REAL AUSTRALIA

Voice of Real Australia: The squeaky wheel (aka local media) gets the oil

Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from Australian Community Media, which has journalists in every state and territory. Sign up here to get it by email, or here to forward it to a friend. Today's newsletter is written by the South Coast Register editor John Hanscombe.

Squeaky? Maybe. But it turns heads, too. Photo: Shutterstock

Squeaky? Maybe. But it turns heads, too. Photo: Shutterstock

OK, let's admit this. We love a good fight. Here on the South Coast of NSW, Australian Community Media mastheads have been taking the fight for their communities right to the very top and it's paying dividends.

We've had a different fight on our hands this week as parts of our paradise have exploded in fire - much like half the eastern seaboard of NSW. We've been on the fireground keeping our communities informed as best we can.

But before we were forced to turn our attention to this "unprecedented" emergency, we metaphorically duked it out with politicians of every persuasion for the betterment of our communities

As it happens the people of Milton-Ulladulla recently learned federal funding for a bypass many thought was a pipe dream had been brought forward. It means bulldozers should be on the ground the year after next.

It all started in March, 2018, when we launched the FIX IT NOW campaign to get the Princes Highway south of Nowra upgraded. This was three months after the horrific Boxing Day crash near Bendalong which claimed the lives of the entire Falkholt family. That was tragic enough but it was the death of a local bloke just weeks later that really got to us.

The accident scene at Bendalong on Boxing Day which cost the Falkholt family their lives. Picture: TNV

The accident scene at Bendalong on Boxing Day which cost the Falkholt family their lives. Picture: TNV

We were sick of seeing friends, acquaintances, colleagues and, yes, total strangers lose their lives on this notorious stretch of road. And we were fed up with the buck passing between the state and federal governments. It had gone on for years, as the toll of fatalities and life-shattering road trauma mounted.

Knowing our mastheads straddled one of the most marginal electorates in the federal parliament, the seat of Gilmore, we figured we were in a strong position. There was also the happy convergence of a state and federal election that also played in our favour.

We began to turn the thumbscrews by doing the thing only local media can do well - telling the stories of our people who had been directly affected by the neglected highway.

We spoke to mothers, widows and first responders.

We peeled back the statistics to show the human cost of the failure to bring the highway up to scratch. Long after the city media had shot the footage, delivered the breathless stand-ups and left to pursue the other stories, we stayed. And we fought.

That made the politicians take notice. In the space of a year our Nowra newsroom had visits from two prime ministers, an opposition leader, the NSW Premier and the Roads Minister. We were invited to Canberra in the last, torrid sitting week of the federal parliament, where we secured a bipartisan agreement between the Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and then shadow infrastructure minister (now Opposition Leader) Anthony Albanese.

A community win: Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, South Coast Register and Bay Post editors John Hanscombe and Kerrie O'Connor and Shadow Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese

A community win: Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, South Coast Register and Bay Post editors John Hanscombe and Kerrie O'Connor and Shadow Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese

And then - just before the state election - the NSW Coalition committed almost $1 billion to get work on the highway started. Tanking in the opinion polls, the federal Coalition followed suit with a $430 million pledge to part fund the long hoped for Milton Ulladulla bypass just days before the country went to the polls.

Now, some of that funding has been brought funding as part of Canberra's effort to stimulate the economy. And we are told work on that bypass should begin in 2021.

Will we stop? Put our feet up while we notch our belt? No way!

One of the biggest joys working in the local media is fighting for our communities. There are plenty of fights to be had - health, drought, infrastructure, employment, education, to name just a few - and our gloves are off.

John Hanscombe, editor of the South Coast Register

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