5 September, 2023
Roy's Round Up - August 22, 2023
It has been a big two weeks, mostly spent on the road around the electorate. I have been out and about to Cobar, Louth, Wanaaring, Tibooburra, Milparinka, Broken Hill, Wilcannia, Little Topar and Nyngan. This week I will be back in Parliament, ready to discuss with ministers the issues I have been talking about with con- stituents, councils, and other organisations in Barwon.
New cars for electoral offices
As the member for the biggest electorate in NSW, covering 44 percent of the state, I have three electoral offices - in Broken Hill, Cobar, and Narrabri. But there is a lot of distance between each, which means the staff in my offices still have vast distances to cover to reach the entire electorate. From Cobar to Narrabri is five hours drive, from Narrabri to Broken Hill it is nearly ten hours, and Broken Hill to Cobar is four hours and even many of the towns and localities within the responsibil- ity of each electoral office can still be a bit of a drive.
It’s important to me that my team and I assist people all over Barwon. Getting my team mobile has been vital to deliver mobile offices in remote communities and get people into meetings across the electorate. Not everyone in Barwon has transport, so bringing services to people has been a key principle.
My team had been driving older vehicles in the last term, which were not as safe as a newer vehicle, and were having some maintenance issues.Three new vehi- cles have been delivered by my staff out to Narrabri and Cobar and another is on its way soon to Broken Hill.
Western Division Councils Conference
The week before last I travelled to Cobar for the Western Division Councils Conference, a meeting of mayors, councillors, and general managers from eight councils from across western NSW. The opening night reception was held on August 9 at the Cobar Youth and Community Centre and the conference kicked off the next day with a program of presentations from a range of government departments as well speeches from myself and Ron Hoenig, the Minister for Local Government. The minister made a point of meeting with representatives from each of the councils, which I also sat in on.
The meetings were a sign of a willingness to take a more collaborative approach. Which is something I talked about in my speech at the conference, about creating a more effective partnership between regional councils and government, one that keeps the current level of funding going to regional areas, with room to increase it, but is based on a more equitable model of distributing resources and delivering services to the bush.
A recent survey showed one in five city people are thinking of moving to the country, so it is vital this partnership is fully functioning to ensure the bush can capi- talise on the potential boom. Many local councils already have solutions to some of the biggest issues that affect their communities, but they need to do it in a strong, reliable, collaborative relationship with the State Government to make them work.
I want to thank the Western Division for the invita- tion to attend and speak, and I also want to thank Cobar Shire Council for being such great hosts and for organising the event.
Incentives for health workers
In June last year the previous government announced an $883 million scheme to offer critical health care workers a $10,000 incentive to move to the bush. At the time I said $10k was not enough to convince people to uproot their lives in the city and move to the country. But the week before last Premier Chris Minns announced his government would double that amount to $20,000.
While there are still many other things to sort out for existing staff and for those thinking of making the move, such as improving wages and conditions, doubling the incentive is getting closer to something that might entice more health workers to take up jobs in Western NSW.
After an interruption of three years due to Covid and last year’s terrible floods, Louth Races were back on again this year. The event brings a big crowd to this small community, pumping some money into the local economy in this part of Barwon. I was so happy to be back in Louth for this great event.
There was great excitement and anticipation for the races after it had been cancelled the last three times. The community needs this crowd once a year, it’s vital to the local economy. Also, a fair bit of fun.
Country races bring together the local community, draw crowds from hundreds of kilometres away, bring- ing money and giving people a unique experience of outback hospitality. I want to thank Scruffy and his wife Janine for their warm hospitality, allowing me to roll out my swag on their front lawn and even putting on breakfast.
Last week I had the honour of unveiling a plaque at the opening of Sturt’s Steps, an amazing tourism trail in the Corner Country, NSW. This unique tourist experi- ence uses signposted historic sites, artworks, and a dig- ital component to guide people around some of the areas visited by Charles Sturt on his 1844 expedition. Decades long in the making and involving some deter- mined community members, like Ruth Sandow and Lori Modde (and a very long list of others) working with sev- eral government agencies, this is a great achievement. What they have created is a fascinating and spectacular journey across the outback, which will bring more tourists to this part of the world, which means more money for local businesses. This project also preserves historical sites, and celebrates local aboriginal history and culture, and much more. It is a win for everyone.
Well done to all who, like Sturt, had the vision, tenacity and persistence to make this a reality.
Smelly cloud hanging over gas consultants
The recent revelations that consultancy firm Ernst and Young provided services to Santos in 2021 whilst working on the “Future of Gas Statement” for NSW Government has brought the issue of government trans- parency and conflicts of interest back into the spotlight.
The issue is particularly important to Barwon because the Future of Gas Statement renewed several PELs to support the future of the Narrabri gas project. My position is unchanged. I don’t want the project to proceed. This is just more evidence that the entire pro- cess of the previous government pushing on the gas pro- ject has been flawed.
The public has no visibility on the relationship between government and consultancy firms and what the firms are being paid for. This lack of transparency undermines the trust we should have in our government.
This case doesn't pass the pub test. In the interest of integrity, I will discuss with the relevant ministers a review into the Future of Gas Statement, to truly under- stand what has happened here.
Around $1bn was spent on consultants between 2017 and 2023.
Last week I was saddened to hear the news that two buildings had been destroyed by fire at the Walgett Pre- school. This was a terrible thing for the town and the police are still investigating if deliberately lit. On the day it happened I was on the phone with Pru Car, the Deputy Premier and Minister for Education discussing what needed to be done. Interim arrangements have been made to make sure that schooling continues, and temporary buildings are being sent to replace the burnt ones.
This week in parliament I will be talking to the Minister about the situation in Walgett.
Wilcannia’s Baaka Cultural Centre
Last week I was in Wilcannia for the sod turning cer- emony for the Baaka Cultural Centre. This $9.5 million state and federal collaboration will bring Barkindji cul- ture and tradition together in one place and preserve it. The centre has been a long time in the making and will finally become a reality thanks to a concerted effort by the communities, interested individuals, organisations, and government agencies. Part of the building will be in the shape of an emu footprint and will be a striking addition to the town, become a bit of a community hub and bring together indigenous and non-indigenous peo- ple.
This is a great investment in the local communities and in Wilcannia. It will be a huge asset that should attract a lot of people travelling on the Barrier Highway, making them stop to take a look, maybe spend a bit of money in town and give them an experience of local cul- ture. It is due for completion by the end of next year. Congratulations to the community and to all those who organised the sod turning ceremony and the festivities that were held with it.
Nyngan and Wee Waa health care working groups
Both the Wee Waa Health Service Working Party and the Nyngan MPS Working Group met last week to continue working on the problems of staff shortages in their respective towns. The Wee Waa meeting, which took place last Tuesday, was attended by Minister for Health, Ryan Park. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be there, due to prior commitments, but I will be catching up with the minister this week to discuss issues raised and the actions that need to be taken. One major concern in Wee Waa is getting a doctor with VMO rights into the hospital. Once a doctor is confirmed, it will be easier to recruit nursing staff.
The Minister is keen to work through the issues and recognises Wee Waa hos- pital is a fantastic facility that needs to be properly utilised and to operate at its full capacity.
I was, however, able to make it to the Nyngan meeting, on Wednesday, where the discussion was about the terms of ref- erence of the working group and about some of the work already being done to recruit nurses.
Also covered were the problems with things such as childcare, accommodation and wages to attract and retain staff. I have given a commitment to keep taking these issues to the relevant ministers, because there is no quick or easy solu- tion, and this will require action across several ministerial portfolios.
I have also asked the Health Minister if he can make it to the next meeting at Nyngan.
Vietnam Veterans Day
Last week Australia observed Vietnam Veterans Day, commemorating all those from this country who served in the Vietnam War. The date, August 18, is the anniversary of the battle of Long Tan, which took place in 1966, when D Company of 6th Battalion, 6RAR (Royal Australian Regiment) and three New Zealanders ran into around 2,000 Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese regulars moving through a rubber planta- tion near the Australian army base at Nui Dat. In the rain-soaked fighting that ensued 17 Australians were killed, and at least 245 Vietnamese soldiers. The action resulted in 6RAR being awarded a US Presidential Distinguished Unit Citation. That citation is still worn by the 6RAR. I was proud to wear it while I was in the army in the 1990s.
This year marked 50 years since Australia withdrew the last of its troops from Vietnam and there will be ceremonies taking place across the state as well as a televised national service in Canberra. I urge you to pause for a moment today to remember those who served and those 523 Australians who made the ultimate sacrifice.
With a sitting week about to start, I took the opportunity on the weekend to join several Parliamentary colleagues at "Ferragosto" - an annual celebration of Italian culture, food and entertainment. My colleague Philip Donato is the co- chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Italy with the local member for Drummoyne, Stephanie Di Pasqua MP. The event is held at Canada Bay, not far from the city. The Premier and the Opposition leader also made time to get there.
Over 42,000 Italians migrated to Australia post war between 1951 and 1968. They had a significant and positive impact on our own direction as a nation. Agriculture and mining were common industries for these people to work in, and certainly across Barwon there are many surnames that originated in Italy. Some went as far as Broken Hill to work in the mines. The crowd on the weekend was said to have exceeded 100,000. I'd certainly believe it!
When I was out and about around the electorate last week, at Cobar, Louth, Milparinka, and Wilcannia, I kept meeting people who were travelling to Broken Hill for the Mundi Mundi Bash. Driving along the Barrier Highway on Tuesday I saw long lines of vehicles towing caravans, and many free camp areas filled with vans.
The Mundi Mundi Bash draws thou- sands of people to enjoy music and fun in an outback setting, unlike any other. It also brings a lot of money into the elec- torate. This year’s event, which took place last week, was every bit as successful as the first two, maybe even bigger.
The event attracts people from across the country, some of whom also went to Louth races, some were at Milparinka on their way to the bash but stopping to enjoy the Sturt’s Steps along the way. There were even caravaners who enjoyed a bit of hospitality at Wilcannia at the turning of the first sod for the Baaka Cultural Centre.
Events like Mundi Mundi and Louth
races bring people to Barwon, show them
what a good time people have here,
bringing tourists who come time and
again, not only bringing in money but
also giving a generally positive image of
life in the country. It might even make
them want to move here.