When Fiona Phillips was elected the Member for Gilmore last May, the national spotlight was on her for bringing home the only Labor win across the country.
In the normal course of events, a new MP’s first year is a steep learning curve, especially when the seat has been in the hands of another party for such a long time.
It didn’t take long for the steep learning curve to become a roller coaster ride.
By the end of 2019, Gilmore was again one of the epicentres of national attention in the bushfire emergency.
Ironically, before the fires, one of Ms Phillips’ main focuses was fighting for more support for local farmers battling the big dry.
“They couldn’t apply for the drought assistance loans, even though it was simple to see they were struggling with the drought,” she says.
“I chased and chased, and finally had a win on that many months later when they finally listened to how bad it was.
“The severity of the bushfires proved our point in the worst possible way.”
During the bushfires, she was on the ground every day, visiting staging areas and fire control centres.
“I always focused on providing support and help where I could, bringing requested supplies ranging from gatorade to aeroguard,” she says.
“You’ve got to support people through it, and that is the most important thing.
“There is no way I could have gone off to the cricket as if nothing was happening.”
Having been through three bad firestorms at her own home, she felt great empathy with those who lost their homes.
“At one stage I was home alone as the rest of the family had gone off for a holiday and it was just too scary to stay there.
“You just don’t know which way the fire is going to decide to go.”
In January, she began fighting for a direct cash injection for small businesses affected by the fire, directly or indirectly.
“I talked about the unfolding economic crisis in the media and Parliament.
“That absolutely linked to the $10,000 bush fire assistance grants for those businesses whose income was down 30 per cent.
“4,856 businesses in Gilmore have now received that payment, pumping $50 million back into the economy.”
Ms Phillips is disappointed that other Federal funds earmarked for bushfire areas are still failing to get through, and she is continuing to lobby on that front.
She says she is now focused on recovery, both from the bushfires and COVID-19.
“Gilmore has done it really tough and needs help to recover.
“Apart from the $10,000 provided to some small businesses by the State Government, there has been no help.
“We need significant support for our tourism industry to get us through this.”
With Federal Parliament operating under the new social distancing requirements as well, her time in the Chamber is being rostered.
“There aren’t as much opportunities to speak, but I managed three on my first day under the new arrangements.”