Speech: The failure of the government to provide leadership

Speech: The failure of the government to provide leadership Main Image

Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (16:23):  I don't know what the Prime Minister is talking about. He does not care about Gilmore. He flew into Nowra to do a press conference and then he flew right out again. He is a fly in, fly out PM. He didn't even take the time to visit my fire impacted communities. I've spent every day since early December talking with people impacted by fire in my electorate. They have many stories to tell, and the common theme in all of these stories is that this government has plain and simply failed to provide the leadership, the guidance and, most important of all, the help that people need to recover from this crisis.

Last week, when I was in Batemans Bay, I stopped in to speak to Joe in Batehaven. Joe is a well-known local real estate agent. People know Joe and they rely on Joe. For weeks people have relied on Joe to navigate the complex system of assistance that has dripped through over the last few months. Joe told me how people have been going into his office because they are so afraid of Centrelink that they come in shaking.

People who, as I said yesterday, have been through hell on earth are left shaking at the thought of calling Centrelink. One 87-year-old lady was told by the staff at the call centre that she wasn't eligible for any help and that she would need to 'go up a ladder' to take down her curtains if they were so smoked damaged. This poor lady was so distressed she was convinced the police were going to come after her just for asking. So Joe has sat by their side and helped walk them through the process so they can access their thousand-dollar payment from the government. Joe has heard their stories and knows how much they are all suffering. They have already been through hell and now they're dealing with the second round. Joe's rental manager, Michelle, told me how she had spent her entire day refunding holiday rentals because of cancellations—hundreds of cancellations worth thousands of dollars. When all day long you see people coming in, shaking and crying and telling you heartbreaking stories and then you have to process hundreds of cancelled bookings knowing this will only make things worse—that is a tough pill to swallow.

When Senator Murray Watt, shadow minister for disaster and emergency management, came to the South Coast recently, we met with a group of local tourism operators. They were from places like Berry, Kangaroo Valley and Jervis Bay, areas that were not necessarily directly impacted by fire, at least by the government's definition, but who have seen a 70 to 80 per cent decrease in their income since December. What some people may not be aware of is that, during the height of the bushfire crisis, a tourist leave zone was issued. It was absolutely necessary and appropriate for the situation, no question there. But the leave zone extended from Nowra all the way to the Victorian border—14,000 square kilometres off limits at the height of the tourism season. The key thing that these tourism operators had to say was this: 'The government told people very loudly to leave, but they're not telling them very loudly to come back. And if they don't start we will not survive.'

That day, while in Burrill Lake with Murray, we enjoyed some amazing fish and chips from the famous fish shop—something I highly recommend. And I have been spreading that message far and wide ever since. But, to put it bluntly, this simply will not be enough to stop local businesses from going under. It has already started. When I was in Batemans Bay I was told about six stores that had closed their doors. Where is the government? What action are they taking to stop these businesses from going under and to help people who have been through the trauma of the bushfires only to be left broke and broken?

Businesses in my electorate did not have the 16 days it took for this government to open applications for their small business loans. They need more help than a loan can provide, and they need it now. Where is the tourism campaign? Where are the grants and stimulus to get people back to the South Coast? Where is the leadership from the Prime Minister to respond quickly to this crisis? The fly-in fly-out Prime Minister needs to come and meet with local businesses on the South Coast, but he'd better do it soon because, if he waits too long, there may not be any left.