On Tuesday afternoon following a NSW Labor shadow cabinet meeting at Snowy Valleys Council, an entourage of politicians visited orchardist Greg Mouat’s Batlow Road farm that was impacted by bushfires last month.
Among the entourage was NSW Labor Leader Jodi McKay; Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council Adam Searle; Shadow Minister for Primary Industries Jenny Aitchison; Shadow Minister for Police and Counter Terrorism, and Sport and Recreation, Lynda Voltz; Snowy Valleys Council Mayor James Hayes; and Member for Wagga Wagga Dr Joe McGirr.
The politicians listened attentively to Mr Mouat as he led them through his property and pointed out all the damage that it sustained during the Dunns Road fire. His home and roadside store were both left untouched, but around 25 per cent of his trees were burnt, as well as a shed full of equipment.
Mr Mouat spoke openly to the politicians about the struggles the region is facing, with a particular focus on orchardists, and answered questions that the politicians had for him as well.
A clear takeaway from the gathering was that the orchard industry is unique, and therefore has unique needs that need to be addressed in the coming years separately to that of the softwood timber sector. Batlow produces about 10 per cent of Australia’s annual apple crop, and everyone agreed that the region’s fruit is “iconic.”
Mr Mouat has applied for the Emergency Support for Primary Producers grant of $75,000, but has not received any money yet. He is not worried, however, and feels confident it should be delivered soon.
“People need it right now,” Ms Jodi McKay said, doubling down on her stance that the state government needs to release more of its funds for fire-affected communities now rather than later.
Mr Mouat is due to begin harvesting next week and despite the recent fires and hard road ahead, says he is keen to carry on with work and continue in this industry. He also said he has a son interested in the business.
Before leaving to visit another local orchard and hold a community meeting at Batlow RSL, many of the politicians opened their wallets and purchased produce from Mr Mouat’s roadside store. Ms Lynda Voltz even shared a photo of her purchases on Twitter, saying she thinks she’s “going to need a bigger esky.”