Thursday, 10 December 2020
Eden-Monaro Electorate: 2020
The summer holidays are almost here for the people who I serve in the mighty Eden-Monaro, and after the year that we've all had this important break takes on new significance. I think it's fair to say that most people feel they didn't get a holiday last summer. Bushfires forced thousands of visitors to leave, while residents dug in to face the unfolding crisis at our front door. Floods, COVID-19 and border closures followed, only adding to the emotional, environmental and financial distress in our community.
This summer presents an opportunity to recharge, to renew and to reconnect following the challenges of 2020. This downtime also allows for some reflection and with that comes a real sense of gratitude. Around 750 homes were lost across the Snowy Valleys, Snowy Monaro, Bega Valley, Eurobodalla and Queanbeyan-Palerang shires. The need for shelter has been enormous and for many people remains unresolved.
In the Bega Valley, the Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast took on that challenge and restored a little bit of dignity and comfort to those people who had lost everything. The advocates and their Liferaft project have so far delivered over 60 restored caravans to bushfire survivors. Three have been delivered this week alone. People with nothing but a brick chimney on their burnt-out block have been given a base to rebuild their lives. The caravans have been donated by people, churches and charities spanning the breadth of our great country. A lack of affordable housing and homelessness were already issues in Eden-Monaro before the Black Summer. However, this issue has now been exacerbated in 2020.
In their annual report, the justice advocates made the point that their caravans are far from the ideal solution and that they are yet to see an adequate overall plan from government to meet the need in the community. They point out that substantial investment is needed in transitional accommodation, as well as in ongoing and social and affordable housing. Like Labor, the advocates see the jobs potential of this work and, like Labor, they see social housing as a key driver in the renewal of regional communities like mine.
In the community of Tumbarumba, local leaders are also coming up with solutions for our future. The plantation timber industry is the town's biggest employer. However, those jobs are now at risk, with over 40 per cent of the town's pine timber supply destroyed by bushfire. I sponsored a local delegation to parliament last week for the presentation of an economic impact statement, showing that by the middle of next year 157 jobs could be lost from the Snowy Valleys, 140 of which are in Tumba. But the community has presented the government with solutions, and found timber further afield that, with goodwill and transport assistance, could be redirected from overseas processing and instead be processed locally. I'm hopeful that these commonsense ideas will get the backing of the government.
Of course, regional communities have always taken the lead in shaping their own futures and responding to local needs. Before the bushfires and COVID—and it's hard to remember those days sometimes—prior to last Christmas, people of good heart and hand were already at work in many communities that I serve, and they remain so. There are organisations like St Benedict's Community Centre, a cooperative of Christian churches in Queanbeyan. Staff and volunteers open the centre on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, offering practical and emotional support, information and advice, and hot meals, free of charge.
The good people of Eden-Monaro are matched only by our stunning natural environment, which tests us at times. But this summer we'll once again draw people from near and far for rest and recreation. I say to those choosing to holiday in Eden-Monaro, for the first time or for the hundredth time: thank you and welcome. You have chosen the most amazing community to share this time with and the most diverse and thrilling landscape. I have no doubt that you will be richly rewarded, not just by the activities, local products and services in the environment but by the smiles from the business owners and residents, happy to welcome you back.
For some, the first anniversary of Black Summer has already elicited and will elicit painful memories. One of the hallmarks of 2020 has been the empathy we have shown each other. That time, warmth and respect is something we need to be extra mindful of as anniversaries approach and as we continue to manage COVID-19. We have laughed during 2020 about wanting to reboot this year, but, on reflection, there is much we can take strength from—far more than I have time to share today. Thank you to the people of the mighty Eden-Monaro, who have shown such perseverance in the face of so many great challenges. I hope this break provides the opportunity to set us all up for a happy and healthy 2021.