Wave after wave the South East has been hammered. For our farmers it was the drought, then came the bushfires, the floods and now Covid-19. Since New Years Eve the shire has been in turmoil with the annual influx of visitors, crucial to our local economy, missing in action. Already struggling, and in the fourth quarter of a regional recession, the visitors were the final hope for many local businesses who were facing closure. And come they did on Boxing Day, pouring down the mountain and from along the Prices Highway, north and south - but within days we sent them home, panicked, desperate to escape and constrained by road closures that were flanked in flames. But while we waited for them to leave the area our shelves were stripped bare, our fuel supplies sucked dry and our evacuation centres were filled to overflowing. The first wave of fires passed, and though there were still major fires burning in our forests the desperate plea went out to visitors to return, and to bring their cash with them. While the community were still reeling from the last run of fires, and the fact that their supermarket shelves remained stripped bare, the visitors returned for a few short weeks, riding out the blood red skies dense with days on end of acrid smoke. When asked why they were here the mixed answers were that they were helping the region's failing economy or escaping the Canberra or Sydney fires that had record high pollution counts from their own raging fires. There may well have been trading with bums on cafe seats and ruffled bed linen in our generally empty accommodations however the numbers were well down and no where near enough to fill the void in the ledgers. Then came the second wave of fires that saw visitors scurry as fast as they could as the flames approached with a deathly intent. By the time they had cleared and the impact measured it was clear that the tourism sector was hurting. Some made the comment that the region would not recover from the hit and the last hope was for fair trading up until Easter. That was before Covid-19 arrived and dashed the hopes of many. Some have been fortunate enough to be able to trade through these past weeks and will hopefully be able to continue providing essentials from food to fuel (and haircuts) While most of our merchant doors remain closed under isolation the measure of the impact of the triple whammy of Fires, floods and Covid-19 will not be evident until the all clear is given and we venture out to find shopfronts closed shut and their owners gone. For many there won't be jobs to return to and our's will be a community, already overly dependent on CentreLink, made moreso. Unless there is a move for more affordable long term housing many will be forced to leave the region finding holiday house listings beyond their means. The only hope that we might have is the injection of local stimulus that will employ locals. The Batemans Bay Bridge project and the Nelligen bridge are worth $300m. Council has $51m for the Mackay Park pool, $900m is allocated for the Moruya By-Pass and $150m is allocated for a new regional hospital. Added to that is the rebuild of 500 homes in the Eurobodalla destroyed by fire and the rebuild in the $$ millions of infrastructure assets from roads to bridges, fences and farm loses. Maybe, after all this is over, we might finally become a region that is not a needy-child at the purse strings of Tourism but a more vibrant region, filled with young families of professionals and trades as part of the rebuild that will bring improvements to services, as we gain the momentum to achieve critical population mass. Irrespective of what happens next there is one determining element that will set our destiny. Leadership. Leadership at a local level, a state level and a federal level with all tiers working together for the community. These few Covid-19 weeks have revealed that things can change over night. What was important yesterday is not relevant today. Yesterdays laws were amended overnight with new laws. The long drawn out processes of government have been swept aside with pen-strokes by Ministers. A resist a few weeks to increasing NewStart by a few dollars now has most of the country able to access $750 in a one off payment or $1500 per fortnight on a living wage for the next six months. Handups and hand outs to businesses, sole traders and even backpackers. An extraordinary move by a Government hell bent on the importance of a fiscal surplus and now facing a multi-trillion dollar deficit. These will be new days, genuinely exciting and unknown days that will require resilience and adaptation by each and all of us. But to move forward we must have the trust of our leaders and hope that they have the acumen to act correctly and that they hold a vision that includes and represents their whole community and not just those they have traditionally served.
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