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Winter Electorate Tour

Friday, July 20, 2012

Floods impact both individuals and communities, having large social, economic, and environmental consequences. That's why I was pleased to travel down south this week to present the community of Cookamidgera near Parkes with a $16,500 cheque from Premier Barry O'Farrell for much needed flood mitigation works. The small yet vibrant community of Cookamidgera has suffered from the intangible cost of flooding over subsequent years. Shortly after the election, the difficulty encountered by the Cookamidgera community over obtaining funds to carry out necessary remedial work was brought to my attention. I have been working behind the scenes since then to try and secure the funding required. Having direct contact to Ministers was a vital factor in being able to access funds for the community. The best part about being in Government is the opportunity to deliver outcomes like this which would not normally be possible. I commend Premier O'Farrell for his interest in the Cookamidgera community.

I'm delighted to see that this part of the electorate has received some long overdue recognition and deserved attention recently. Parkes has had a successful Elvis Festival for some years now and it's pleasing to see that the enthusiasm has caught on elsewhere with Trundle hosting its first ABBA festival. Participants brought with them not only the ABBA inspired costumes but entered into the spirit of the occasion giving fresh voice to the rich catalogue of music by Agnetha Faltskog, Benny Anderson, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. I look forward to seeing this become a regular fixture on the Trundle social calendar. I was also pleased to announce recently CountryLink will bring forward its 'Elvis Express' service, due to the overwhelming popular demand, for next year’s CountryLink Parkes Elvis Festival. The ‘Elvis Express’ will now leave a day earlier from Sydney’s Central Station on Thursday, 10 January 2013 rather than the traditional Friday departure date following feedback from festival organisers and Elvis fans. The extra day will give visitors to Parkes the chance to take advantage of more of the Festival’s activities, such as free main stage entertainment and the Miss Priscilla Dinner.

Last week I hosted a visit by the Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly and Member for Lismore Thomas George MP. Mr George was in Dubbo to tour our new office in Dubbo on behalf of the Parliament to ensure that the new facilities met with community expectations given that the reason for seeking new premises was to provide adequate space in which to conduct constituent business in a more conducive environment. Thomas was able to report to the Parliament that the local contractors used in the office fit out had done an excellent job in completing the assignment whilst generating work for local tradespeople. All electorate offices and staff are provided by the Parliament in order to assist elected members serve their electorates effectively.

I took a trip to the Mudgee Field Days to represent the Minister for Primary Industries Katrina Hodgkinson to launch the “The Rural Living Handbook”. The handbook is a joint initiative by the Central West CMA, Bathurst, Dubbo and Orange Council Sustainability Alliance. It provides new landholders and long-term residents with information to ensure the health of the catchment and all the things they value in it by increasing awareness of landholders responsibilities; such as buying a property and moving out of town, managing natural resources, managing their property, and who landholders can get in touch with for help in making the most out of their life on the land.

New era of policing

Monday, July 09, 2012

A new era of policing in the region has commenced with the ceremonial turning of the first sod at the site of Parkes multimillion dollar new police station. I was delighted that the Police Minister kindly accepted the invitation to visit Parkes demonstrating Mike Gallacher's commitment to improving regional policing infrastructure and resources. The NSW Government has allocated over $5 million in the 2012-2013 budget towards the completion of this $14 million project. Parkes has a long and rich history of police representation of which it should be proud. Generations of police officers have cut their teeth working out of the historic police station in Currajong Street. In 1883 a brick police lock-up was built in Currajong Street and a police residence was built at the corner of Court and Hill streets. Parkes became Western Area Police Headquarters in 1936 with the officer-in-charge controlling from Blackheath to Broken Hill. Today, Parkes is headquarters of the Lachlan Local Area Command. As a former officer I know how much better the police will be able to serve the local community's policing needs out of a contemporary work place. I look forward to watching the progress of this important project.

Being a member of an organisation like the Rural Fire Service, particularly in rural and regional NSW isn’t for the faint hearted. The men and women of the Rural Fire Service are an integral part of rural and regional communities. Within the RFS exists some very talented people. Last week I was honoured to present 48 of them from the Tichborne and The Troffs Brigades near Parkes with Long Service Medals, on behalf of the Minister for Police and Emergency Services.  Some of these very worthy recipients have dedicated most of their lives to serving their community with the RFS. People like Jim Barker – who's given 65 years of service to the RFS or Derek Drenkhahn –64 years of service, and Andrew Tom – 63 years of service. That's 192 years of service to the RFS between them. There are over 70,000 volunteer fire fighters, formed into some 2,100 brigades in 143 rural fire districts. They fight fires in over 95 per cent of the State and are responsible for property protection in about 1,200 towns and villages. The NSW RFS claims to be the world's largest volunteer fire service. Thank you to all RFS members who demonstrate extraordinary service and commitment to the communities they protect.

What's important to you as a community? This is the question that is being posed at the       next Community Leaders Breakfast held on Saturday, 14 July 2012 at the Church Street Rotunda in Dubbo. I will join Dubbo Mayor Cr Mathew Dickerson, local Councillors and the Federal Member for Parkes Mark Coulton for the third Breakfast from 8am to 10am. It's a great opportunity to meet your local representatives and share your ideas over breakfast. I'm looking forward to hearing the communities concerns and gain some feedback on recent Government initiatives, in particular the measures announced in the recent budget. Come and have a chat and learn more about what services might be available to assist you with your issue.

During my time as a policeman I attended the scene of too many accidents that were brought about by reckless or careless driving that resulted in unnecessary injury or death. That's why I support the NSW Government scheme that rewards good driving practices and behaviour. The ‘Fair Go for Safe Drivers’ scheme means motorists can pay half price for their licence from 1 July if they maintain good driving records for five years. Under the scheme about 2.1 million motorists will be eligible for the cheaper licence out of 4.3 million unrestricted licence holders in NSW. This scheme encourages people to adopt safe driving habits that will lead to better driver behaviour and awareness, which in turn should result in less fatalities and serious accidents. From 1 July 2012 unrestricted driver licence renewal fees are $52 for one year, $122 for three years and $162 for five years. Drivers must also have no relevant offences recorded on their licence during the five years leading up to the renewal date.  A similar scheme has been operating successfully in Victoria since 2006, which allows for a 25 per cent reduction in the licence fee.

Matters of State 21/5/12

Monday, May 21, 2012
Don't we all just love a good country show to evoke nostalgic feelings of happy childhoods? Country shows have a real charm about them. Some equate show time with fast rides, sideshow and Dagwood dogs.

But for many the local show honours the agricultural scene. I spent the weekend on the back of the horse assisting the ringmaster during a range of events at the Dubbo Show. It's been a while since I rode a horse but I was honoured to take part in what's known as one of the major agricultural shows in the state. I took pleasure showing the Minister for Primary Industries Katrina Hodgkinson- who officially opened this year's show-how successfully the Dubbo Show combines traditional elements with exhibits and entertainment that draws people to the show year after year. 

For 139 years the Dubbo Show has been a focal point of community activities within the district. From humble beginnings in 1872, the Dubbo Show is currently recognised as one of the top five shows in NSW and the premier inland show. The Dubbo Show Society has a long and proud tradition and members should be impressed with the weekend's event. 

This year Olympic qualifying showjumpers showcased their skills and team penning, one of the fastest growing sports was introduced to the event program.  As mentioned, the show is a place that plays tribute to the agricultural scene. It's important that agriculture is recognised and appreciated for the vital role it plays in the health and wealth of our country. The local show is an avenue in which we can celebrate excellence in agriculture displayed through the many exhibits, animals, machinery and competitions such as wood chopping, sheep dog trials and cooking displays on show.

Promoting agriculture ensures that rural communities and agricultural industries continue to thrive. Shows are also places where traditional crafts like spinning and weaving are demonstrated in an effort to keep these historical skills alive. There are many successful show staged throughout the Dubbo electorate; but country shows only survive thanks to hardworking volunteers. Earlier this month the Yeoval show took place and this year the Parkes Show Committee will celebrate its 131st year. I attended the Parkes Show last year and was taken aback by the dedication of hardworking volunteers. 

The Parkes Show Committee has some 75 voluntary members supported by approximately 150 stewards and a membership of 1200 families.  Did you know that in its long history there are only two times that the Parkes show been cancelled, once in 1942 because of World War II and secondly in 2007 due to the outbreak of Equine Influenza. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank show society volunteers in the Dubbo electorate. I'm proud to be a part of a community that supports its local show and I encourage anyone who wants to give back to the community to get involved with their local show society. I look forward to following the show circuit in Forbes, Narromine, Tullamore, Trundle, Peak Hill and Parkes towards the end of this year. 

Hunks Hunka Burning Love- Parkes Elvis Festival

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The memory of the hip swivelling, pelvis gyrating, pop culture icon of his day whose awe inspiring journey from an impoverished upbringing in Memphis to the man who would go on to be referred to ever after as "The King of Rock and Roll" is honoured each year when the township of Parkes throws open its doors to the world and welcomes fans of Elvis Presley to celebrate the life and music of this most remarkable man.  

Parkes almost doubles in size overnight during the Elvis Festival as it plays host to literally thousands of die hard Elvis fans from around the globe who make the journey to take part in the celebration of the tremendously exciting if somewhat tumultuous short life of the King.   Parkes is a place that previously had no connection whatsoever to the man from Memphis, Tennesee. Yet it has earned its claim to fame among Elvis aficionados by successfully staging twenty Elvis Festivals. 

Being a huge fan of Elvis myself and his brand of popular music that defined a generation, I felt honoured to take part in the celebrations this year.  Drawing 18,000 visitors, taking part in some 150 events, the Festival delivers a welcome injection of $9 million into the local economy.  It attracted 80 volunteers who dedicated over 700 hours of work over the five days of the Festival to ensure it went smoothly.

If you can visualise an Elvis impersonator on every street corner and a large parade through town, throw in a Gospel church service not to mention a series of Elvis tribute concerts, then add over 400 excited fans making the trek from Sydney on the Countrylink Elvis Express, you can certainly imagine that Parkes was well and truly "All Shook Up".

Local businesses reported record trade this year whilst most of the accommodation available had been booked out months in advance of the event.  An additional 70 powered sites were made available at the showground while camping sites were stretched to capacity.  Some generous local residents went even further and offered 1776 beds in their homes to visitors.  What better indication can there be than that of the wonderful sense of community this Festival engenders among the good people of Parkes.

Beginning way back in 1993, the Elvis Festival has blossomed over the years and in the process has created its very own legacy with the enthusiastic support of fans and local residents.  Parkes has its own special brand of die hard Elvis fans that go to extraordinary lengths to pay homage to the King. One local has changed his name by deed poll in honour of the man.  Another local couple for many years ran the Graceland Restaurant in town. 

The concept of the Festival was first conceived by passionate community members who recognised its potential as a regular fun event on the Parkes social calendar.  January was identified as the ideal time to stage it, given the traditional lull in tourism that month and most importantly it happily coincided with Elvis Presley's birthday falling on the 8th.

What has impressed me more than anything else about the Festival is the way it has imbued the local population with an infectious enthusiasm that that has manifested itself in a burning desire to see the town prosper.  It is more than a Festival to these people, the concept is warmly embraced by the entire community leading to an atmosphere around that time of year that is difficult to capture.  It really has to be experienced firsthand to truly understand and appreciate it.

So I'm issuing an invitation on behalf of the people of Parkes.  If you consider yourself to be a fan and think you know all there is to know about the King, and even if you are not and are perhaps curious enough to try and understand the public's undiminished fascination with the man then I urge you to mark the date in your calendar and make the trip next January to see for yourself why the legacy of Elvis Presley is alive and well in the central west of New South Wales.                          

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.

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