'We don't see anyone anymore': Jobs, housing need attention, says NSW South Coast Elder

Picture: Australian Electoral Commission
Picture: Australian Electoral Commission

While the nation was focused on the recent Eden-Monaro by-election, one community is feeling left out of the discussion.

Sixty-eight-year-old resident Aunty Lorraine Naylor, who has lived at the Wallaga Lake Koori Village her whole life, said issues including unemployment, training opportunities and a lack of public transport are compounding under the current economic recession.

Ms Naylor said since regular visitor, former Eden-Monaro MP Jim Snow, lost in 1996, federal MPs have forgotten the community.

The Labor Party traditionally did extremely well at the community's polling booth, with the Liberal Party receiving just four votes in the first five general elections this century, before the booth was removed by the Australian Electoral Commission following a 2015 review.

"We don't see anyone anymore. Nobody asks us for our input. We count. We've got ideas too. Sometimes people who aren't able to speak have the best ideas," Ms Naylor said.

It's all about working together, or we're not going to get anywhere.

Wallaga lake Elder Aunty Lorraine Naylor

"I don't believe in voting for people we don't know. You may as well not vote.

Ms Naylor said politicians do not understand residents have diverse opinions.

"Not all of us are radicals, and if someone does something wrong we all get labeled," she said.

Ms Naylor said she did not hear Aboriginal affairs mentioned once during the recent by-election campaign

Merriman's Local Aboriginal Land Council CEO Terry Hill said in 2018 the unemployment rate was as high as 95 per cent in the community.

He said the cancellation of the Community Development Program a decade ago, and the lack of industry and jobs has played a role.

Wallaga Lake elder Uncle Ken Campbell said while the West of the state is facing more hardship than coastal communities, jobs, a lack of housing and the potential impacts of COVID-19 are major concerns.

Wallaga Lake Koori Village has not hosted what is known as a "static" booth since 2013. Picture: Google Maps

Wallaga Lake Koori Village has not hosted what is known as a "static" booth since 2013. Picture: Google Maps

"My major issue is that we don't have enough housing, but we've got plenty of space for more," he said.

"I've got 14 people living in a four bedroom house at the moment, and it's just not right. Something has to be done, and even small units for younger people would help the problem.

"They need homes to make their own life, and the coronavirus isn't helping the situation."

Both Ms Naylor and Mr Campbell said state MPs have visited the community over recent years, while on a federal level the community is ignored.

"Some of us voted in Narooma this year, just to get it done early," Ms Naylor said. "At the booth they just throw a piece of [party campaign] paper in your face, and expect you to vote for them.

"They could invite us [elders] somewhere and get our voice heard. It's all about working together, or we're not going to get anywhere.

"Politicians say they'll do 'this and that', but they don't."

Despite being a regular voting venue, Wallaga Lake Koori Village has not hosted what is known as a "static" booth since 2013, with the AEC opting for a "mobile" booth, mostly used in remote communities and hospitals, in the days before the 2016 election.

My major issue is that we don't have enough housing, but we've got plenty of space for more,

Wallaga Lake Elder Uncle Ken Campbell

The AEC said their voter estimate for 2016 of 35, which they said was well below the threshold, combined with a downward trend in voting numbers over three elections, and the booth of Bermagui being 15kms away, were reasons given for the removal.

They said "a community contact who was recruited as a polling team member provided feedback that the community was aware of the mobile polling" alternative, while Wallaga Lake elder Warren Foster Sr said many of the community's residents were not aware the regular static booth had been removed.

He said community members were unable to travel to cast their votes. According to the AEC, just eleven residents voted at the mobile booth.

"If we can't get off our community we can't vote,' Mr Foster said at the time. "The wider community used to also come here to vote as well.

"But really, if we are not in the Constitution then surely we can't be fined for not voting."

Then Merrimans Local Aboriginal Land Council CEO Anne Greenaway said "it would be better if the polling place was left where it was".

During this year's by-election the AEC's Indigenous Electoral Participation Program team worked with Merrimans Local Aboriginal Land Council to "support the indigenous community at Wallaga Lake, promoting the importance of enrolling and voting and providing enrolment forms and general postal-voter application forms".