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12 March 2021

Friday, 12 MARCH 2021


THOMAS ORITI, PRESENTER: It's been a year since last summer's devastating bushfires with the impact still being felt in the worst affected regions.

A couple of days ago on the show, we spoke to Life Line's Chairman John Brogden, about the unprecedented number of calls still being received via Life Lines bushfire recovery helpline - it's a dedicated helpline and the number is pretty extraordinary.

The helpline is receiving up to 400 calls a day from people in some of the impacted communities. He's a bit of what John Brogden told us a couple of days ago.

JOHN BROGDEN, CHAIRMAN OF LIFELINE: We have to remember that these people are still not living in their own homes, some of them still struggling to get work again. And the trauma can come at different times.

Some people can be okay for six months, 12 months, and then it hits them. So it is a remarkable figure.

There's no doubt that we've been amazed by the consistency of the call numbers coming through but it just does demonstrate, people suffer at different times. And these things don't go away quickly.

ORITI: Life Lines John Brogden. Speaking to ABC News Radio on Wednesday on the reasons behind the hundreds of calls the bushfire recovery helpline is still receiving of course more than a year after the fires that raged across southern Australia last summer.

Now many of those calls are coming from the New South Wales Far South Coast an area particularly hard hit, and Kristy McBain is the Labor member for the federal seat of Eden Monaro in South East New South Wales, it takes in a lot of these far affected regions. And she's with me now. Kristy - good morning.


ORITI: Thanks for joining us. You just heard John Brogden, detailing the reasons why people are still calling their bushfire helpline does what he said they resonate with what people might have told you about the legacy of these fires?

MCBAIN: Yeah, that's exactly what we're being told on the ground every day, you know, that adrenaline lasts for so long. And, you know, they go through a period of trying to get themselves their immediate needs.

And then we know that, you know, once that adrenaline wears off, it really hits people, what's happened around them. And, you know, we've had instances of people only just coming forward trying to get grant funding, you know, to get septic tanks right. So, you know, it is a really long process and something that, I guess, you know, the general population needs to understand that, you know, recovery will be ongoing, and it'll be ongoing for a long time yet.

ORITI: Yeah, I mean, there's a lot of anguish and trauma, as you saying, and a lot of this is about people still not having anywhere permanent to live. What's that down to? Is it because of wait times for builders or under insurance? Or I imagine the COVID-19 pandemic hasn't helped things either. What are some of the reasons?

MCBAIN: Yeah, there is a myriad of reasons behind that. I mean, we already had a rental crisis. within some of the areas that have been most affected. We already had very low numbers of social housing availability, we've got a lot of people who have moved into their holiday homes permanently because of the COVID crisis.

We know that people have been under insured because of the bushfire attack level ratings and the requirements that you know, some of those ratings bring with them. In some circumstances, those people that are impacted their neighbours are State Forests, or National Parks, which brings with it some complexity. Some people live off Forestry roads and bridges haven't been rebuilt to access those properties as yet. And obviously, with you know, 1000 homes alone lost, you know, it is going to take time for tradies to actually get around to all of those to get them back up again.

ORITI: Yeah, I was in parts of both shires just a couple of months ago, towns like Cobargo and, I really got the feeling that people were doing their best to get on with their lives. And I mean, you've been touring the region this week, though, tell us what you've seen and heard from people.

MCBAIN: I've been speaking with a lot of people and you know, I've had Anglicare counsellors say that they are seeing people for the first time in 14 months. So people that they had never seen before are now coming to access services, because it's now that they realise what's in front of them.

As I said before, we've got some people that are coming forward trying to access grant funds for the first time 14 months on. So it's, I think, we are still right in the thick of things and COVID obviously really delayed that recovery process for people you know, it's was very hard for communities to get around each other and support each other.

Some of the services stopped going out to communities, for the safety and well being of others during that initial COVID pandemic crisis. So I think, you know, there is going to need to be a focus long term on bushfire recovery in the regions that have been hit the hardest, because we're nowhere near being able to say that this is over.

ORITI: I've got to ask, Well, I've got you there, Kristy, because the federal government's half price travel scheme was announced yesterday, it's going to include part of your electorate and cheap tickets for people who might want to fly to the coastal town of Merimbula on the Far South Coast. What's been the reaction there?

MCBAIN: Look, I think people are buoyed that the community groundswell of requests around incentivising travel has actually come to the fore.

You know, we've been campaigning on this now for over 14 months, we've had effectively two failed summers with the bushfires, and then COVID, and border closures. So, you know, we've had community members who have been doing media interviews, I've been doing media interviews, I've done opinion pieces, have talked about it in Parliament have written to federal ministers, you know, I've been doing roundtables in small businesses and Chambers of Commerce. And we'll keep doing those to make sure that it is actually effective.

Because what we want to see is that its being affective on the ground and more people are coming through the region. So, you know, we'll take it. And, you know, hopefully, the program can look to be extended to places like Cooma, who have been substantially hard hit as well. And Moruya Airport, even though it's outside my electorate, you know, that's part of the coast that's been really heavily impacted.

ORITI: Just finally, though, can you understand some of the concerns, including concerns raised by Labor that it’s a little bit selective? I mean, you're an electorate that's going to benefit from this, but a lot of people are not.

MCBAIN: Yeah, look, obviously, the 13 regions chosen are highly selective, Merimbula is the only New South Wales airport that is receiving any of that funding through these tickets.

And I can definitely understand that, you know, there are other parts of the country that doing it really tough at the moment. And as I said, you know, even in this region alone, there's probably other areas that are just as deserving.

So, you know, whilst we welcome that news, we hope that it can be expanded. But I think what locals and business owners want to see is that that is actually effective on the ground. So you know, hopefully, we do get some additional travellers and they spend their dollars here.

ORITI: Okay, Kristy McBain thank you very much for joining us today.

MCBAIN: Thank you.


Media contact: Ian Campbell, phone 0417 482 171