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Editorial Jan 8th 2021

Welcome to this week’s editorial

2021. We made it through 2020 and many now hope we can return to “normal”. As to what that “normal” might be... I didn’t think it would start with a horn hatted, bare chested protestor standing defiantly in the halls of US democracy.

If nothing else, 2020 has been a year that has brought about a heightened awareness of politics. Internationally, Nationally and even Locally. People are becoming aware of the Butterfly Effect that when the US, Europe or China sneezes we all get a cold (unless we have a mask on). This year will see the ongoing impact of last years calamities. The bushfires that destroyed our homes, our environment and our financial well being, and Covid that continues to impact to our fiscal bottom line. Fortunately the government did step in with Job Keeper, Job Seeker and the many grants they created to help prop up the economy. These have certainly benefitted our local economy by at least keeping the wolves from many local doors, for the minute, but things are soon to change. Before we know it our community will be required to stand on its own two feet and “move forward”. We will return to the normality of high unemployment that exists because we are regional, less established and predominantly seasonal with little industry other than tourism and aged care. It’s just how it is. We are also a region that has the highest median age in the State with our older residents, many on fixed or low incomes, able to enjoy a rich, yet simple and affordable life. But things are changing fast. There are plans afoot being discussed in back rooms that look to change all of this. The bottom line is that Council needs more income. They have lost revenue and have also committed $20million to fill the missing GAP of the new Mackay Park pool. What they desperately need is Jobs and Growth that will bring more population, more building and expansion. All contributing to the gaping hole in Council’s coffers. The region was fortunate, by way of $51 million unconditional grants for the new Batemans Bay Aquatic Centre and $300 million for the new Batemans Bay and Nelligen Bridges. Jobs and Growth. A further $200 million is earmarked for the new Regional Hospital in Moruya. Jobs and Growth. There will be by-passes with more Jobs and Growth along with a Mogo Mountain Bike venue and $5.3 million Coastal walking trail. Lots of Jobs and Growth there as well. In fact there is oodles of money out there that has made its way into the region . Some might think of it as manna from heaven whereas others are a little more cautious of “Gods bearing Gifts" and the tradeoffs or consequences that might arise. This week saw National Independent Media (MichaelWestMedia) put a spot light on the pork barrelling by both the State and Federal Governments around the Mackay Park project in Batemans Bay. Initially the BBay community wanted a heated pool and an art exhibition space. The old bowling club was purchased for $2.7 million offering the community promise that finally what they wanted might come into being. But the moneykeepers intervened and next thing we know is that Council were seeking to do a deal with the private sector to build a multi-story complex on the site and had decided, behind closed doors, to extinguish the town’s 50m pool and replace it instead with a 25m pool, provide an inadequate theatrette, a gym that had no demand and a waterslide. From out of nowhere came their grand plan to have an Arts and Aquatic Centre (Design 1.0) to the tune of $48 million. This was endorsed and State and Federal grant funds were “found” (in close proximity to elections). All for Jobs and Growth. Next we hear that the project (Design 5.0) has blown out to $70 million. It is now clear that the Eurobodalla community are going to have to find $19 million from somewhere for the latest Version. So will that be an increase in rates, an increase in charges and fees (Eurobodalla Council already overcharges on water and sewer fees to pay themselves an annual dividend to go into the General fund) or will it mean a reduction in services? Last year the Mayor, Liz Innes, told us “The community knows what the community knows”. What is becoming clear from the ongoing revelations of pork barrelling, secret back room discussions and Council’s continued failure to engage with its community is that in fact “The community only knows what the Council tells it and does its best to reveal as little as possible”. The councillors knew this and, under threat of “consequences “ if they breached confidentiality, said nothing. Then in late 2020 Councillors discovered that “Councillors only know what councillors know” when it was revealed that Council senior staff keep them as much in the dark as their community. The Local Government elections are in September this year. The reality is that the names of the ones actually in charge, the Federal Ministers, the State Ministers and the Senior Council staff, won’t be on our ballot papers. We need to be cautious that our next elected councillors are not influenced to attach puppet strings and learn their lines, ready to pick up their rubber stamps and endorse what they are told is good “for Jobs and Growth at any cost”. They will quickly learn that they are pawns in a much bigger game that is out of their control. A few might challenge, and if they do they will soon find themselves beaten down. Until next—lei

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