Mr Deputy Speaker, the summer holidays are almost here for the people I serve in the Mighty Eden-Monaro!
After the year we’ve all had, this important break takes on new significance.
I think it’s fair to say that most people feel like they didn’t have 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 and COVID-19 followed, only adding to the emotional, environmental and financial distress in our community.
This summer presents an opportunity to recharge, renew and reconnect following the challenges of 2020.
This down time also allows for some reflection, 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 took on that challenge, and restored a little bit of dignity and comfort to the lives of people who have lost everything.
The Advocates and their ‘Life-raft’ project has so far delivered over 60 restored caravans to bushfire survivors.
Three have been delivered this week.
People with nothing but a brick chimney on their burnt-out block have been given a base to rebuild their lives.
These caravans have been donated by people, churches and charities spanning the breadth of our great country.
A lack of affordable housing and homelessness were issues throughout Eden-Monaro before our Black Summer, however the issue has been exacerbated in 2020.
In its annual report, the Justice Advocates make 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 ongoing 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 the solutions our future is calling for.
The plantation timber industry in the town’s biggest employer; however, those jobs are at risk Mr Deputy Speaker with 40% 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 Snowy Valleys, 140 of which are in Tumba.
But the community has presented the government with solutions and found timber further afield that with good will and transport assistance could be redirected from overseas processing and instead be processed locally.
I am hopeful that these commonsense ideas will get the backing of the government.
But of course, Mr Deputy Speaker, regional communities have always taken the lead on shaping their own future and responding to local needs.
Before the bushfires and COVID-19…its hard to remember those days sometimes!
But before those days prior to last Christmas, people of good hearts and hands were at work in the communities I serve and they remain so.
Organisations like St Benedict’s Community Centre – a co-operative of Christian churches in Queanbeyan.
Staff and volunteers open the centre on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday – 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 will once again draw people from near and far for rest and recreation.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I say to those choosing to holiday in Eden-Monaro for the first time or the 100th 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 you will be richly rewarded, not just by the activities, local products and services and the environment – but by the smiles from business owners and residents.
For some, the first anniversary of our Black Summer 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.