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Editorial Feb 21st 2020

Welcome to this week’s editorial, While the communities of the South East are still reeling from our fires and then floods we can appreciate the current attention of the national media to continue the coverage of the extent of the calamity that not only decimated our forests, destroyed our properties but also dramatically crippled our economy. It is appreciated that we have shows such as Sunrise, the Today Show, ABC Q&A and even the visits of more controversial commentators such as Alan Jones and Paul Marshall adding to the mix and broadcasting our predicament to the wider world. “Bring an empty esky” and “Buy a Voucher” are two key catch cries that they dispatch with their stories and it is hoped that it might inspire visitors to the area to invigorate our failing bank accounts. But there is a limit of how many shows will come before their audiences tire of being pestered into going on holiday to an area to spend money they can’t afford. The reality is that quarter by quarter, Australia is locking in a low-growth future in which households are too worried about their incomes to spend. Across the country there are increasing numbers that are doing it hard. Those numbers include the other fire and flood affected communities who are also in the same boat as the South East. We have nearly 1000 homes destroyed in the South East. 1000 families displaced. All in need of emotional and financial support which fortunately is forthcoming. There are insurances, grants, loans and agency assistance at the ready for these families. It may take some time but they will be well looked after along the way. But what of those whose homes did not burn, whose businesses remained standing, who were physically unscathed yet now suffer a financial loss of such proportions that, to many, it is unfathomable as to how they will make it through the next year let alone the next month. The backstop for those ‘unaffected’ are to go on NewStart or take out a business loan. Bega Valley Shire Mayor Kristy McBain is calling out the federal government for not understanding the desperation within communities.

“The problem with the loans is you need cash flow at some point to pay them back and businesses here do not have that at the moment. Simply providing loans to people who do not have any cash flow is not going to assist in any great way,” Cr McBain told Region Media. “I just do not believe the federal government believes just how desperate the situation is in a number of these small east coast towns.” For those eligible for grants, many have become overwhelmed with the bureaucratic process and are forced to relive their trauma, Cr McBain said. Meanwhile the Member for Gilmore Fiona Phillips is asking for people impacted to reach out if they cannot access available support. However, Mrs Phillips is regularly hearing from local people struggling to access these services or raising concerns about gaps in the help that is available.

“I am very concerned that local people on the South Coast are telling me they can’t access the help and support that is available for bushfire recovery,” Fiona Phillips said.

“Since the fires began in November, I have spent countless hours talking with people in the community about what they need and helping them access support. What I am hearing is that many people are falling through the cracks.” While the National media remains interested in the region the ‘promotion’ of the issue remains in the spotlight. It brings politicians and press calls. The governments need to be seen to be doing the necessary or face criticism. From the Prime Minister down to Local Government the media has been awash with news of what is available, what has been done and what is going to be done. However all of that is aimed at those who actually sustained evident property loss. There are so many falling through the gaps of official handouts and financial support that the community is impacted with the many smaller stories that reveal that there is a real crisis that is not being officially recognised. The Federal Shadow Cabinet recently met in Batemans Bay so that they could see first-hand the impact of the fires. During Question Time in the following week, Labor asked the government several questions directly related to their experience. This was long after the now famous visit of Scott Morrison to Cobargo.

Fiona Phillips said “That is why I have invited the Prime Minister to also come and hear directly from local people – so that he can appreciate the scale of what we are dealing with here”.

Over 77 days the Gospers Mountain 'mega fire' destroyed an area seven times the size of Singapore. Further north those communities fought fires for months on end and then copped it in the neck with floods. But now those communities are no longer in the limelight. The media has moved on. Now it is our turn, which will be short and sweet, before network audiences tire of our news and want to move on. Then we will become like out Blue Mountain, Pallerang, Northern NSW and Queensland cousins, left to our own devices. Fortunately we have incredible organisations such as BlazeAid and Team Rubicon and so many more for re building of sheds and fences, the many wildlife organisations and their amazing volunteers and most importantly the richness of our own communities that rise to do what is required, to help, to support, to nurture with little resources but much care and what ever they can afford to provide. So maybe Scott Morrison’s advice to Australia that we have to become more resilient and adaptable is correct. The resilience will come from our learning not to rely on Governments for what they might promise and to adapt to what we are given. Until next Lei

Oh to sit about like a nodding dog and wobble in agreement to raise a paw to have my say and then press my disagreement to interject so I look informed as if I was elected but alas I am just a noddy dog dejected and rejected So maybe I should move and sit way up the front to smile, and nod so wisely and to rarely pass a grunt

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