Speech: Volunteers and Environmental Management

Speech: Volunteers and Environmental Management Main Image

Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (19:22): I am always excited to talk up the amazing volunteers in my electorate on the New South Wales South Coast. This year really has been the year of the volunteer. With so many disasters impacting on people across my electorate, our volunteers have stepped up by organising food and shelter, fighting the bushfires and evacuating people from floods.

The endless list of what our volunteers have done this year would take me hours; so would naming all the organisations that have got us through our toughest year yet. Instead, I say a great big thankyou to each and every volunteer on the South Coast. Where would we be without you? I am grateful. Our community is grateful.

They aren't only helping people, though. Our environment has been absolutely devastated by the bushfires. Over a billion animals have been lost. Millions of hectares of bushland have been burnt. Local volunteers have stepped up in this space as well, making hundreds of water stations, caring for injured animals and working to rejuvenate our bushland.

I have been proud to support our local environmental groups and together we have helped Gilmore gain more than $140,000 in grants across 13 projects, from Kiama to Tuross Head, under the Communities Environment Program. There are these projects: creating an Indigenous garden in Ulladulla; weed control at Currarong; pest control at Lake Wollumboola; erosion control at Tallyan Point, Basin View; protecting the Bangalay Sand Forest at Broulee; the Kiama microplastic survey; and many more fantastic local projects driven by volunteers.

I would like to take a quick minute to congratulate all the amazing organisations that received funding under this year's program: the Eurobodalla Landcare Network, New South Wales WIRES Mid South Coast, the Coastwatchers Association, the Ulladulla Children's Centre, Landcare Illawarra, Carroll College, Shoalhaven City Council and Kiama Municipal Council. Well done and thank you.

While the bushfires and COVID-19 have made visiting some of these organisations difficult, I had the pleasure of joining a few local groups to celebrate. In February, I joined the Eurobodalla Landcare Network, Eurobodalla Shire Council and some very excited kids at Sunshine Bay Public School to hear about how they will Clean up the Clyde and protect the Little Penguins, thanks to the $20,000 they received under the program.

Eurobodalla Landcare is working with several local schools to teach the kids about keeping our waterways clean, as well as building nesting boxes for our precious penguin population.

I also shared a lovely morning tea with the Coastwatchers Association in Moruya to celebrate their $2,800 grant to conduct a koala habitat and occupancy survey in the Eurobodalla. When the group applied for the grant last year, they couldn't possibly have known how important this would be in the wake of the bushfires. In May, I also had the great opportunity to thank some wildlife carers with WIRES Mid South Coast, who dedicate their time to caring for injured and orphaned wombats like Neddie, who came tucked up in a little pouch. The group is working with local landholders to identify and treat wombat mange along the South Coast thanks to more than $6,000 under this program. It's been lovely to see the difference these funds have made, and I hope to see more as restrictions allow.

However, what has been a tough pill to swallow is that, sadly, my electorate did not benefit from the full amount of funding available. At the time that applications were due, local groups were in full swing responding to the bushfires, doing their best to help and barely having time to think past immediate needs. The Kangaroo Valley area was one of our hardest-hit communities. Many local members of Shoalhaven Landcare had suffered damage to their own homes. They were working to help local wildlife recover, and they simply didn't have the time to commit to another project just at that moment. Sadly, the group was forced to withdraw their application for $6,500 to conduct a fox control program in Kangaroo Valley. Fox control is a major issue, particularly for sensitive local animals like the Brush-tailed Rock Wallaby.

There is still a strong need for this project, so I was extremely disappointed that the Minister refused to keep these funds available for our community, given these exceptional circumstances. Again, we see that the government has no idea about the reality of life post bushfires. This money was in the budget. It was set aside for the South Coast community, and we don't deserve to miss out because of the bushfires. So I again ask the Minister to reverse this decision and make these missing funds available to volunteers on the South Coast now.