CESSNOCK ADVERTISER COLUMN 6 JANUARY 2016

Happy New Year to all readers. Last year was an interesting and challenging one in both public policy and politics.

Globally, war in the Middle East, wide-spread-terror attacks and a horrifyingly large flow of refugees reminded us of the fragility of democracy and the rules-based international order. Locally, a change in Liberal leadership excited many but the enthusiasm waned as the realisation set in that none of the policies had changed.

In our electorate, people grew more acutely aware of the impacts of a slowing economy. The Hunter electorate has been hit particularly hard as a result of the down-turn in the coal mining sector.

Little joy can be found in the responses of government. Our regions remain un-cared for when compared to our capital city cousins. An obsession with the Commonwealth’s budget deficit has led to a decline in spending at a time when government borrowing costs are historically low and our regions are begging for economy-lifting infrastructure.

Let’s hope 2016 brings a more sensible approach to our need for greater economic stimulation and diversity. An obsession with taxing us more should be replaced with a focus on great fairness and nation building. That’s my New Year wish.

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Within the Hunter electorate there are five local government areas and a number of towns which are part of a sixth. It takes three hours to drive from one end to the other.

During the years of the former Labor Government record amounts were spent on local roads, schools, parks, playgrounds, TAFEs and many more. Despite the billions spent, much more needs to be done.

In its second Budget, the Abbott Government announced that each electorate around Australia will receive $150,000 per year for two years to fund small capital projects. It's a very small amount but we'll take it.

The biggest challenge will be spreading it fairly without breaking each grant down to such small amounts they will be meaningless.

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.

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

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 http://www.infrastructure.gov.au/SCP

Expressions of Interest for Round 2 close on 22nd February 2016. The outcome for Round 1 applications is expected in coming weeks.

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The Turnbull Government’s decision to scrap bulk billing incentives for pathology tests and reduce them for diagnostic imaging will have a serious impact on many patients, forcing them to pay higher fees, or, in some cases, skip important scans and tests.

For people who require regular scans and tests, such as those with cancer, or other serious health issues such as diabetes or heart conditions, this could have a devastating impact on their lives. The Minister for Health has herself admitted this decision could leave some patients worse off.

It’s clear this is yet another attack on Medicare from a government which has only ever had one policy for health care – to cut funding and make patients pay more.

Forcing vulnerable patients to pay more every time they need a test, a scan or even just to visit a doctor is an attempt to make us all pay a third time for a system we’ve contributed to, and built up over 30 years now.

Labor cannot support this fundamental attack on Medicare and Australia’s universal health care system.

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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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