Media opportunities hinder operations at the Bega Showground evacuation centre after Tathra fire

MEDIA MAYHEM: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's 'candid' moment was captured by the national news pack at the Bega Showground evacuation centre on Tuesday morning.
MEDIA MAYHEM: Opposition Leader Bill Shorten's 'candid' moment was captured by the national news pack at the Bega Showground evacuation centre on Tuesday morning.

The Bega Showground evacuation centre has been a revolving door for state and federal ministers offering their condolences to residents affected by the Tathra fire.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian visited the pavilion in the afternoon on Monday, March 19 and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten visited the following morning on Tuesday, March 20.

State Member for Bega Andrew Constance, Federal Member for Eden-Monaro Mike Kelly and Senator Jim Molan also visited the evacuation centre. 

But volunteers and evacuees say the politicians – and the accompanying media pack in their wake – have been more hindrance than help to operations at the Bega Showground. 

Television crews from across the country have set up at the venue which has seen dozens of journalists bringing large cameras, microphones and other broadcast equipment into the evacuation centre. 

Anglicare volunteer and Tathra evacuee Wendy Elliott said she has been shoved out of the way by camera crews as they jostled for an shot of the politicians. 

“I understand we need media in for these situations, but I don’t think they are reporting very considerately,” she said. 

“They have trod on our supplies and got in the way of helping people, they shouldn’t be inside at all.” 

When Ms Elliott tried to find a power socket to charge an evacuee’s phone, they were all being used to charge camera battery packs. 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull  at the Bega Showground evacuation centre on Monday, March 19.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at the Bega Showground evacuation centre on Monday, March 19.

Other residents are frustrated politicians and media have been granted access to Tathra before them. 

“It was pretty annoying to see Malcom Turnbull going street to street on TV before we could get an update on our home,” 18-year-old Harrison Price said.

Evacuated Tathra resident 16-year-old Ash Burke said the visits seemed like they were more about the politicians than the residents.  

“It’s nice to see they’re thinking about what has happened here, but you get a sense that it’s just a political game for them,” Ash said. 

“Malcolm was here yesterday and Bill is here today, so I think it’s just about catching up to each other.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten at the Bega Showground evacuation centre on Tuesday, March 20.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten at the Bega Showground evacuation centre on Tuesday, March 20.

Residents and volunteers at the evacuation centre found some of the media coverage to be inconsiderate and inaccurate. 

Those camping or sleeping in cars overnight at the Bega Showground complained about a outside Sky News broadcast that a journalist confirmed continued until 11:30pm on Monday night. 

Others watching Channel 7’s Sunrise program early on Monday morning pointed out that the footage accompanying the story was from another Tathra fire that happened on January 23 this year

On Tuesday, a number of evacuees were offended by the “sensationalist” and “offensive” Daily Telegraph front page that was scattered around the pavilion condemning the Rural Fire Service for refusing fire assistance from NSW Fire and Rescue.

RFS public liaison officer Matthew Reeves addressed the headline in his morning briefing at the evacuation centre, saying the equipment offered by Fire and Rescue was not suitable for the terrain

“If a suitable appliance is ever offered for the protection of life and property, we would never refuse that,” he said.

“The RFS would never refuse assistance where that assistance is suited to the conditions and the environment that we are entering into.” 

He added that the RFS did call on Fire and Rescue once it was identified that the fire was going to spot over the river toward Tathra, where appliances were dispatched as quickly as possible.  

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