During my speech about natural disasters last week I took the opportunity to talk about residents in South Cessnock who still have their homes inundated with water during flood events.  I told the House that I vividly recall walking waist deep in water and helping the residents of Southy sand bag when I was a Cessnock Councillor.

It’s hopeless that twenty or more years on, the residents are still suffering.  I’ve spoken with the Mayor about the issue many times and he assures me the flood study and solutions investigations are almost complete and hopefully, remedial works are not too far away.  Three questions remain though; how much will it cost and if Council can’t afford it, who will pay?   Whatever the answers it must be done.

Last week I took the opportunity to speak in the Parliament about our wonderful emergency services personnel.  We’ve had more than our fair share of radical weather and bush fire events in recent years and on every occasion, our paid and volunteer emergency services people have been there for others in need.

As I told the House, they leave their families – often on Christmas Day and during other holidays to risk their lives for others.  They are skilled, determined, selfless and dedicated. I paid special tribute and used as an example, the sacrifice of local fire fighter Paul Sanderson who gave his life protecting others last November.

Where would we be without our dedicated volunteers?

Parliament kicked-off for the year last week and debate was dominated by the proposal to increase the GST to 15% and possibly, to extend it to exempt goods and services including fresh food and education.

It’s a weird environment because both the Prime Minister and his Treasurer are simultaneously arguing the case for changing the GST while saying there is no such proposal.  This allowed one wit on the Labor side to paraphrase Paul Keating’s famous attack on John Hewson by claiming Scott Morrison was “doing himself slowly”.

On-going tax reform is important.  We must constantly strive to ensure our tax system is fair, economically efficient (including providing incentives to work and invest), and not unnecessarily burdensome.  But increasing the GST is not reform.  In the absence of off-setting tax reductions elsewhere, it’s just lazy and regressive increase in the tax burden.

Just a reminder, there are three important grant programs that will close soon.

The National Stronger Regions Fund (NSRF) provides funding of $1 billion over 5 years to fund priority infrastructure in regional communities. Grants must be between $20,000 and $10 million. Local government and incorporated not-for-profit organisations are eligible to apply. Grant funding must be matched in cash on at least a dollar for dollar basis NSRF funding will be provided for capital projects which involve the construction of new infrastructure, or the upgrade or an extension of existing infrastructure. The project must deliver an economic benefit to the region beyond the period of construction. For more information:http://investment.infrastructure.gov.au/funding/NSRF/index.aspx  Applications close  – Tuesday 15 March 2016.

The Local Sporting Champions Grants help young people in the Hunter electorate pursue their sporting dreams by providing grants of $500 to young people aged 12-18 to help with the cost of travel, accommodation, uniforms or equipment when competing, coaching or officiating at an official national sporting organisation endorsed state, national or international sporting championships or a School Sport Australia state or national championships.

As the Federal Member, I can allocate grants to 36 young people each financial year. The next round of grants close on 29 February 2016. For Further information visit http://www.ausport.gov.au/participating/local_sporting_champions

The Stronger Communities Programme provides funding for projects within the Hunter electorate that deliver social benefits by supporting community participation.

If you think your community organisation has a project that may be eligible for funding I encourage you to complete the expression of interest form on my website or alternatively phone my office and one can be posted out.

Projects can range from the construction and fit out of men’s sheds to sporting facility upgrades, bike paths or purchase of equipment for the local SES.

Following community consultation, I will invite identified incorporated not-for-profit and local government organisations to apply for funding.

Identified applicants can apply for funding of at least $5,000 and up to a maximum of $20,000 and must provide matching cash or in-kind funding on at least a dollar-for-dollar basis.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to read the Stronger Communities Programme guidelines and the Frequently Asked Questions which are available on the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development’s website

Expression of interests closes on Monday 22nd February.

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