By Darren Coyne
Bill Shorten knew what was coming and was ready.
But Lismore’s Lilly let him wait.
After all, it had taken two weeks for the Opposition Labor leader to arrive in Lismore following the flooding, whereas Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had turned up within days.
For many, the main difference between the two visits can be summed up with two words.
You see, Mr Turnbull’s refusal of a snag, offered to him by a hard-working volunteer, made local and national headlines.
Sure everyone was disgusted by the measly offer of low-interest loans to devastated businesses but the real topic of discussion was the sausage-refusal … and of course, the ‘pretending to clean the floor for the cameras’ thing. People who have just survived a major flood are too busy for that sham.
It was noted afterwards around town that former PM Tony Abbot once ate a raw onion on television, yet Turnbull, who can stomach loaning a billion bucks to an Indian miner, wouldn’t eat a snag.
So when Bill Shorten turned up to the volunteers’ barbecue at the South Lismore Railway Station (where we used to have trains), everyone was eagerly awaiting the sausage moment.
After a few groupie photos with local Labor guild members, Mr Shorten zoned in on the volunteers, appearing impressed with Lock-the-Gate coordinator Cr Ellie Bird’s explanation that Lismore had learnt a lot about rallying the community during the Bentley blockade.
As he toured the Helping Hands Hub, he admired the organisational charts taped to the walls – ‘there’s a job for everyone’ – and chatted with the numerous volunteers.
He was almost through the tour when Lilly surprised him in the computer hub, where the social-media-angels were weaving their magic.
Bill seized the moment without hesitation and munched into that snag like his very political career depended on it. Onlookers grinned their approval.
He clutched it as he made his way outside the station (which used to have trains), holding onto it bravely as he met the Knitting Nannas, where he managed a few more sneaky bites.
Finally, he was able to slip his soggy napkin into the sweating palm of a minder.
His duty was done. He had survived the challenge.
Now it was time to talk to the media … without a mouthful of sausage.
What he had to say
‘What I’ve seen today tells me two things. One that Lismore and the surrounding district was incredibly hard hit by storm and floods. The second thing I want to say is that the community feel of Lismore makes me that much more in respect and in love with Lismore … this is a marvellous community.
‘I see they’ve had to put up with something quite terrible but the community spirit here is quite remarkable. This is a very special community. It makes me wonder how other communities would cope because for sure, if they could bottle a bit of Lismore’s community spirit, then I think the whole country would be better.
‘In terms of practical issues, it’s important that the insurance industry doesn’t bog its claimants in red tape. It’s important that state and federal government don’t tie up legitimate claims in unnecessary red tape. Now is the time for governments, at all levels, to work together to facilitate people getting back on there feet. The final thing I’d like to say is that this town has just been through a natural disaster of some massive proportion.
Ask for help
‘It’s entirely legitimate for people who’ve gone through that to be feeling all sorts of emotions. I just encourage people who have been through this situation to ask for help. There is no rule book on how you’re meant to react or how you’re meant to cope so therefore people should put their hand up and ask for a bit of help. That’s what communities are for.’
He also had a message for those beyond Lismore.
‘To all other Australians contemplating holidays this Easter and in the weeks and months ahead… This is a town that’s right back on its feet. It’s going to take some time to sort out all the mess of the flood and the consequences, but we should recognise that Lismore is a fantastic place to visit, and the best thing all other Australians can do, is in coming months, come and visit Lismore, take a holiday here, have a good look around because it’s a great place to visit.’
In response to a call from Lismore mayor Isaac Smith for a coordinated response from the state and federal governments, Mr Shorten agreed that it was important to act swiftly, noting that it had taken two weeks for Category C disaster funding to be announced.
‘A bit of cashflow’
‘When people are doing it tough, it’s not the time to be having a bureaucratic response. What small businesses and famers need, what non government organisations need, is a little bit of cashflow. When people lose their income the bills still keep coming in. I think there’s an opportunity for the NSW Government to comtemplate looking at helping businesses that have been effected, perhaps with a moratorium on payroll tax, because that’s another imposition that effects the ability of businesses to get back.
‘In terms of blame game, all that matters to me is that people get what is rightfully theirs so they can get on with things. In my experience whether it be Lismore, Murwillumbah, be it Logan in South Brisbane or indeed right up through Bowen and Proserpine and Airlie beach, people are not looking for a hand-out, they’re looking for a hand-up. And I think it’s important that this government remembers that charity starts at home. I know the PM is very keen to help an Indian coal magnate get some resources in Australia from taxpayers . I just think he needs to prioritise and make sure that our own people are getting the care and attention that is legitimately theirs.
Asked by Koori Mail editor Rudi Maxwell about PM Turnbull’s promise to ‘sort out’ native title issues related to the proposed Adani coal mine, Mr Shorten said native title should not be a plaything to resolve the Adani investment.
‘I don’t think the PM should be linking Adani to that. I think a lot of Aboriginal people would say hey, before you start making promises on our behalf, please consult us first,’ Mr Shorten said.
When asked why he hadn’t arrived in Lismore earlier, he assured reporters that he had rung mayor Isaac Smith on the Monday after the flooding, but was in Airlie Beach and Proserpine, which had also been devastated by Cyclone Debbie.
‘I’m pleased people turned up in the first week. I think it is important that people who go through a difficult situation know that they’ve got the backing of the nation. But it’s also important that people don’t feel forgotten in the second week. It’s also important that people who might be hitting the wall emotionally (understand) we get that recovery is not done in 24 hours or a week .. and the Labor party will conscientiously speak up on behalf of your issues and needs, not just on the day it happens, but in the weeks and months afterwards, and I think that’s what people expect from their political leadership.’
With that he was gone.
Full of Lismore love … and sausage.