House debates

Monday, 30 November 2020

Constituency Statements

Gilmore Electorate: Bushfires

10:48 am

Photo of Fiona PhillipsFiona Phillips (Gilmore, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thursday 26 November marked exactly one year since the Currowan bushfire was ignited. This bushfire would go on to devastate my electorate on the New South Wales South Coast, burning for 74 days. It took lives and destroyed homes and livelihoods. All of this year's challenges began with the Currowan bushfire. On Thursday I wanted to go back and speak with some of the impacted people I had met in those early days to see how they were going.

I visited bee-keeper Vince and his wife Maria at their farm in Yatte Yattah. Vince and Maria had lost hundreds of their bees in the bushfire. They feared they would lose so many more with their food––the bush––almost completely gone. I helped Vince and Maria navigate the complex system of grants and loans, a quagmire for them at the time. Much of what they needed didn't fit with the guidelines, and it was challenging to get the help they needed. Last week, they proudly showed me some of the equipment they had purchased with their grants, and they let me taste the honey they had produced. It was fantastic to see.

I sat down with Katrina and Ken outside the rebuild of their home in Conjola Park. Their strength is admirable, and it was lovely to sit down at the same picnic table where I met them in the weeks after the fire with a very different view. It hasn't been an easy road. They told me about the struggles with their insurance company and struggles with the government's small-business bushfire loans and with access to the HomeBuilder scheme, about being asked to tell their story over and over and being asked to value their house that doesn't exist—being asked too much for people who have been to hell and back. But the smile has never left their faces. They say they are the lucky ones.

I also stopped by the Club Malua, the heart of Malua Bay, to chat with club chairperson Dennis about rebuilding plans. The club was lost in the bushfires on New Year's Eve, but it hasn't stopped them. They have been operating out of a very sophisticated marquee. The bowling greens are as busy as ever, and they are excited about what the future holds. I was even given my very own Malua Bay bowling shirt, so next time I am down there I'll be one of the team.

While this year has been tough, it has also brought out the best in us. Our community stepped up in their time of need, and the truth is we have each and every member of our community to thank for getting us through. I have never been prouder to call the South Coast home.