After being caught in the thick of the devastating Black Summer bushfires, the man standing for the Liberal party in Gilmore, Andrew Constance, has declared he never wants to see a repeat.
"We saw fire storms that lasted seven months. The Currowan fire burned for 74 days," he said.
"It's completely affected the wellbeing of our community. And I never, ever want anyone to experience that again."
The former NSW transport minister shared openly about how the fires, which threatened his Malua Bay home, impacted him mentally. And he wants to help the community who is recovering. He insists it's one of the main reasons he quit state politics to take a tilt at the federal seat.
Not elected yet, he's being approached as if he is still an MP.
"I had to work really hard to deal with PTSD. And I'm very proud of that," Mr Constance said, who now lives in Broughton Vale.
"I'm still getting people contacting me even though I'm not an MP anymore about insurance issues, about issues rebuilding their homes.
"And the flow on effect of the fires ... it's had a major impact on the supply of housing that's affected rental properties, which has then affected the supply of employees to small businesses."
Gilmore is held by first term Labor member Fiona Phillips with a 2.6 per cent margin, and is tipped to be one of the make or break seats for Prime Minister Scott Morrison to hold onto government.
But the Liberals are banking on Mr Constance to snatch it back. His strong following, having been the state Bega MP for 18 years, may give him the chance.
He also shot to national prominence for saying Scott Morrison "probably got the welcome he deserved" after the Prime Minister was heckled by locals on his ill-fated visit to Cobargo in January 2020.
"I'm going to be fierce in my representation of the people of Gilmore. I'm not going to sit there as a wallflower - I'll call it how it is," he said.
He expressed he wants to "take Australia forward in a bipartisan way".
Climate change isn't up for debate, Mr Constance said. But asked whether he thought his party's net zero emissions target by 2050 should be more ambitious, he slid into government messaging that he is confident it would be exceeded anyway.
"Australia is such an innovative place, we will exceed the targets," he said.
"We've now got one in four Australian households with solar panels. I believe innovation and technology will in many ways help us supersede it."
He plans to help Gilmore achieve this by pushing for renewable energy and more electric transport if elected.
"What we need to be thinking about as a region, is how we can develop a circular economy where we reduce our reliance intake in relation to natural resources, and how we can better reproduce and utilize recycling," Mr Constance added.
When he was transport minister, Mr Constance announced the NSW Government's aim to convert its entire bus fleet to electric buses by 2030.
"One of the things I've done was start a whole change in relation to climate and transport," he said.
"I started converting the diesel bus fleet, ensuring that our electric train network was powered through supply contracts with renewable energy."
He believes converting the bus fleet could create jobs in the Shoalhaven.
"In order to convert thousands of buses, there's got to be other manufacturing in Australia," Mr Constance said.
"I'm going to encourage all manufacturers, that if they can manufacture the buses (in the Shoalhaven), then that's what they should do.
"We're talking up to 200 new, local jobs.".
Funding local infrastructure and roads projects has been a focal point for Gilmore candidates leading up to the federal election. Mr Constance believes he can leverage his experience as transport minister to secure funds for big projects, like the long-discussed Nowra Bypass.
"(The Nowra Bypass) has got to be built. And the saving grace of this is Shoalhaven council has protected a 400 metre wide corridor to make it happen," he said.
"We must get a significant amount of money for property acquisition, geo-tech and reference design to get to a point where its shovel ready."
During the Prime Minister's visit on Monday, the pair announced $40 million to fix Shoalhaven road network, should their party be elected.
Improving local health services is also high on the agenda, from funding grassroots community-led programs to large infrastructure projects.
"You cannot have a community that has been belted like we have, with all these pressures from pandemics to fires ... and not have a bulk-billed telehealth psychiatric support for regional communities," he said.
"I'm a big believer in looking at new models of support in relation to mental health. We also have to be investing more so in early intervention and prevention."
Residents and support services across Gilmore have been crying out for solutions to the electorate's worsening housing crisis. Rampant prices rices and the cost of living are pushing more across the South Coast into homelessness, with critical workers forced to live in the backs of their cars.
"There's not an immediate fix to this," Mr Constance said.
"There's a whole raft of innovations that can happen in terms of financing and availability of land. And we need to look at how we can leverage government land a lot better.
"But importantly, we've got to look after the welfare of people. We must also fund wraparound supports."
Party members including NSW Senator Jim Molan, Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne and South Coast MP Shelley Hancock have all followed Constance on his campaign trail, and vocalised their faith in him.
"We don't want to repeat the last catastrophe of losing Gilmore, but I know we won't," Ms Hancock said at the opening of Mr Constance's campaign office in Nowra.
"Andrew is a loyal friend and I have faith he will fight for this electorate."
However, Labor's recent historic state by-election victory in Bega, which had been in Liberal hands since its creation in 1988, may throw the government's "faith" into doubt.
Grace Crivellaro is an Illawarra Mercury reporter.
Grace Crivellaro is an Illawarra Mercury reporter.
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