.

They last week moved to Barooga from Chiltern, where Mr Rowe was a sales consultant for Coca-Cola Amatil.

He said he started working in supermarkets as a teen growing up in Jerilderie, and dealt with supermarkets while with Coca-Cola Amatil.

‘‘When I saw the opportunity here, I thought it was actually something that was good for the town,’’ Mr Rowe said.

‘‘A town like Barooga needs a good, local, convenient supermarket.

‘‘If you’re going to enter the supermarket industry, it’s best (you) don’t get too far ahead of yourself. We just thought this was the right fit and the right size for us.’’

The opening follows the closure of the former IGA supermarket at the same Vermont St location last year.

Barooga Advancement Group spokeswoman Leanne May welcomed the announcement, saying it was a sign of the town’s strong economic development.

She said the supermarket would have a great impact on Barooga.

‘‘A lot of tourists camp down at the river over Christmas and usually immediately head to Cobram ... because Barooga didn’t have the things that service their needs,’’ Ms May said.

‘‘Hopefully this will bring them over our side a bit more.

‘‘And since IGA shut (last year), the elderly community suffered probably the most, so this will be a great convenience for them.’’

Mr Rowe said he and Ms Ornberg would run the store themselves to begin with, and employ some local staff once the business was established.

He said he hoped to build strong ties with the community, not only as an employer but also as a stockist.

‘‘We do have some good plans down the track to source local produce.

‘‘So we’re hoping that we’ll get some locals come by and drop off their cards and tell us what they can do.

‘‘It’s definitely one of our big plans — supporting local growers and farmers, and also local businesses, too.’’

Mr Rowe said it would be a big year for himself and Ms Ornberg: in addition to opening the store, the couple was expecting a baby in June.

He said they were excited about the move to Barooga.

‘‘We just liked the country lifestyle and thought this would be a really good place to raise a family,’’ he said.

‘‘We’re looking to settle in long-term and become part of the community.’’

Ms May urged Barooga residents to ‘shop local’.

‘‘A business is only going to go as well as the customers and community that support it,’’ she said.

AuthorToni Brient

Published by Cobram Courier online and in print on February 26.

Telling tales: Former AFL great and 1991/1992 Junior Sports Star of the Year recipient Tim Hargreaves speaks about his football career. Picture: Toni Brient.

Telling tales: Former AFL great and 1991/1992 Junior Sports Star of the Year recipient Tim Hargreaves speaks about his football career. Picture: Toni Brient.

More than 130 people gathered at Barooga Sports Club on Thursday night to recognise outstanding achievements of the sporting community during the past year.

Soccer player Gianluca Iannucci and barefoot waterskier Dion Sullivan were recognised as leaders in their sports.

Barooga Sports Bowls Club was named Team of the Year and the holder of multiple life memberships at numerous clubs, Jill Toohey, won the Services to Sport Award for her decades of dedication.

The Sports Star of the Year awards are held annually to recognise local players who have made significant contributions to sport in Cobram Barooga and district.

The awards are presented by Sporties and supported by the Cobram Courier and Central Murray Credit Union.

Sporties marketing and promotions manager Mick O’Dwyer said Thursday’s turn out was the best in the ceremony’s 24-year history.

‘‘Let’s hope that our community can go forward and continue to produce those fantastic sports people,’’ O’Dwyer said.

‘‘And those people who give time to sport over the years.’’

Attendees enjoyed a two-course dinner in Sporties’ Garden Room while listening to the ceremony.

O’Dwyer invited each of the 11 nominees for the junior and senior divisions to the podium to speak about their year of achievements.

The individuals spoke passionately about their sport and their clubs, with most making mention of coaches and family members who supported them throughout their careers.

Former AFL great and 1991-92 Junior Sports Star of the Year Tim Hargreaves spoke to O’Dwyer about the ups and downs of a career which spanned seven clubs.

Hargreaves, who is currently playing for Barooga Football Club, said he was looking forward to making the most of his remaining time on the field.

‘‘I’ve played footy for 20 odd years now and I’m trying to hang on as long as I can,’’ he said.

‘‘I’ve got two young boys and one on the way.

‘‘I’m really looking forward to making new friends and enjoying myself throughout the year.’’

●See this week’s Courier for Sports Star of the Year winners.

AuthorToni Brient

Published by Cobram Courier online and in print on February 26.

Going forward: (from left) outgoing Cobram Barooga Business and Tourism Development group president Wayne Gould with incoming committee Renae Macheda, John Hall, Danny Dunn, Paul Gemmill (incoming president), Darrell Bowden, Liz Diamond and Phil O'Sullivan. Picture: Toni Brient.

Going forward: (from left) outgoing Cobram Barooga Business and Tourism Development group president Wayne Gould with incoming committee Renae Macheda, John Hall, Danny Dunn, Paul Gemmill (incoming president), Darrell Bowden, Liz Diamond and Phil O'Sullivan. Picture: Toni Brient.

Newly appointed Cobram Barooga Business and Tourism Development group chairman Paul Gemmill assured residents that protecting Cobram Barooga Visitor Information Centre was the group’s first priority during the tourism sector’s restructure this year.

Mr Gemmill said the group would consult with Moira Shire Council to ensure the information centre continued operating ‘‘as is’’ despite council’s restructure of the sector’s governance and financial support.

About 70 people from the business and tourism industries and the wider community attended a CBBTD special general meeting last Tuesday night, including Moira Shire Council business and innovation executive manager Bruce Connolly and Berrigan Shire Council corporate services director Matt Hansen.

Mr Connolly answered questions from concerned residents about the future of the information centre, which many said they had heard was in danger of being shut down.

Mr Connolly said CBBDT would be responsible for allocating funding for the centre in its business plan, which all local tourism associations in the shire would be required to submit to before receiving funding after the shire’s tourism sector restructure.

‘‘It’s never been said publicly by anybody in council that Cobram (Barooga) Visitor Information Centre will close,’’ Mr Connolly told questioners.

‘‘The local tourism associations will become responsible for the staff. (Council) are going to continue to support the Cobram Barooga Visitor Information Centre if it is decided by (CBBTD) that that’s what they want to do.’’

Mr Gemmill said it would be up to the business community to support CBBTD to ensure the information centre, and the industry, remained healthy.

‘‘It’s not the shire against us anymore, it’s the shire trying to help us out,’’ Mr Gemmill said. ‘‘There will be some form of restructuring — hopefully not staff-wise — but we will be coming to the community and business owners about becoming more active members.’’

Mr Connolly said former information centre staff member Kyla Carpinelli would be council’s new tourism support officer. He said she would work with local tourism associations, including CBBTD, to drive the sector.

Mr Connolly said Ms Carpinelli would work beside newly hired tourism officer Louise Clint, who would ‘‘pick up where Sun Country (on the Murray board) left off’’.

AuthorToni Brient

Published by Cobram Courier online and in print on February 20.

Police have not ruled out arson as a possible cause of the Wunghnu Complex fire, after identifying three separate ignition points and labelling two as suspicious.

Cobram Police Criminal Investigation Unit Detective Senior Constable Justin Schulze said police were appealing for witness accounts of the fire which burnt almost 10000ha in Numurkah, Wunghnu and Bunbartha on Sunday, February 9.

He said the first fire occurred about 1.50pm near the intersection of Goulburn Valley Hwy and Wunghnu East Rd and said the ignition point was believed to be between a train line and a residential property.

The second fire was believed to have started shortly after 3.30pm on Kaarima Rd between Reilleys Pit Rd and Central Mundboona Rd, Det Snr Const Schulze said.

He said police had not identified any suspects in the case and urged anyone in the area during the fires to contact police with information.

‘‘There have been a number of reports of suspicious activity but we haven’t identified anyone at actually lighting fires,’’ Det Snr Const Schulze said.

‘‘At this time, we’re just trying to speak to as many people as we can that were in the area at the time, and particularly between those times or at that time that might be able to assist us.

‘‘Especially if they have seen something and haven’t contacted police as yet.’’

However, Det Snr Const Schulze said police determined the fire which started on Shepparton-Barmah Rd in Bunbartha near Osbornes Rd about 3pm was caused by sparks from a faulty caravan wheel bearing.

Det Snr Const Schulze said the man and woman in the vehicle which was towing the caravan were lucky to escape unharmed, and warned others to check the condition of caravans and trailers before towing them.

The Wunghnu Complex fire is one of 14 suspicious fires being investigated by police throughout Victoria.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Tim Cartwright said bushfire arson was a serious crime and all suspicious fires would be rigorously investigated.

‘‘Bushfire arson has the capacity to injure, kill and destroy,’’ Dep Comm Cartwright said.

‘‘Victoria Police will be looking into all fires that are deemed suspicious and anyone found guilty of deliberately lighting a bushfire will face serious penalties, the most severe of which can be 25 years in jail.’’

●Anyone with information about the Wunghnu Complex fire should contact Cobram police or phone Crimestoppers on 1800333000.

AuthorToni Brient

Published by Cobram Courier online and in print on February 19.

Berrigan Shire Council is one of six southern Riverina councils calling for further reviews of local government in the region before the NSW Government makes a decision on the sector’s restructuring.

The move follows the release of the Independent Local Government Review Panel’s final report last month.

The NSW Government last year commissioned the study to identify options to rescue financially strained councils and ensure the organisations’ sustainability into the future.

On Wednesday, Deniliquin Council hosted a meeting with representatives from Berrigan, Conargo, Jerilderie, Murray and Wakool councils to discuss the report.

Berrigan Shire Council general manager Rowan Perkins said the councils decided to call on the government to fund a second study in the region.

He said there was strong support.

‘‘Of those 53 resolutions, there were probably quite a few that were actually supported by all councils,’’ Mr Perkins said.

‘‘In relation to specific mergers and boundary realignments, none of the councils there supported that.’’

In its report, the panel also recommended the establishment of joint organisations to co-ordinate the councils in regional groups.

Mr Perkins said the Southern Riverina councils decided at the meeting last week it would be better to stick with the current regional body Riverina and Murray Regional Organisation of Councils. He said the proposed joint organisations would include all the districts present at the meeting, but if amalgamations took place there would be only two councils in the group.

Mr Perkins said the diversity in Riverina and Murray Regional Organisation of Councils was important.

‘‘It includes larger and smaller councils so there’s a better opportunity for those councils to share experience and capacity,’’ he said.

Riverina and Murray Regional Organisation of Councils executive officer Ray Stubbs said the second study would allow the councils to provide a strong case for retaining existing structures of governance. He said the second study was necessary because the first hadn’t examined the detailed operations of the Regional Organisation of Councils.

‘‘They haven’t tested them out, either,’’ Mr Stubbs said.

‘‘That’s their view, and we’ve got our view.

‘‘There’s possibly some merit in the panel’s view.

‘‘But we believe we have an effective, strong ROC with strong anchor points.’’

AuthorToni Brient