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23 November 2020

RADIO INTERVIEW – ABC News Radio Breakfast

Monday, 23 November, 2020

THOMAS ORITI, PRESENTER: Let's begin this half hour on the New South Wales South Coast where there is hope the opening of the border with Victoria will provide a much needed boost to the region's hospitality sector. But there are concerns about a shortage of workers which could leave businesses overwhelmed with an influx of visitors, towns like Bega and Batemans Bay were are among those hit hard by last summer's bushfires, this year they have  been struggling with a lack of tourists due to the pandemic. But with the Christmas season around the corner and interstate travellers expected to return, cafe and restaurant operators are calling out for more staff. Kristy McBain is the federal MP for the seat of Eden Monaro.

She's also a former mayor of the Bega Valley Shire and joins us live and now, morning, Kristy, thank you for your time. There's no denying residence on the south coast had a rough summer last year hard to believe it's almost been a year down the track, obviously. And let's look at the situation in more recent times. I mean, how are they impacted during the pandemic this year?

KRISTY MCBAIN, MEMBER FOR EDEN-MONARO: Yeah, I think what we're experiencing in a number of areas is the cumulative effect of disaster. So we're seeing an ongoing drought, obviously, the bushfires, we've been hit by several floods and heavy rains and COVID-19. So it's the cumulative effect of all those disasters that is really impacting businesses right across the region at the moment,

ORITI: You're a diverse region it you know, you've got the dairy industry that the tourism industry, fisheries, I mean, what's the mood down there? How people feeling at the moment?

MCBAIN: Look, I think, um, you know, there is a lot of mental or physical exhaustion, 2020 has definitely throwing a lot at us. But there is also a lot of hope. And I guess everybody sees that there is opportunity, through domestic tourism, with our international borders being closed. And we're seeing that right across the region. But the cumulative impact of those disasters has also had an ongoing effect on us. So we now have a shortage of housing, there is literally not a rental that you can find along the south coast at this point in time. And that doesn't matter how many filters you plug in, there's literally just not one.

So really hard to get staff into the area. We rely a lot obviously on travelling workers, whether they're backpackers, or whether they spend six months in the mountains and six months down the coast, we're having trouble at the moment because we've got a real lack of housing.

ORITI: So you mean, you can confirm those reports that businesses in the region really are in need of more staff as we head towards what could be a pretty bumper Christmas season?

MCBAIN: Yeah, that's right. I mean, we've had contact from a number of hospitality businesses, you know, searching put chefs, waitress, RSA qualified staff. So it's an issue. But I know a number of the chambers of commerce and a number of community groups are getting together to discuss how they can make it the best season they can with the staff they have available.

ORITI: How do you solve that problem? If there are really no rental properties at all down there? What do you do?

MCBAIN: Yeah, look, I think it's difficult. And I think this is largely what perhaps is misunderstood in some other areas is the cumulative impact of all of these disasters, has really created a bit of a perfect storm, like people talk about all these, you know, jobs being available, which is fantastic, but we also need people to feel them, we need people to feel them in the right areas. And down here, for example, the combination of bushfires and COVID has meant that we have a very tight rental market.

Our holiday homes have largely been occupied by their owners who normally are a resident in Sydney or Melbourne. And so we really just have nothing we already had a chronic shortage of social housing so you know, we're now facing another issue which I don't think was being discussed at all.

ORITI: I am talking to you today of course, is the border between New South Wales Victoria finally reopened has been 138 days now where you are the Bega Valley Shire takes in towns like Eden just on the board, Merimbula a bit further north. I mean, how residents on the south coast feeling about the border coming down today? 

MCBAIN: I think everybody is really excited. Our police have largely been on operations that they probably might not necessarily find themselves on in any other year with was fires, floods and then border watch. But you know, for us, whilst that border exists on a map that doesn't actually exist in reality, and it was very tough for a number of weeks, with our neighbours not being able to, to come and see us like they normally would was obviously on the south coast is a bunch of family and businesses that travel pretty frequently between the two states.

So, look, we're all excited that the border is open, we're excited that, you know, the regulars that you know have been coming here for 20 plus years will still be able to, to come and have their holiday. And I guess it, you know, it is the start of COVID normal and we need to all learn to, you know, take the precautions and live with this.

ORITI: While I've got you there. I mean, you've mentioned the bushfire crisis on top of the pandemic, I'm thinking about towns like Cobargo, that were really hit hard down the south coast when the fires hit, how, how are people there? How's the rebuilding effort going?

MCBAIN: Look, as I said before, I think there are a lot of people that have mentally and physically exhausted, you know, just when recovery started to swing into action, COVID sort of shut everything down and, and pushed people off into isolation again, we still have people doing a really, really tough and that's right across the region. Housing is still an issue. We still have people that are in caravans in their properties. And as I said, we've had floods and really heavy rains, but some of those caravans have now been inundated with water.

So look it's Been a really tough year. I think people are looking forward to getting to Christmas and, you know, hoping for some change and perhaps some distraction into 2021. But, look, recovery is a really long effort. And we need to make sure that we're there as communities, as governments for the long term for these regions that have been hit really hard.

ORITI: Indeed. Kristy, thank you very much for the update.