REBUILD CALL: NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay on a visit to the burned out Snowy Valleys region.

REBUILD CALL: NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay on a visit to the burned out Snowy Valleys region.

Balance between opposing interests needed

Balance between opposing interests needed

Prosperity
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In a year's time, when the damaged timber has been harvested, what then?

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In recent days, communities across Australia have been celebrating as, slowly but surely, the number of active bushfires continues to fall.

The efforts of firefighters have been nothing short of heroic and they deserve every single word of praise that has been directed their way.

But as the fires are finally extinguished and the weary volunteers return home, there is a danger that the devastation wreaked on these communities could slip from the public consciousness and we will begin to forget not only that rebuilding is not going to happen overnight, but that huge social changes are likely to occur in the meantime.

This week, the NSW Labor opposition held a shadow cabinet meeting in Tumut. One of the issues listed for discussion was the future of forestry in the region.

The NSW government has so far spent $1.3 million on a scoping study into a possible sell-off of the Forestry Corporation and, despite the damage caused by bushfires, has refused to rule out privatisation.

According to NSW Treasury, the impact of the fires will be considered in the final report.

We all know there has been a growing trend towards privatisation of government assets, so the sell-off proposal is no real surprise, but you do have to wonder how we can successfully balance the needs of a community with the government's desire for a healthy bottom line.

How much ongoing responsibility do we still expect government to have when it comes to ensuring the economic and social welfare of communities, especially those that have been through a tough time?

In the short term, the softwood industry around the Snowy Valleys is going to be quite busy. A lot of the timber damaged in the fires can actually salvaged, but the clock has already started ticking on just how long it will remain viable.

So, in a year's time, when the damaged timber has been harvested, what then?

After the shadow cabinet meeting, Labor leader Jodi McKay called for the Forestry Corporation privatisation plan to be dumped. But she didn't stop there. Labor is asking for a forestry recovery commissioner to be appointed, along with a guarantee that seedlings will be replanted and infrastructure repaired.

It should be a no-brainer that communities can count on the government for support during the long. slow recovery process, but it does feel increasingly at odds with the idea of privatisation.

We need to be asking ourselves what it is that we want from government, and in a nation that believes in providing welfare assistance to people in need, we really should be looking at how government can help communities rebuild after a disaster like the recent bushfires.

While the issue in the Snowy Valleys right now might be rebuilding after a bushfire, there needs to be a much wider discussion in this country about just what we expect from governments in terms of support, particularly after privatisation.

Once the family silver has been flogged off, not only can you not get it back, but it is also much harder to dictate what the new owner chooses to do with it.

Privatisation is always going to be a hot-button topic because of the underlying opposing political philosophies, but the harsh reality is that an asset can only be sold once.

Once the family silver has been flogged off, not only can you not get it back, but it is also much harder to dictate what the new owner chooses to do with it.

A government can make all sorts of big promises about safeguarding people and community assets, but let's face it, they don't count for much in the longer term.

I'm not a fan of big government. I don't like the idea of living in a nanny state where everything is controlled, administered and dished out by a central bureaucracy.

But I also very much doubt that business, left to its own devices, is going to act in an altruistic manner. Business is about profit, plain and simple.

The discussion we need to have as a community is where we can draw the line between controlling state and unfettered profit-making.

Sometimes communities need more from governments that emergency funding and low-interest loans. Communities need a certain level of infrastructure and opportunity to thrive.

Government assistance is sometimes about providing a feeling of security that your community has a future.

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