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Learning from the past

Thursday, August 23, 2012
How do we learn lessons from past mistakes? That was the question I asked in State Parliament last week when I contributed to the discussion on the Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Home Centenary. Between 1912 and 1975 approximately 1,200 Aboriginal girls were removed from their families and placed in this institution. Aboriginal people were deeply affected by the removal and separation from families, including through adoption, foster care and out-of-home care. I do not profess to understand what they suffered but I can learn from the past, as we must all do as legislators. The Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls was operated from 1912 until 1968 by the New South Wales Aboriginal Protection Board and Aboriginal Welfare Board. From 1969 until 1975 it was an institution for children administered by the Department of Youth and Community Services. The former Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Home provided tangible evidence of the government policy of taking Aboriginal children from their families and communities and severing all ties with their culture in order to assimilate them into mainstream Australian society. So how do we learn from our past? There is exciting work on the horizon as a result of the NSW Government’s Ministerial Taskforce on Aboriginal Affairs that allows Aboriginal communities to take ownership of future policy and programs. It will enable the people to have a say in how things will work within Aboriginal communities. The task force through its work has unearthed some amazing stories about the management of issues, consultation and aims for greater transparency. The secret lies in Aboriginal communities taking ownership of their future. Unless they have that ownership there will always be some form of disenfranchisement and the gap will never be closed. A second public meeting will be held in Dubbo on 31 August.

The daffodil is the international symbol of hope for all touched by cancer. Last week I visited Parkes to be present at a local Daffodil Day stand. More than 10,000 volunteers staffed over 1,200 Daffodil Day sites on Friday 24th August. Almost 5,000 volunteers sold daffodils and collected donations across NSW and in Western NSW. Funds will go towards cancer research, important prevention education, and information and support services for cancer patients and their families. One in two Australians will be diagnosed with cancer by the age 85 - it’s a disease that doesn’t discriminate and stretches across all cultures and communities. In the Western region alone, more than 1,600 people will be diagnosed with cancer and around 625 people will die from the disease this year. It's important that we get behind this important cause.

I was privileged to join Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir AC CVO, Governor of New South Wales at the opening of the $13 million Block Cave Knowledge Centre at North Parkes mine last week. The Block Cave Knowledge Centre’s mission is to develop the next generation of underground mining engineers and operators by providing best practice underground block caving experience and knowledge transfer to high potential mining engineers and underground operators across Rio Tinto and in particular the Rio Tinto Copper group. The Knowledge Centre will help Rio Tinto address several significant issues related to this transition and will enable the company to equip the next generation of underground operators with the skills and knowledge they need to safely and efficiently operate large scale underground mines.

Since the beginning of this year, the Government, through Destination NSW, has delivered a total of $5 million of funding across 129 regional projects to develop new experiences and improve existing visitor attractions. One project to receive funding was a new attraction at the Taronga Western Plains Zoo to be known as the Billabong Camp. I joined the Minister for Tourism and Major Events, George Souris to inspect the projects progress. The redevelopment received $100,000 and is expected to open in March 2013. The Billabong Camp overnight experience will provide visitors with a unique bush experience that will connect them with wildlife. This is a brilliant project that will surely boost the local visitor economy by encouraging visitors to stay longer in Dubbo for this unique experience. The overnight experience will consist of 20 tents by a billabong in the zoo’s Australian Wildlife section and will accommodate up to 80 visitors a night.

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