Climate change, social housing and housing assistance (with many people still in distress, living in tents and caravans six months after the New Year’s fires) plus other post fire lessons for Eden-Monaro. Have we learned to plan better? (NO) but we should. Jobs and climate action, jobs and TAFE and retraining. The volunteer fire-fighter situation. The need for public research to support sustainable agriculture and regenerative agriculture.
THESE WERE AMONG electorate issues discussed when the Bulletin caught up in Bungendore recently with Labor candidate for Eden-Monaro and current Bega Mayor, Kristy McBain.
CAPTION ABOVE: Kristy McBain (R) meets with Bungendore parents. 1.5 m distancing prescribed!
McBain proved a very personable and easy-to-talk-to politician. She brings eight years of experience as mayor, councillor and also office-holder in a regional government body to her bid to represent Eden-Monaro.
She was in Bungendore to meet residents concerned about (ahem) the high school promised — like much else — by the NSW Deputy Premier, National Party leader and re-elected Member for Monaro. I was told to date no money in sight and no location purchased. Similar is true for Jindabyne, Googong and Murrumbateman promised schools. While school funding is not a direct federal issue, it’s a good opportunity to meet the electorate. McBain was joined for the village walk by federal Shadow Minister for Education and Training Tanya Plibersek.
Here are some of McBain’s thoughts on topics raised by the Bulletin.
How would she differentiate herself from the Liberal and National Party candidates on climate change? “Well I believe in climate change. We (as a nation) believe the science during a health pandemic, we allowed the experts to guide us, yet we won’t do the same for climate change. I’m not aware of a politician yet elected who is a scientific expert on climate change.”
(It is noted that Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs has had a change of rhetoric on this subject but continues to hedge on human impact or responsibility which is key to action. Labor remains sceptical. As leader Anthony Albanese said at a press briefing: “The last thing we need is another climate denier on government benches.” The National Party has signalled no change from its usual muddying the waters on global warming facts or response.)
“Most people in Eden-Monaro just want a plan for action and a plan for climate change,” continues McBain. Businesses, farmers, workers want a plan for a future that looks sustainable she says. “With droughts, bushfire and now COVID there is a lot of uncertainty across the region. My job (if elected) is to relentlessly pursue planning and action, just as my job as mayor has been to relentlessly pursue other levels of government to get outcomes for our community.”
She says people are still waiting for housing post-fire, along the coast where many homes were lost. She recently visited Upper Brogo, a small locality.
“The couple I visited are still in a caravan, the clean-up hasn’t gone well for them, no follow-up communication from the contractors, they are really unhappy.
“We know right across the region, there isn’t a lot of social housing, or private rentals so there is a lot of pressure on housing. Many people have settled for temporary housing because they still have to tend to livestock and a farm or have another business to run. With COVID we’ve also seen a lot of isolation with an ongoing impact on those bushfire-affected people.”
There has to be acknowledgement that this recovery should have been a lot better. “Specifically, the money put forward to stimulate the housing sector, could have been done much better to help regional economies.” There’s the Sydney-centric home renovation scheme with $$ figures that don’t target most households in regional communities. And on a basic rebuild: “very few people affected by bushfires will be in a position to sign a building contract before the end of the year to take advantage of the funds that are flowing as well. It’s that failure to listen to local people about the issues they are experiencing”.
Third bushfire in two years. Big losses. What have we learned?
I ask her what the post-fire lesson are.
“For us in the Bega Valley this is now our third bushfire in two years. The Tathra and District fire we saw 69 homes destroyed, 30 cabins and 30 sheds and outbuildings. The second one took place nearly 6 months after the Tathra fires and burned through 40,000 hectares. It started in August and we lost five homes. The last one, everyone knows about, we lost 465 homes and over 1,000 sheds and outbuildings in the Bega Valley alone.
“There should have been lessons after the first fire and that was specifically around telecommunications infrastructure. The first infrastructure that went out after electricity went out was the telecommunications tower, which of course made messaging and communication very difficult, so we literally had police and RFS in the streets with loudspeakers asking people to evacuate.” The most recent fire saw the same pattern of outages repeated making it difficult to get warning messages out.
“(If nothing is done in the interim) a future Labor government has committed an extra $5 million to mobile phone blackspots, building resilience in the network; increasing the strength of the ABC signal and putting essential services in townhalls where you have one road in and one out, ie backup generation power, satellite phones. In so many of our areas people were unaware where the fire was coming from and how they might be impacted.”
Rebuilding, will people take a different approach? Both for energy efficiency and resilience. McBain thinks a lot of people will take a different approach.
All the experts were warning, but Coalition not listening
“One of my criticisms of this current government, is that all of the experts were warning what this fire season would look like and we just didn’t see anything of preplanning.”
As of 10am on 23 June, neither of us had heard of any commitment by the Morrison government to deal with this need for infrastructure strengthening.
“Part of my frustration and why I am running in this by-election is being asked by my community what should we do now, how to help business and suggestions we passed on were not being taken up.”
“A number of our volunteers are older, many getting to an age where they will not be able to actively contribute. We need to look at the volunteer system. We also had a number of state or national park workers within the region whose jobs were being centralised back to Sydney or been made redundant. So, we have had less paid firefighters in the region, too.” Firefighting is symptomatic of community volunteering having become concentrated in an older age group and also the same people across groups.
The Labor jobs plan begs specifics on opportunities for regional areas. McBain suggests priority areas that will also create jobs are mobile phone and internet upgrades. The same for local roads and highways, (she thinks roads are a popular goal and a priority), both for safety and for freight capacity that helps businesses.
Big projects like Snowy Hydro 2 and the National Bushfire recovery agency need local jobs targets. They should be employing locals first, she says. Locals know what is needed for recovery.
Renewables, TAFE and retraining
There will be needs for job retraining, with, in some cases, no jobs to go back to. Making sure we reinvest in TAFE is huge, she says. This is also related to the renewable energy sector where the previous member for Eden-Monaro, Mike Kelly, was a big proponent for this region. “We need to start planning towards that future, and also how to bring down energy prices. Investing in renewables and the jobs coming with it is huge.”
An ongoing issue is worker’s fears (with families to support) that if we change the energy system to renewables, or otherwise change traditional industries, they’ll be out of a job. So, the government role in buffering transition is crucial. “I know forestry workers that have said ‘do you support the forestry industry?’ and I have said you can’t just keep coming at this with entrenched positions. Yes or no. We need to sit down and have a conversation about what the transition will be and that there will be new jobs. “
I suggest the frame should be — it’s not a loss situation, but rather looking towards a win-win. That would be good, she agrees, heading off to talk to parents about schools.