More than 100 people converged on Cessnock Leagues Club to learn more about the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) at an information forum I hosted for people with disability, their families and carers. I was on hand, alongside the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) which helped organise the event, to answer questions and provide guidance for NDIS clients, providers and families.
A big thank you to all who attended the event and to the NDIA team for its participation. Like the families affected, I’ve been disappointed and frustrated by the failure of the NDIS to meet our service delivery and support expectations. I’m hopeful the forum resulted in both immediate help and some structural improvements to the scheme. Hearing firsthand constituents' stories about their experiences with the NDIS also helps me to represent them and push for improvements in Parliament.
STRONGER COMMUNITIES GRANTS
I’m thrilled to have 15 projects in the running to receive a grant of between $2,500 and $20,000 in the Stronger Communities Programme which offers the electorate of Hunter the chance to fund $150,000 of capital works projects which will contribute to the vibrancy and quality of community life. The nominated organisations have proposed diverse projects which will make a positive impact to a wide variety of sporting and cultural organisations in our community. I thank the dedicated volunteers who play an important role in our many community organisations throughout the Hunter and the effort and time they contribute. I also look forward to seeing the organisations’ worthwhile projects progress and make a difference as funding is allocated in the coming months.
Meanwhile, I congratulate the 21 young athletes who received funding under the Sporting Champions Program and wish them every success in their sporting endeavours.
THE HUNTER'S ENERGY FUTURE
The future of the Hunter's energy production has been a national topic of debate with Liddell power station at the centre of discussions. Government MPs have attempted to portray anyone who has a vision beyond coal-fired electricity generation as "anti-coal". Worse, they risk costing the Upper Hunter dearly by running interference on our opportunity to remain the State's key provider of energy well into the future.
The Upper Hunter has been the power house of NSW for more than forty years. Whether we like it or not, coal-fired generation will eventually come to an end. Not because of action by governments, but because of ever-improving and ever-cheaper new technologies. So how do we make sure these new, modern and clean generators are built here in the Upper Hunter?
The answer is: "get in quick".
We also retain some advantages. AGL is here and they are willing to invest. The transmission lines are here, as is a skilled workforce, the necessary land, and the formations necessary to establish pumped-hydro generators. We also have plentiful gas in close proximity. Coal will remain part of the energy mix in the Hunter for some time to come. Bayswater has at least 15 years left in it. Our coal industry will continue longer because almost all of our coal goes to export markets and the International Energy Agency says our product will be in demand for many decades to come.
Accepting Liddell's time will be up in five years' time is not an "anti-coal" position, it's just common sense. Pretending otherwise for political purposes does us all a disservice. It only delays our plans for a new clean energy hub and all the jobs it will create. Of course a key priority is to do all we can to ensure no one loses the opportunity to work as a result of Liddell's closure in five years' time. I had the opportunity to meet with Liddell's union representatives and management on these issues.
We are collectively determined to ensure that Liddell's workers have the opportunity to transition to Bayswater (as people chose to leave the workforce), transition to new electricity generation plants, or accept a redundancy. A redundancy will suit many of the older workers.
If we can achieve our ambitions for a new energy hub in the Upper Hunter I believe more jobs can be created than lost at Liddell in 2022. And the jobs will be there for decades, not just for an extra five years. Gas generation can be established very quickly but we need to build on the hydro and renewables plan quickly. We don't have a moment to lose.
Unfortunately Malcolm Turnbull’s copper NBN has been the disappointment we predicted. Slow speeds, drop-outs and landline problems appear to be the norm. If you have recently been connected or have faced challenges, I’d like you to share your experience with me. Hearing NBN stories from locals helps me strengthen the case in Canberra for something better. Share your experience with me by calling 49911022 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Book Week was celebrated across the Hunter with young and old reflecting on the importance and power of reading. Australian Christian College Singleton was one of many schools across the electorate that embraced Book Week with spirited dress-up events to promote the wonders of books. It was a highlight to attend the vibrant Book Week parade at Muswellbrook Goodstart Early Learning Centre, to tour the facility and to discuss progressive policy ideas for promoting access to early childhood education and care with the Centre’s staff. The Centre is forging the way with a number of innovative programs aimed to ensure young people in our community are receiving the optimal start to life that will set strong foundations for their future education and growth.
TOURISM BOOST FOR HUNTER VALLEY WINE COUNTRY
The Hunter tourism industry has gained a boost thanks to successful funding bids which have allowed for the launch of innovative and exciting projects aimed to attract more people to our beautiful wine country region.
Last month I welcomed a $1.25 million boost to Cessnock City Council under the Building Better Regions Fund (BBRF) for a $2.5 million Hunter Valley Wine Country Tourism Signage Implementation Project. The Federal grant was the result of a successful application to the BBRF and Council will leverage from previous funding to match the grant dollar for dollar. The project involves implementing new signage across the Cessnock local government area, including information bays, city gateway signs, precinct and directional signage. The new infrastructure will also include braille and QR coding technology which will assist visitors to explore key tourist areas. Signage and the latest web-based information are critical to future success for Hunter tourism.
Meanwhile, it was a pleasure to join the many who gathered to officially open the substantial improvements to Broke and Hermitage Roads. The project includes provision of additional cycleways which are increasingly a necessary tool in developing a successful tourism product. This latest project complements earlier road projects including the Hunter Expressway. Once a barrier to maximising our wine tourism opportunities, our road network is looking pretty good. Certainly Sydney visitors are voting with their feet and cars. That’s a great thing.
NATIONAL SCIENCE WEEK
Science was high on the agenda in August as I celebrated National Science Week both at Parliament House and in the Hunter electorate.
I attended Drones in the Vines, which showcased and explored drone technology and the ability for big data to enhance precision agriculture in viticulture. It was part of a suite of events organised by Regional Development Australia Hunter’s ME Program for National Science Week in partnership with the Hunter Innovation and Science Hub.
I believe science and technology is leading the way in productivity, innovation and biosecurity in the agriculture sector.
National Science week is an important platform that helps us showcase the real contribution science, technology, engineering and maths are making to both emerging industries and the diversification of traditional industries.
MUSWELLBROOK SENIORS FORUM
I’m holding another Hunter Seniors Forum, this time at Muswellbrook Senior Citizens Hall on Tuesday, 10 October 2017.
The Seniors Forum is a free, informative event that aims to educate locals on the range of services available to seniors in the local community. Guest speakers from the Department of Human Services, Police Services, Hunter Community Legal Centre and Muswellbrook Council will be on hand to answer questions. There will also be information packs and resources available on a range of topics including Centrelink, Telstra and My Aged Care. All are welcome to attend the forum. Please RSVP for the forum by calling my office on 4991 1022 or email email@example.com.
GET IN CONTACT
My team and I are always happy to assist with issues or questions relating to Federal Government departments or to put you in contact with someone who can. Please ring, write, visit my website or call in to my office. My office phone number is 4991 1022 and postal and street address is 3 Edward Street, (PO Box 526) Cessnock, 2325. In addition to my columns in the Hunter Valley News, Cessnock Advertiser and my Facebook page ‘Joel Fitzgibbon MP’ you can keep up to date with what I’m working on by checking my website.