Anthony Albanese has shoved a splinter into the side of the Morrison government, labelling it complacent in the face of a “triple whammy” of disasters that have hit regional rural communities.
On a visit to the fire-affected communities of Batlow and Tumbarumba on May 19 – in support of Labor’s candidate in the upcoming Eden-Monaro by-election, Kristy McBain – the message from the Federal Opposition Leader was one of reinforcement.
“The fact is, the government was complacent in the lead-up to the bushfires,” said Mr Albanese. “It was complacent at the beginning of those actions and many people feel they’ve been forgotten once the bushfires stopped and the coronavirus crisis then emerged.
“These communities have been hit with a triple whammy. They suffered from drought, then bushfires and then the coronavirus. And they’re deserving of our support.”
Mr Albanese maintains that regional communities should be the driving force for manufacturing in Australia to buffer the nation against future shocks.
He spoke from the site of Hyne Timber’s Tumbarumba Mill, one of Australia’s largest producers of sawn timber products which processes 30-year-old pine plantation timber into structural framing products transported by close to 200 trucks per day.
“One of the things we saw today is the logs that are being milled are the ones that were damaged during the bushfires,” said Mr Albanese. “There’s a higher cost because of the need for cleaning and to make sure the timber supplied is of sufficient quality.
“So they need to go further and further afield. That means more costs so they’re asking for some freight subsidy.”
Ms McBain said Hyne Timber’s Tumbarumba Mill employs more than 230 people locally and thousands more indirectly throughout the region.
“[This is] a timber mill that contributes $2 billion to the South West Slopes economy annually,” she said. “A timber mill that has been hit by disaster through bushfires. A timber mill that needs assistance to make sure regional economies can continue to thrive following on from the bushfire disaster, but also COVID-19 lockdown.
“We need to make sure that jobs stay in these local economies. Places such as Tumbarumba, Tumut, Batlow… all impacted by bushfires and now being impacted by COVID-19. We cannot let our regional economies fall behind or be forgotten.”
Mr Albanese also tipped his hat to the local community, labelling it “remarkable” for demonstrating resilience that is an example for the nation.
“We know that in terms of these communities, they haven’t asked for a lot,” he said. “They were pretty self-sufficient. When the fires were coming through here, the community of Tumbarumba really is an example of how communities came together.
“The local IGA [supermarket], because it was in darkness, people had to be seen [sic] doing shopping with a flashlight.
“When the RFS [Rural Fire Service] was struggling to get water to put out the fires, they got local excavators who went into the local creek, dug out a ready-made dam so water could be supplied for the RFS fighting the fires.
“These communities have shown they’re resilient. They’re remarkable. They’re deserving of our support at this time.”