The federal government has awarded Bendigo Airport $4.5 million in order to complete long-awaited upgrades to its terminal.
The upgrades include an extension to the existing terminal, and its carpark, as well as the set-up of an indoor baggage collection area and a security screening zone.
Locals have been advocating for such upgrades since 2019, when Qantas first began Sydney-Bendigo operations, in order to better support more regular flights between the regional city and the capitals.
Construction on the new terminal is due to begin later this year.
The announcement, while welcome, is shrouded in political controversy, after it was found that the Coalition sent out its announcement just 30 minutes ahead of a planned press conference at the airport, where Labor was intending to pledge the same amount to fund the airport’s upgrades.
A formal announcement revealing Labor’s election pledge had been scheduled at Bendigo Airport with Labor’s infrastructure spokesperson Catherine King, alongside Bendigo MP Lisa Chesters (ALP) on Friday.
However, just half an hour prior to the beginning of the press conference, the federal government announced that it would instead fund Bendigo’s upgrades.
King said she was not aware that the government had any intention to fund the project ahead of making Labor’s election promise.
“This project has been rejected four times by the Liberal government in the Building Better Regions Fund, and thank goodness the council persevered,” she said.
“Finally, the Libs have come to the party, so good to hear.”
MP Chesters said the Coalition “had five years” to fund Bendigo’s expansion “and they didn’t”.
“It’s a little too late, it shouldn’t take an upcoming federal election for it to finally happen,” she said.
Regardless, Chesters said her next goal is to bring more airlines into Bendigo and increase local tourism.
“I’ve already spoken to Qantas, I’m telling them Bendigo is booming,” she said.
“What’s next? Is it Brisbane, Adelaide, the Gold Coast or Canberra?
“I know they’re looking at the numbers. Qantas is already taking bookings for Christmas Day this year, that’s how confident they are in Bendigo.”
Meanwhile, Liberal senator Sarah Henderson denied that the grant was awarded in order to scupper Labor’s announcement.
“It will start later this year and is due for completion by 2023, so we’re getting on with it,” she said.
“This will spark almost $23 million in local economic activity, another 49 jobs and be a huge boost for the entire region.”
Nationals MP Nicholls Damian Drum said he had been working with the City of Greater Bendigo council “for the last 12 months” on the upgrade project.