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Meeting healthcare needs in Parkes and Forbes

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

With the commencement of the Parliamentary sitting year less than a fortnight away, my focus has shifted towards close engagement with the community over the proposed service delivery plan to meet the future healthcare requirements of Parkes and Forbes. Under Labor, the health infrastructure and services delivered to the Parkes and Forbes communities were largely neglected and allowed to fall behind other facilities offered elsewhere in region. The important ongoing work of the health council and local health district to interpret the community wishes over the future of hospital services is an integral part of this process. It is important to remember that the local health district is endeavouring to meet community expectations whilst ensuring that the services to be delivered are sustainable over a long period of time. Their intention is to deliver world class services to Forbes and Parkes by the best method available. That may entail some change to the way services have been provided in the past.  I ask the community to approach this concept with an open mind and to also consider the potential benefits from the adoption of an enhanced service delivery model.

With the rapid pace of technological change, accompanied by increased patient expectations our ageing population will continue to place great demand on quality health care. Like many other communities Parkes and Forbes have long suffered from inadequate expenditure on health infrastructure and services. The NSW Liberals & Nationals Government is getting on with the job of delivering on our election commitments in the health portfolio. I share Minister for Health Jillian Skinner's determination to pursue a fair go for regional NSW and a fair share of health services for the communities in the Dubbo electorate. The 2011-2012 NSW Liberal/Nationals budget delivered $3 million to kick start the Parkes and Forbes hospitals planning process. I wish to commend the CEO of the Western NSW Local Health District Ron Dunham and his team for their committed approach to this project and for seeking to engage with local community representatives before making any firm decisions about the delivery of services. 

The NSW Governments determination to deliver facilities that will attract and retain medical specialists willing to establish practices servicing Forbes and Parkes will not diminish. The community deserves no less. However this process will not occur without some adjustment but will lead to the ultimate benefit of the community at large. The enormous gratitude I share with many others in the community for the sterling effort of our hard working doctors, nurses and allied health workers as they have gone about their daily tasks in less than adequate conditions cannot be overstated. I look forward to keeping you informed of important stages in the development of the service delivery plan.

Dubbo: No longer out of sight or out of mind

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Long recognised as the geographical heart of New South Wales, Dubbo is fast establishing a reputation for itself as the preferred location for staging Ministerial events and announcements. In recent months Dubbo has played host to 13 Ministers who have chosen this electorate to spend time outlining important initiatives within their respective portfolios. Whether it is to announce the arrival of more doctors and nurses or the delivery of new services to the community Dubbo has been blessed with choice when it comes to Ministerial announcements. It can no longer be said that Dubbo does not appear on the Government's radar. Long gone are the days under Labor when the Government of the day paid lip service to the interests of this community. The NSW Liberal/Nationals are serious about delivering better outcomes for the people of the Dubbo electorate. I share a long standing passion with many other local citizens in wishing to see Dubbo and the surrounding region realise its full potential and cement its reputation as the true regional capital of this state.

The process starts in earnest this week while we play host to the Ministers for Sport and Recreation, Aboriginal Affairs, Health and Mental Health. Minister Graham Annesley was in the electorate on Tuesday to meet and offer his congratulations to touch football stalwart Neil Webster, a recent recipient of Dubbo's 2012 Service to Sport Award. The Minister was impressed by the high standard of facilities on offer in Dubbo no doubt contributing to its success in hosting the NSW Touch Country Championships for the past 21 years. On the same day Aboriginal Affairs Minister Victor Dominello was in town to convene a meeting that gave local residents a say in the new Aboriginal affairs strategy for NSW. This formed part of the NSW Government’s Ministerial Taskforce on Aboriginal Affairs. On Thursday both Jillian Skinner and Kevin Humphries will be on hand to chair the Rural Health Forum, established to tap into local suggestions, ideas and innovations that will improve health services and patient care in Western NSW. To top it all off it was my great privilege to chair meetings in Dubbo and Forbes as part of the NSW Governments community consultation process in response to the draft Murray Darling Basin Plan. These meetings followed those I attended in Finley and Leeton last week, with further meetings scheduled to take place in Narrabri and Moree.

No one should underestimate the magnitude of the task ahead turning around this state's finances. The legacy we inherited from Labor means that we will not be able to proceed as quickly with funding as many of the worthwhile infrastructure projects the community has long wished for. However the undertaking given upon our election that our commitments will be honoured in their entirety remains in place.

I look forward to working closely with Ministerial colleagues and local stakeholders to help realise this Governments vision for our community.


Men's Sheds

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Most men have learned from our culture that they don’t talk about feelings and emotions. Unlike women, most men are reluctant to talk about their emotions and that means that they usually don’t ask for help. Perhaps as a result, many men are less healthy than women, they drink more, take more risks and they suffer more from isolation, loneliness and depression. Physical or mental illness, retrenchment or relationship breakdown are just some of the problems that men find it hard to deal with on their own. But barriers are slowly being broken down and that's why I cannot speak highly enough of the work Men's Sheds do in the community and their work to promote social inclusion. These days the modern Men’s Shed is an updated version of the shed in the backyard that has long been a part of Australian culture and they are springing up all over the place. There are an estimated 185 Men's Sheds operating in New South Wales and 400 nationally, representing approximately 30,000 men. When one takes into account how family members lives' are touched by Men's Sheds, the contribution they make to our society is truly amazing. The sheds do a remarkable job in providing men with a place to go to blow off steam, talk to others about health issues and basically get active and participate in the community. There are a significant number of Men's Sheds in my electorate and I have visited every one of them in Dubbo, Narromine, Parkes, Forbes, Trundle, Tullamore, Peak Hill and Yeoval. Primarily Men's Sheds are for older and retired men in rural, regional and metropolitan areas. I have seen firsthand the absolutely wonderful work that the men involved in these sheds are doing in bringing their communities together. If you looked inside a Men's Shed you might see a number of men restoring furniture, fixing up old computers or lawnmowers or perhaps restoring bicycles. There may be some men trying their hand at metalwork, cooking or wood turning. At some Men's Sheds you might see a few young men working with the older men learning new skills and learning something about life from the men they work with. You will see tea-bags, coffee cups and a comfortable area where men can sit and talk. Sometimes men just get together to play a game of cards. Men's Sheds are wonderful places where men can do the proactive thing of asking each other "Are you okay? Can I assist?". What makes the Men's Shed movement successful is that they are developed and managed by the community and are not reliant on government for funding or financial support. At the beginning of this year I joined Mark Coulton, the member for Parkes, at the expo held at Dubbo where we heard about the tonnes of innovative ideas and diversity of projects in the Men's Sheds, and the way they are being publicised. Dubbo Men's Shed has a wonderful program to support the kids at the skate park next door. The Men's Shed members conduct repairs on the kids' skateboards and BMX bikes that get a bit of a rough time at the skate park. That is a wonderful initiative because it bridges the gap that sometimes exists in our community between youth and men from an older generation. These men are often leaders in our community and can provide words of wisdom. The program provides a substantial foot in the door of building relationships between the generations. I've learnt a lot about the great work that Men's Sheds do through talking with other Members of Parliament such as Senator Williams who is the patron of a Men's Shed at Inverell. He said that he recently invited Kamahl to perform at the Inverell Men's Shed; it was such a significant event and the money that was raised so extraordinary that they have now been able to add to the infrastructure within that Men's Shed. At one Men's Shed in the Blue Mountains they are encouraging local women to get involved and they are helping to build on and expand its opportunities. I applaud these sorts of initiatives. The profile of Men's Sheds is growing astronomically, as it should be, and that's because they make such a significant contribution to our community.


The Budget

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On my daily walk to Parliament House through St James Station each morning, I am constantly reminded of how lucky I am and how much we take for granted. Every day we walk past homeless people on the street, avoiding their eyes and musky smell. We want to help, but we're a little afraid. They might be crazy; perhaps they will just buy more booze or drugs. We are all guilty of wanting more in life and there is no question that we are a very lucky country with many suggesting we are "spoilt". After all, we enjoy a plethora of wide open spaces, good quality foods, clean, fresh air and water, jobs for those who want to work, homes with all of the modern conveniences we've come to expect, a sense of community, freedom of speech and investment and business opportunities for the taking. But passing these homeless men who live in the corridors of St James Station makes me think of why we tend to focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do have. Now, while we all feel a little hard done by on occasions, would you really like to live in the likes of Pakistan's Karachi, the cheapest place to live and work? How about Mumbai and New Delhi- the Indian cities- where poverty and the rate of homelessness is huge. There is no question that for me that I live in the best place on this planet where I have so much to be happy about.
The majority of us, day in and day out, complain about something – either we’re late for work and fussing at the farmer on his tractor we just happened to get behind. But how often do we stop and be thankful that we have a job, we have healthy children, we have a vehicle we’re allowed to drive anywhere we wish in this great country. We are allowed to work for a living, we are allowed to live wherever we like, we can read what we want and we are allowed to express our creativity and our opinions on anything we wish. Not nearly often enough. As expected our first Liberal & Nationals’ budget was tough but there was still a lot of big wins for the Dubbo electorate including improved health services and roads. Rebuilding NSW means repairing what was left behind, improving services and building the infrastructure the people of NSW need. The NSW Liberals & Nationals Government is very conscious that if we don’t get expenses under control, there are no funds to fix the services people rely on every day. The Budget delivered 900 more teachers, 2475 more nurses and 550 police officers and a record infrastructure investment to address the building backlog left by Labor. Spending on hospitals and health capital works is $4.7 billion – 50 per cent higher than over the last four years. Locally Dubbo Base Hospital will receive $4 million this year towards planning for Stage 1 and 2 developments, which is due to be completed in 2014 at an estimated $79.8 million. This redevelopment will provide expanded surgical and renal dialysis services, additional inpatient beds, reconfigured maternity and paediatric services, ambulatory care services, an improved Emergency Medical Unit and more consulting space for medical specialist clinics. The Lachlan Health Service at Parkes and Forbes Hospitals will also receive a $3 million injection of funds this year towards planning for the upgrades. The Budget delivered a boost in funds for road improvements, including the Newell Highway, with $5 million allocated this year to construct passing lanes. The Dubbo Blood Bank has been allocated $3,000 for a heat sealer, Dubbo Western Plains Zoo will get $455,000 to implement master plan, for Parkes fire station there is $758,000 allocated for an upgrade and Parkes police station will have $6.8 million allocated for its upgrade, which is due to be completed in 2013 at a total cost of $12.8 million. The budget also includes a five-year $2 billion program for disability services. Locally this means that Dubbo receives $600,000 for a new five-bed group home comprising five beds for people with a disability as part of the redevelopment of the Riverside facility. In a difficult and tough budget the Dubbo electorate has done reasonably well. It’s a responsible budget and while it will go into deficit for this financial year, it will be in surplus after that. In hard economic times we have been fortune and I think that's something that we should be grateful for. Passing the homeless people camped out at St James Station as I make my way to work each day makes me ask myself what am I grateful for today?

Aboriginal Languages

Monday, September 05, 2011
Linguists estimate that at colonisation about 70 Aboriginal languages were spoken within what is now New South Wales. Today, there are very few speakers of Aboriginal languages. The 2006 census showed there are 804 Aboriginal people in NSW who identified as speaking an Indigenous language. The loss of this rich culture is a tragedy. Reclaiming and maintaining Indigenous language and culture is imperative as it instils a greater sense of identity, pride and confidence in people. The O'Farrell-Stoner Government has made a commitment to provide the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group known as NSW AECG Inc. with $1.277 million to develop the Centre for Aboriginal Languages Coordination and Development. This equates to approximately $400,000 every year, for three years. The teaching of Aboriginal languages in schools also leads to increased school attendance and participation. In my own electorate, the Wiradjuri language will be made available- through a recent announcement of Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli- to students across the Dubbo campuses. I am very excited about this as it is a tangible, real, on-the-ground way of assisting the revitalisation and preservation of Aboriginal cultures in my electorate. NSW recently celebrated International Day of the World's Indigenous people. It is significant that we join all countries of the world in an acknowledgement of the contribution that Indigenous people make to our state's rich cultural life. The focus of this year's international day was Indigenous designs: celebrating stories and cultures, crafting our own future. This theme highlights the need for preservation and revitalisation of Indigenous culture. In my electorate, I am very much aware of efforts being made across the Wiradjuri nation. This year's International Day of the World's Indigenous people, served as a reminder to me of our responsibility to understand that there is a story and a personal experience behind every expression of culture and heritage by an Indigenous person or community. While I acknowledge the complexities of closing the gap in Aboriginal disadvantage, it is clear we must build real and effective linkages between Commonwealth and State governments, put locally driven solutions for economic and cultural empowerment front and centre, and involve independent and non-government voices. While closing the gap is difficult and complex, it starts with leadership from this Government, accountability and simplified service delivery. This year the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Mr Dominello, has travelled to Dubbo, to Tamworth and Myall Creek, as well as to southern Sydney, where he met with a large number of community representatives. Meetings of this kind characterise the Minister's commitment and those of the Government to approach these challenges together, to ensure that everything is locally driven, and to ensure that recognition of International Day of the World's Indigenous People is properly accounted for and delivered in NSW now and in the future.

Science Week

Friday, August 26, 2011
Science is so much more than enthusiastic professors wearing lab coats and conducting crazy experiments. Science is the spark that sets our minds on fire. It helps us understand and experience to the fullest the world in which we live. Scientists have given us the internet, high-speed travel, MP3 players and rollercoaster's. It has eradicated polio and small pox in Australia and it is working towards cures for diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, AIDS and cancer. Recently we celebrated National Science Week which featured around 1,000 events across Australia. More than one million people take part in those 1,000 events and this year the Government provided $96,000 to 18 science events happening across the State. The Government recognises the importance of inspiring our next generation of scientists, who will be helping to tackle the big challenges facing the world. From information and communications technology and engineering to medicine, agriculture and clean energies, scientific skills are increasingly needed and valued in a wide range of careers, so it is crucial we actively promote maths and science and show students that those subjects can be interesting and fun. During National Science Week 70 senior high school girls from across Sydney spent a night at Sydney Observatory alongside leading women scientists. Unfortunately, women are underrepresented in many science-based professions—something we need to address—and this event provided a unique way for girls to meet highly accomplished women working in science. I have the privilege of having the Parkes telescope in my electorate and we currently have one of the world's leading experts—a woman from NASA—working at the institute. It is fantastic to see the calibre of that individual working in such a fantastic facility in regional New South Wales. This year the Government ran Science Exposed, a program which encourages community involvement in science events and gives young people more opportunities to engage in science activities. The 18 initiatives supported by the Science Exposed program were chosen for their capacity to get young people interested and excited about the sciences, engineering and maths. Another event that was staged as part of National Science Week saw more than 900 students from 29 schools descend on the Parramatta campus of the University of Western Sydney to take part in one of the region's largest education expos. The students participated in interactive science experiments and demonstrations, heard from up-and-coming young scientists and had their questions answered during a careers panel session. The Government is committed to supporting the State's science community and our research and development activities at our world-class universities and research institutes. Through the Department of Trade and Investment and the New South Wales chief scientist and engineer, the Government works with the science community to promote the work of our publicly-funded research institutions and the groundbreaking research they do. The chief scientist and engineer also works with the research community to build strong links with industry partners and business. This is an important facet of the future of science. Industry and business will inevitably benefit from scientific advances that create a smarter and more innovative economy. Whether in Science Week or the rest of the year, the Government will always support our science community and encourage young people to be actively involved in this vitally important field.

Mixed Farming

Monday, August 15, 2011
I took a long drive from Dubbo to Temora last week to open the Riverina Mixed Farm Forum as part of my role as Parliamentary Secretary for Natural Resources. Driving through Dubbo, Peak Hill, Parkes, Forbes and onto Temora gave me a good chance to see for myself how the year’s winter crop is progressing following the initial good start to the season and since then, the relatively dry winter. The Department of Primary Industries (DPI) estimates that 5.1 million hectares of winter crops have been planted in NSW this season, the largest area sown in more than 10 years. But, the crop is a long way from the silo yet. More rain is obviously required. And mice will place pressure on the crop, with numbers at their highest in the Central West, Riverina, Lachlan and Hume cropping areas. We need to continue to monitor them because they may become even a bigger issue as spring comes on. Hopefully the season will pan out well and provide scope for recovery from a decade of drought. Food security is one of the bigger issues facing the globe, and it is a complex issue that is being discussed in the media and in scientific and humanitarian forum. Food security involves more than just the production of sufficient quantities of food. It also needs to be consistently accessible, affordable, good quality and of sufficient variety. Currently one billion people suffer chronic food hunger, and the United Nations estimates that the need for food will increase by 70% from 2007 levels to feed a population of 9.3 billion in 2050. The United States Food and Agriculture Organisation say this means that global food output must double by 2050. If we look at national food security, Australia is fortunate to have an abundant supply of food. Australia has only around 0.3% of the world’s population. We produce a lot more food than we consume, so we play an important role globally as a net exporter. The NSW Government has a plan to underpin and grow agriculture in productivity through research, development, extension and education programs. The Government will continue to focus on the public good areas for investment, including enabling farmers to respond to changing international drivers. The DPI has a key role in securing food production capacity through improving productivity, promoting the sustainable management of natural resources including land use planning. The NSW Government believes we can play our part and contribute to a global solution to the Food Security issue. And to address this issue directly, we will be establishing The Office of Agricultural Sustainability and Food Security, within Primary Industries. This unit will have a number of functions including identifying strategic agricultural lands, developing agricultural sustainability and food security plans for key industries and developing a NSW food strategy. The DPI is one of the biggest ag-research bodies in Australia. It collaborates with all eleven NSW universities and works with more than 50 major partners finding practical solutions for NSW landholders. They’re also striving to help us get more from the food we eat. For example, Researchers at DPI are currently investigating ways to put pulses and bioactive pulse ingredients into pasta, because pulses such as chickpeas are ideal foods to help us prevent diseases which are associated with our western lifestyles, such as bowel cancer. As part of the Climate Smart Agriculture Program the DPI and Lachlan Valley Catchment Management Authority are piloting arrangements to incentivise the adoption of conservation tillage or introduce perennial pastures as part of the Lachlan Market Based Instrument Pilot. Based around Canowindra, Cudal and Manildra, this project aims to find the best way to pay farmers to store carbon in their soil, but not at the cost of lost profitability. The pilot is all about unlocking the potential of soil to reduce carbon emissions and allows farmers to participate – and benefit – from broader market-based systems. Initially, around 300 farmers in the trial area will be welcome to participate in the pilot. Both crop and livestock producers will be given the opportunity to bid competitively with other farmers to have their soil carbon sequestration activities funded. We also have DPI and researchers at Armidale who are leading efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock. They have conducted over 5,000 measurements to assess methane production in sheep and cattle, and the next stage is a targeted breeding program to identify heritability factors that may be exploited.

Literacy and Numeracy

Tuesday, August 09, 2011
This week I offered my support to a motion brought to Parliament on the National Agreement on Literacy and Numeracy. In every educational facility across New South Wales there are students who are missing out on a great education and some who are falling through the gaps. From a young age some students will experience challenges and hardships that will negatively impact their ability to learn. These difficulties will affect their literacy and numeracy, their ultimate learning outcomes and their overall performance in the classroom. Sometimes these learning difficulties are compounded by various socioeconomic and geographical factors that are beyond a student's control. The National Partnership Program is a significant investment in New South Wales education. Through the three national partnership agreements, the Commonwealth has committed more than $870 million in additional funding to New South Wales schools. More than 740 government, Catholic and independent schools are benefiting from this funding. The National Partnership Agreement on Literacy and Numeracy aims to deliver sustained improvements in literacy and numeracy outcomes, particularly for those students who are falling behind. The COAG Reform Council report found that New South Wales had exceeded 11 of its 12 improvement targets and achieved 89 per cent of its twelfth target. I am pleased to bring a regional perspective to this issue, having spent the majority of my working life in isolated and remote communities throughout New South Wales. The Government recognises that certain factors, such as living in remote communities, can impact negatively on a student's performance. We believe every student deserves to reach their full potential, no matter who they are, what their background is or where they live. We will be increasing the State's investment in improving the literacy and numeracy outcomes of all New South Wales students so that every student in this State will experience an equally fulfilling education. This is regardless of whether English is their first language, or whether they live in the city or in regional New South Wales. To do that we will use strong, evidence-based data to identify the students who are falling behind. We will continue to support the successful initiatives and the targeted programs that are currently in place and have achieved outstanding results for students. We will sustain these improved outcomes through the use of the School Measurement Assessment and Reporting Toolkit, known as SMART. We will better use the National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy performance data for individual students, classes or whole schools and provide all students with the best support we can. Our national tests show that in year 3 reading one in seven students in remote areas and almost every second student in very remote areas is below the national minimum standard. This is compared with at least one in 20 students in the city. National Assessment Program—Literacy and Numeracy results for 2009 in reading and numeracy show that on average 46.9 per cent of students in remote areas and 40 per cent of students in very remote areas fall below the national reading and numeracy standards. There have been some gains, as recognised in the Council of Australian Governments report. However, we believe there is still much more to be done.
Nearly 50 per cent of the National Partnership Agreement on Literacy and Numeracy schools are located in regional, rural and remote areas. This represents around 18,000 school students, including 2,653 Aboriginal students in these areas and around 219 in remote areas who will continue to receive our support. There is evidence that targeted approaches can make a difference and I have seen that evidence firsthand. I do not come from an educational background, but I have learnt in recent years from my association with the Indigenous Police Recruitment Our Way project that everybody learns differently. This can be an inhibitor to achieving desired literacy and numeracy outcomes. Different learning styles need to be identified early, and this is another reason why the targeted approach is important. We strongly believe in supporting significant improvements in growth results. The percentage of Aboriginal students below the minimum standard is heading in the right direction by decreasing from 25.1 per cent to 20.3 per cent. This has exceeded the State's target under the National Partnership Agreement on Literacy and Numeracy by 3.5 percentage points. We are leading the country but there is more to do. We also firmly believe in improving the learning outcomes of students of low socioeconomic status, students with English as a second language and refugee students through this targeted intervention. I am enormously pleased to be part of this Government that will continue to commit to this approach while recognising that much more needs to be done.

Food Production

Tuesday, August 02, 2011
Producing good food from good production practices is an issue that agriculture needs to keep considering. Rising consumer awareness of the origins of their food has resulted in the growth of the organic industry as people desire to have minimal synthetic inputs into the food chain. The organic industry base is experiencing rapid growth with retail sales passing the $1 billion dollar mark last year and sales keep trending up for organic meat, poultry, dairy, horticulture and wine. In NSW almost 1 million hectares of land is now certified organic. Organic farming is fast moving on from being a niche industry. Demand for organic products is higher than supply and we now import huge volumes of organic products to Australia – so there is an opportunity for the NSW industry to capitalise on import replacement opportunity. The imperatives are to ensure the efficiency of organic production is suited to Australia’s environment and trade requirements, and organic farming does not unnecessarily impact on existing farming practises. All farmers need to have a choice in what production system they pursue and employ. NSW DPI supports the development of the organic sector through investments in staff and resources – including the maintenance of organic project sites at its Bathurst and Yanco research sites. But this is not at the expense of the department’s investment in conventional or modern agriculture practices which will continue to supply the vast majority of our agricultural products. A strategic approach to securing food production requires a good land use policy. Farmers and our regions are at the heart of the NSW Liberals and Nationals Strategic Regional Land Use Policy framework. Our land use policy, amongst broader measures, sees greater caution in the granting of new minerals exploration licences and explicit agriculture impact assessments. The Strategic Regional Land Use Policy is about striking the right balance between competing land uses in our regions, to ensure farming flourishes and food security is strong. The NSW Liberals & Nationals Government is determined to see agriculture perform strongly and farmers seize the many opportunities in regional NSW, with the support of sensible Government policy. We’re committed to taking a triple bottom line approach to development, which will recognise strategic agricultural land as a finite resource that must be preserved and utilised into the future. The policy is also about providing security for our farming land while also providing certainty for other land users like the minerals sector. Mineral Resources Minister Chris Hartcher recently announced tough new rules for coal and coal seam gas exploration and mining which will see a ban on the use of toxic chemicals, greater public consultation, stronger environmental requirements and an extension of the moratorium on ‘fraccing’ until the end of the year. A 60-day moratorium period, which ended in late July, allowed for the development of new provisions which will apply to all new coal and coal seam gas licence applications following consultation with stakeholders. We will require all new applications for mining or petroleum projects which have the potential to affect agricultural resources or industries, to submit an Agriculture Impact Statement. Although there is increasing corporate investment in agriculture in NSW, the major investor in agricultural enterprises and land in this state continues to be individuals and families. In fact, Australian Farm Institute figures show that more than 73% of rural land in Australia remains in the hands of individual owners.

Mental Health

Thursday, July 07, 2011

A conversation that not too long ago was taboo within our community is being brought to the forefront particularly in the Dubbo electorate. In recent times the issue and any conversation about mental illness was one that would see people take a Benji Marshall size side step to avoid. It is such a difficult issue to comprehend when much about mental health, depression, anxiety, traumatic stress disorders and other like conditions are within their very nature considered irrational behaviours trying to be understood by a considered rational mind.

Throughout my career mental health issues have really been at the forefront of the work I have undertaken, both in the field as a police officer, within my responsibilities of human resource management in police and even on a personal note. I congratulate those individuals and organisations who have courageously brought this issue into the public domain, people like Winston Churchill, political leaders and high profile sportspeople and key organisations like Black Dog and Beyond Blue. With their help mental health issues are no longer like a pariah, and those charged with providing assistance for people suffering such health concerns can now access and receive the support services they need.

One of the biggest challenges I faced while policing at a street level was the crossover of people who suffered from mental health problems who ended up in the judicial system. COPS are not diagnostically trained and receive little in the way of training and education in how to detect or handle people suffering. This situation has been on the constant improve over time and a cultural shift is recognising and providing support for police who suffered from related illnesses as well. We are not there yet but we are on the right track.

Recently in town was the Hon. Kevin Humphries, Minister for Mental Health, Healthy Lifestyles and Western NSW who has been given the first Ministry ever dedicated to this significant subject matter. One of his first initiatives is to establish a NSW Mental Health Commission a vitally important opportunity for the Government to support those suffering, those carers and service providers to have their say on the future provision of mental health services in NSW. This initiative is a refreshing approach and coincides with long overdue national initiatives along this vein, so that together hopefully we can achieve an improved and sustained management approach that can be achieved in the provision of mental health services and support. As your local member I was delighted that Kevin chose Dubbo to commence the first of the consultation process in order to build the best Mental Health Commission possible. This process allows people from across the sector to provide honest open and frank input into the challenges and roadblocks within the current system that the Commission needs to overcome. Soon I will also have the opportunity to host a forum to allow for the broader community to contribute to the Commission's Taskforce so that everyone will get the opportunity to have their say.

I know through my own personal experience, that my cup runneth over some years ago. For me while I 'danced with shadows and ran from grey skies' I came from a changing policing culture that when I started 'Big boys don't cry' and 'COPS are bullet proof' attitudes existed. I dealt with my issues like most police did dealing with an assault on my life, the cradling of children lost to their parents and all those horrific jobs a policing career brings and by rotten luck came my way far too often, by retreating to the age old remedy of alcohol and emotionally withdrawing from my family, going into my shell and seeking a cavalier mind set of welcoming any new threat that presented danger to myself. Thankfully for me before my family or I were destroyed, attitudes shifted considerably towards a culture where support to seek help was encouraged. It was also through the love and support of my family, my colleagues and in particular team members from whom I didn't hide my challenge that helped me overcome and survive a significant period in my life. I was lucky that I was able to access the support I needed and like many survivors have found that a battle with mental health issues doesn't have to be terminal, nor a lifelong proposition, there can be outcomes of survival and better days ahead, I look forward to contributing as your Local Member in our Governments attempts to achieve these very outcomes for many more. We are very lucky here in our electorate to have wonderful organisations that do so much to support those in need. My visit recently with the Minister to NALAG centre was a key reminder that there is still much to do, but at least we can now openly have the conversation.

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