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A $100 million boost to regions severely impacted by bushfires and the coronavirus is the perfect opportunity to invest in the Gippsland visitor economy, according to Federal Member for Gippsland Darren Chester.

Mr Chester says Gippsland is one of 10 regions in Australia which can access the $100 million fund announced today by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

“I want to see our share of that money focused on improving the liveability of our region and boosting the visitor economy,” Mr Chester said.

“If we improve facilities on public land it gives Gippslanders a chance to enjoy a more active lifestyle and it helps to attract and retain the skilled workers we need in our community.

“At the same time, better infrastructure on public land is a proven job-creator because it supports the visitor economy by encouraging more tourists to visit and stay longer.”

Mr Chester has previously urged all levels of government and the community to support a $6.5 million plan to redevelop the East Gippsland Rail Trail and provide a link to Lakes Entrance.

Mr Chester has been working closely with the volunteer rail-trail committee and has prepared a bid for $6.5 million in funding.

“At almost 100 kilometres, the East Gippsland Rail Trail is the longest of the 11 trails in Gippsland and links Bairnsdale to Orbost with a safe, off-road exercise option for cyclists, runners and hiking,” Mr Chester said.

“The trail is managed and maintained by volunteers with very limited resources and we need an investment of this level to improve the experience of trail users and boost the visitor economy.

“If we can expand our tourism product to encourage visitors throughout the year, we will have a more resilient regional economy.

“Importantly, the trail traverses communities such as Orbost, Wairewa, Nowa Nowa, Bruthen, Wiseleigh, Nicholson and Bairnsdale which suffered significant social, environmental and economic losses in the 2020 bushfires.”

Mr Chester said other projects such as foreshore upgrades to highly visited public areas on towns around the Gippsland Lakes would be well-suited to this funding opportunity.

“We need to move quickly as a region to improve our facilities and take advantage of the increase in regional tourism which is likely to occur when the coronavirus restrictions are eased,” Mr Chester said.

“It’s hard to see international travel returning any time soon and there will be renewed interest in regions like Gippsland.

“We need to take this opportunity to showcase Gippsland as a great place to live, work and visit with strategic investment in facilities which complement our natural advantages.”

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