In my first column for the year I extend my very best wishes for 2015 to all readers.  Life seems to grow busier for us all no matter what our roles and no doubt the New Year will prove busy for most.

The New Year presents an opportunity to look ahead with fresh eyes, energy and confidence.  The year 2014 was a challenging one in so many ways.  Locally the coal mining industry down-turn and fatalities in the same industry hit hard.  Nationally the economy slowed, our armed forces went back to the Middle East, we watched airline disasters, a threatening disease in Africa, and the year ended with a tragic siege in Sydney.
So it's a good time to look forward not back.  We remain one of the wealthiest countries in the world.  We enjoy a stable democracy and a sound and fairly enforced legal system.  We have a strong financial system and a strong social welfare safety net.   Our sense of community would rival any in the world and our volunteerism is without peer.
Most Australians have a good work ethic and our entrepreneurs, scientists and innovators punch above their weight. There is plenty to cause us optimism.  Let's hope our positive thinking and hard work is rewarded throughout 2015, and let's work together to help those who may not experience the same rewards.  Happy New Year.
While in Canberra last week I visited the French Embassy to sign the condolence book for the victims of the recent senseless and tragic events in Paris.  A succession of events around the world - including Sydney - has understandably caused people to ask questions about those who practice the Muslim faith.  I urge people to keep things in perspective.

Evil comes from people from all religions and all faiths but no one race or faith is inherently evil. Stereotyping and treating people from one faith or ethnic background differently than others is not a recipe for peace but rather, a formula for more trouble.

We should have no tolerance for evil and when it occurs it must be responded to harshly and quickly.  But at the same time, we need to work at addressing the issues which too often drive often marginalised people to unspeakable and inexcusable acts of terror.

There is no single answer to this problem, our responses must be as broad and varied as are the causes.

The Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service (VVC) provides  free and confidential, nationwide counselling and support for war and service related mental health and wellbeing conditions. Its counsellors have an understanding of military culture and can help to address concerns such as relationship and family issues, anxiety, depression, anger, sleep difficulties, PTSD and alcohol or substance misuse.
VVCS has centres across Australia. It also has a network of outreach counsellors to provide a local VVCS counselling service to most rural and remote parts of Australia. 
Veterans and their families can call 1800 011 046 or visit www.vvcs.gov.au for further support.
Congratulations to Taleah from Cessnock West Public School and Dustynn from Sandy Hollow Public School who were the winners of my “What makes Hunter GREAT” colouring-in competition.

As always, I was amazed by the talent shown by our local students. Thank you to all the stage 2 school students who participated.

It’s great to hear the recently formed Cessnock Croquet Club is proving extremely popular with many who had believed their active sporting days were well behind them.

The Cessnock Croquet Club originally met on Friday mornings at 10am at Calvary but is trialing some additional twilight meetings to accommodate their expanding membership.

For more information, contact Phil Baird on 4990 1295.

Have you heard about myGov? It’s the fast and secure way to access government services online using one username and password.

More than five million people have created a myGov account and more people continue to discover the benefits of using the online service every day.

Your myGov account lets you link government services including:
• Medicare
• Centrelink
• Australian Taxation Office
• The Personally Controlled Electronic eHealth Record System
• Child Support
• Department of Veterans’ Affairs
• National Disability Insurance Scheme.

It’s easy to create your myGov account and link the member services that you want to access. For more information go to my.gov.au

I am always keen to assist with issues or questions relating to Federal Government departments or put you in contact with someone who can, so please ring, write, visit the website or call in.

Why not go the extra step by following me on my Facebook page “Joel Fitzgibbon” or on Twitter and type in the search bar “fitzhunter”. Or by regularly checking my website at www.joelfitzgibbon.com or you can even sign up to my E-Newsletter.

To contact the office, phone 1300 301 753, visit www.joelfitzgibbon.com or by post 3 Edward Street, (PO Box 526) Cessnock, 2325.


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