This government’s ‘tin ear and cement heart’ has been on show again this week and extends to their response to the recovery and renewal effort needed in regional communities.
JobKeeper has been central in getting us to this point – a point of fragile hope for the future.
It was Labor who pushed the government to introduce a wage subsidy back in March.
Those opposite described the idea of JobKeeper as dangerous but JobKeeper has been vital – tragically hundreds of thousands of Australians are about to be left behind.
Entire sectors, including tourism and hospitality, will be denied the government support that has kept them a float and given them hope.
In my own electorate of Eden-Monaro, 5,339 workers are expected to lose JobKeeper at the end of the month - $2.6 million a week ripped away from our local economy.
The day to day weight that comes with this kick to the guts is real – especially for the already traumatised communities of Eden-Monaro.
A recent survey of businesses in the Bega Valley found that 50% lack confidence in their viability over the next 12 months. These are businesses robbed of income over the last two summers.
And I have no doubt similar results would be found in other parts of Eden-Monaro.
The depth of this feeling comes from a succession of challenges – years of drought, followed by the worst bushfires in modern history, followed by floods, followed by a global pandemic.
The salt in the wound for the families tied to these local businesses is that the very support they have been relying on is about to be ripped out from under them with no plan or safety net for their future – over 5,000 families in Eden-Monaro can’t see a future beyond the next two weeks.
The survey by Bega Valley Shire Council, Sapphire Coast Destination Marketing and Destination Southern NSW also showed - 54% of businesses had to reduce their staffing levels with 53 full-time staff and 218 part-time staff laid off in the wake of bushfires and border closures.
Last New Year’s Eve – businesses from Eden to Narooma, to Jindabyne to Talbingo were braced for good times – camp sites were full, hire boats were busy, local breweries were singing and restaurant tables were being turned over.
A solid rebound was building following the wipe out of the summer before – that was until COVID-19 flared in Sydney and the Victorian border was slammed shut.
The people in those campsites and on those hire boats all left.
The Prime Minister’s National Cabinet failed to come up with a definition for a “hot spot” before, during or after and has still failed to set trigger points for border closures.
The risk of a snap border closure remains for communities and businesses in Eden-Monaro.
Peter from Longstocking Brewery at Pambula told me, “We had just had four days of excellent sales when the Victorian border closed.”
“We had 130 people booked in of which just seven turned up - as a consequence we had to lay off staff.”
Mr Deputy Speaker - the jobs that have remained have been supported by JobKeeper.
The sad irony for Peter and every business in Eden-Monaro is that the New Year’s Eve border closure happened on the same day - where 12 months prior fire ripped through the local landscape – smashing the busiest most productive part of the year.
The Eden-Monaro economy has lost two summers – that’s over $150 million dollars in the Bega Valley alone.
We simply can’t afford to lose any more and yet this government is about to cut $2.6 million dollars a week from local pockets.
When quizzed on the future of JobKeeper those opposite have pointed to the vaccine rollout – sadly a misguided hope as it turns out.
The snail’s pace at which people are being vaccinated simply isn’t building the confidence and hope people need, the loss of JobKeeper just compounds the despair as does the risk that while we wait for the jab borders could snap shut again.
But in the end – beyond the income support - real, secure, and meaningful work is what people really want.
On the South West Slopes local timber jobs are at risk.
An issue this government’s ‘tin ear and cement heart’ has also failed to grapple with.
The forestry industry around Tumbarumba supports one in every two jobs and creates $2 billion in economic activity every year.
Our Black Summer Bushfires took out 40% of the local pine plantation supply.
By the middle of this year – an additional 157 jobs could be lost on the South West Slopes, 140 of which are in Tumbarumba alone.
The community and the industry have found a solution and found a new timber supply.
With transport assistance and leadership from this government that timber could be processed locally, and those jobs could be secured.
This common-sense approach is still waiting for government support.
Government should inspire confidence in our community – instead over 5,000 families in my community are left wondering what they will do when JobKeeper ends in 15 days time and 157 timber workers on the South West Slopes are awake at night wondering what they will do when supply runs out.
Media Contact: Ian Campbell, phone: 0417 482 171