by Deb Stevenson
In December 2019 and January this year the south coast of NSW experienced the worst bushfires in living memory, both in terms of their extent and ferocity. Over 500 homes were lost in the Eurobodalla alone and the impact on businesses and the community was devastating. In the year leading up to these fires, our region experienced its worst ever drought with the lowest Soil Moisture Index readings since records began over 100 years ago. This severe drought had already badly impacted our community and, in particular, our farmers who struggled to maintain production under acute water shortages. Then in March, the impacts of COVID 19 began to be felt in our region with each passing day seeing further restrictions on social interaction that has in turn led to the closure of many small businesses and other community enterprises. This, on top of the drought and bushfires, has had a huge economic and emotional impact on our region.
In late March, we were told that our State government intends to proceed with its plans to upgrade the Princes Highway and build a Moruya bypass. The Princes Highway upgrade and Moruya bypass was talked about by our local member when he launched his campaign at the rotunda in Moruya’s Riverside Park prior to last year’s state election. There was no consultation with the Moruya Chamber of Commerce or the community prior to this announcement. The highway upgrade will cost taxpayers $15 billion, although it is likely to actually end up costing a whole lot more based on the blowouts that are typical of most infrastructure projects (e.g. Sydney’s Light Rail). The Moruya bypass alone is projected to cost $960 million. Although there is virtually no information about exactly what is proposed and, according to Transport for NSW, there is no preferred corridor for the bypass, the director and project manager said in a recent Facebook Q and A session that they expect to have selected a corridor by December. They noted that it was a massive investment for the Moruya community and assured us that they wanted to make the community ‘feel like it was being heard’.
Given all that has happened in our region since our local member spoke about the Princes Highway upgrade in March last year, perhaps the community should have been asked whether they want a Moruya bypass at all and, if so, whether now is the time. I don’t recall that question having ever been raised. What I do know is that there has been very little of the promised government recovery funding reaching those in our community who lost so much as a result of the drought, then the bushfires and now COVID 19. What I also know is that our hospital struggled to cope with the fallout from the bushfire crisis and that we have no Intensive Care Unit, let alone ventilators, anywhere in the Eurobodalla should COVID 19 infection rates start to rise. Although we have had pre-election commitments of $150 million for a new hospital in the Eurobodalla, we have been waiting patiently for any concrete action from the government to progress the construction of this hospital, let alone decide where it will go. We have an aging population and the current medical facilities/resources are grossly inadequate. People are literally dying unnecessarily while our government obfuscates. The community has spoken out strongly about the need for a new hospital, but we feel that we are not being heard. Why not? Why is it that there is plenty of money for road infrastructure, but very little for a desperately needed hospital? Why is it that the construction of the Moruya bypass can be expedited without any problems, but a new hospital seems to be a ‘bridge too far’?
No one yet knows what the economic fall out will be as a result of COVID 19, nor whether adequate funding will be available to rebuild our communities post the January 2020 bush fires. Our local member has stated publicly that post-fire recovery of the Eurobodalla region is his priority and that he will retire once this has been achieved. Well, there is still a massive amount of work to be done. The Moruya bypass can wait, now is not the time to proceed with this infrastructure project. Instead, let’s spend the money on rebuilding our community after the bushfires/COVID 19 and a new level 4 Eurobodalla hospital, both of which are much more urgently needed.
What we need is a strong and resilient community together with a well equipped and resourced hospital which brings with it long term jobs for medical and allied professionals. The Moruya bypass cannot offer either of these.