JOURNALIST: How’s it been?
FIONA PHILLIPS MP, MEMBER FOR GILMORE: Well I think it’s been a pretty traumatic year for absolutely everyone in the electorate, obviously with drought coming in, then the bushfire crisis, we’ve had floods and now we’ve got coronavirus and of course the ongoing bushfire recovery – that’s been absolutely, absolutely extraordinary for everyone.
JOURNALIST: What have you learned about yourself in the last year?
PHILLIPS: I think the biggest thing is about supporting people, and how important that is. Our community has absolutely pulled together. There’s been so many beautiful stories and I think that’s really what’s got us through.
I mean, look at our firefighters, our emergency services workers, volunteers. But everybody, from the young children that have made and sent messages of support through to our fire fighters and of course our businesses that, even though they themselves were in trouble during the bushfires, they’ve gone above and beyond to provide food and shelter for people who had nowhere to go.
I mean these are extraordinary times and now with that double hit of coronavirus, our businesses just doing it so tough but hanging in there. So I’m really proud of that.
JOURNALIST: 18 months ago or even before that when you started planning for this assault I guess, to get the seat, you wouldn’t have anticipated what has come up. What are you most proud of in the last year?
PHILLIPS: Yeah, I’m most proud of being there for people in the electorate. It’s a really big electorate and as I said, so much of our electorate was impacted by the bushfires and now coronavirus as well. And I think one of the biggest things that I called out for, was a cash injection for our local businesses impacted by bushfires and that lead to the $10,000 bushfire assistance grants. I’ve really been promoting that and we’ve had over 4,000 small businesses that have been eligible for that grant and to me that is a really big thing in terms of ensuring, giving every chance to businesses to survive and for local jobs as well.
JOURNALIST: It’s a wonderful thing to hang your hat on. What else do you think you’ve achieved in the last year?
PHILLIPS: Oh look there’s been so much and obviously coming into the election our area was in quite severe drought. We had many farmers that wanted to access drought loans and for them, they couldn’t do that. The government, the federal government said we weren’t drought declared and I have persistently gone to the government and said ‘No, we should have access to those drought loans,” and just recently the government has changed their mind on that. And I’m really proud of that fact as well.
There’s been a whole host of things I think in terms of infrastructure. Bringing forward the $145 million to fix the Princes Highway. I think that’s a significant achievement. Of course that’s something that you know was my policy, Labor policy going into the election, but the government hadn’t agreed to that. I have pursued that vigorously in the Parliament and I’m glad to see that happened as well.
JOURNALIST: Are there any things that you wish you did differently or maybe had done better?
PHILLIPS: I think it’s been an extraordinary year and I think considering everything that has happened, I think that focussing on grants and getting money to our community groups – it’s been difficult – I’ve definitely done that, but I would certainly like to do more of that and I’m looking forward to that in the coming years. I think that one of the biggest challenges now is the government announces funding, but how do we actually make sure that that money gets through to people on the ground. You know our tourism operators, our businesses, we want that money here to get events – so that is my main focus now in chasing down those funds and making sure it gets to where it’s needed.
JOURNALIST: You talk about those people on the ground, what sort of feedback are they giving you? Are they providing feedback – is it positive, negative or indifferent?
PHILLIPS: Yeah, I think the focus for everybody has been on bushfire recovery, now coronavirus. I get told constantly that people in bushfire areas feel forgotten and I can completely understand that. So my role is making sure that the government understands that we cannot forget our bushfire impacted people. The really is that the bushfire recovery is going to go on and on, for years.
JOURNALIST: The toll on your communities has been immense, but what about you? It’s been as you say an unprecedented year and you’ve walked into things that might not happen again, how have you been handling it?
PHILLIPS: Well I’m just like everybody else, I’ve been through three firestorms and of course listening to the really really sad stories. It’s important that I stay strong for my communities so I can tell those stories in the Parliament and so I can get changes in the policies and that’s why I’m really happy about that $10,000 bushfire grant. You know I had been talking to business after business – that’s what they needed to get some funds to help them through…and that’s what I’ve done with that so I’m really happy with that.
JOURNALIST: I Imagine someone in your position at times, it can be a lonely spot or it’s difficult to get advice or bounce ideas off people, who do you go to when you are not sure about something?
PHILLIPS: Yeah, I have a fantastic team around me, I have people in the electorate, I drive a lot and I’m always ringing people – obviously my Labor team as well which is wonderful. But look I talk to Shadow Ministers, I talk to the Government Ministers, I had meetings with the head of the national Bushfire Recovery Disaster Agency. So it is about representing people in Gilmore, talking to people and getting that policy changed. Even though I’m in opposition, I think that’s been a real positive in getting some of those policies changed to help people here.
JOURNALIST: I know you’ve talked about the people of Gilmore and their strength and tenacity, but how would you describe them after this last year?
PHILLIPS: Oh, they are just the most amazing people. I think when I visited the Burrill Lake staging area that will be a moment that I will remember forever. I went to thank fire-fighters and it was one of the group captains, he said no no come and have a look at this – he showed me the cookie tin and some of young children had baked these cookies and they had messages of support on them and on the tin. You know I think that that just says it all. The community wanted to thank the fire-fighters but the fire fighters want to thank the community. And you know, what a beautiful community we all live in.
JOURNALIST: Looking forward now do you expect to be challenged for preselection the next time around?
PHILLIPS: Look I don’t even look at that. I am full time all the time working for people in my electorate. There’s so many things that we need to do, so many people we need to support and that’s what I’m truly focussed on.
JOURNALIST: If you had to describe a good politician, what does a good politician look like?
PHILLIPS: Hopefully one that is there for their community. I try and make a difference to people every day. Whether it’s out delivering water, I had an example earlier on, visiting the Milton catering section and you go there and you see people working , it’s behind the scenes. But they are looking after and feeding the fire fighters. There’s one example there where I was able to help in getting medication for one of the main worker’s husbands. It’s simple things like that that people remember. It’s those community grants where you can make a difference to so many people.
I’ve really tried to focus on things that promote health and wellbeing in the community. I’ve really tried to focus on projects that help some of our most vulnerable people in our community. I think that if you look at things like at Mogo Public School and that whole Mogo area that has been impacted – to be able to provide a grant for a yarning circle there.
There’s so many different projects - Havenlee Public School, an in ground trampoline. I mean I can just imagine the kids faces light up with that, it’s such an important thing to do. I think that’s the important thing and I hope people see that as well.
JOURNALIST: Moving forward I guess obviously a really different and challenging year, but what else do you want to achieve – what’s on the agenda?
PHILLIPS: Yeah, I think one of the things that has really become I guess even more obvious to me now is that our country areas just don’t get the investment that they deserve.
Okay, there’s the bushfire funding and all of that, but I think our city areas get so much more funding. I think our whole region, we have absolutely the best people here. They are amazing, they are resilient – we have seen that – you know, we should be able to be an economic powerhouse for the nation. So I want to see more investment here. I want to see the Federal Government, particularly invest back in country regional towns more, I don’t think they’ve done that enough.
I think that means more support for our local councils as well.
Our local councils have been struggling with obviously the clean up and the tremendous bushfire recovery that is going to be ongoing. We’ve had massively high unemployment, you know in the Nowra area before the bushfires, 17% - obviously after the bushfires and coronavirus that’s going to be a lot, lot higher.
We need to invest back in our towns and our villages.
JOURNALIST: I know you said you don’t try and look too far into the future, but do you think it’s harder to win a seat or retain a seat?
PHILLIPS: I think it’s hard regardless and I think the bushfires and what’s happened over the past year have proven that. All along I said I’m in this because I love our people and I love our area. No matter what happens, you know that’s what you do and you help people through.
JOURNALIST: And lastly if you could give yourself a grade out of ten, what would you give yourself?
PHILLIPS: A grade! Well, I’m not sure you can give put a grade on helping and supporting people in the electorate, which is what I do all the time.
JOURNALIST: No number?
PHILLIPS: No…no number.