What a pleasure it is to be in the Chamber on the last sitting day of this Fifty-fifth Parliament. Some members will not return to this place and I might be one of them; we will only know after the next election. There is unfinished business for whoever represents the electorate of Cessnock after the next election. Mental health and counselling services are required right across the Hunter New England health district—something that is incredibly dear to my heart as I see so much disadvantage in the community. One of the most significant areas of disadvantage is the tyranny of distance and people’s inability to access mental health and counselling services.
We used to have a fantastic community health service that was operated, funded and staffed by medical professionals across the Hunter New England area. Unfortunately, earlier this year the decision was made to withdraw that service. The justification given at the time was that Hunter Medicare Local would pick up the slack. On Thursday 29 May there was a debate in this House about Hunter New England community health and counselling services. In that debate I said:
Closing the counselling services offered by Hunter New England Health seems to be a race between the State and Federal governments to see who can get out of the business of providing mental health the fastest. Of course, everybody could see that the Federal Government was moving towards shutting down Medicare Local offices, and it was widely reported in the media.
The sad truth is that that is exactly what happened in the Hunter area. The previously funded services of Hunter New England Health were plan A. When those services were removed, plan B was to fall back on Medicare Local services which have also been removed from the Hunter—a sad reflection on the mental health facilities that are available in our local area today.
I recognise all the wonderful and beautiful people from across the Cessnock electorate who have come to see me about the significant and distressing things that have happened as a result of changes to workers compensation legislation. I pay special tribute to Gary and Kay Grant. I hope that they survive the Christmas period and that whoever is elected as the next member for Cessnock—hopefully it will be me—will continue the fight to get the services and support they need. Despite the fact that I have brought this matter to the attention of the insurer and relevant Ministers in this place, Gary and Kay Grant are suicidal as a result of their treatment under workers compensation. I hope they will survive the festive season and that they receive the support they need in the new year.
Whoever represents the electorate of Cessnock in the next Parliament—hopefully it will be me and this is not a valedictory speech—will have much work to do to try to secure extra police and a new police station. The police station is outdated, it has served its purpose and it needs to be redeveloped. I hope we can ensure that that happens. I have spoken ad nauseam in this place about educational standards in the Cessnock electorate. There is much that we need to do for people in the Cessnock electorate. Unfortunately we have the lowest level of educational attainment in New South Wales and there does not seem to be a plan to address that. We must do something about it.
We have a wonderful world-class facility in the form of the University of Newcastle which is located an hour’s drive away from Cessnock. Obviously the changes to TAFE will have a significant impact on the educational standards of people in my electorate. Cessnock has the highest number of people with trade qualifications in New South Wales and is the most popular tourist destination outside of Sydney but we no longer offer hospitality training at our local TAFE. We need to do more to raise the educational standards of people in the Cessnock electorate.
Today I make special mention of a gentleman called Warwick Howarth from Howarth Drilling, a company that provided drilling services for NuCoal in the Hunter Valley. Unfortunately, because of the implementation of legislation resulting from Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC] investigations, the licence and lease were withdrawn from NuCoal. As a result, Howarth Drilling, a little family operated business that had invested in some drilling equipment because it had been contracted to do to the drilling on that job, has essentially gone bankrupt—an unintended consequence of legislation that logically made sense, given all that had happened at the ICAC and all the corruption revelations. However, Howard Drilling is the innocent victim. A great deal still has to be done for the wonderful and beautiful people of the Cessnock electorate. I hope that I will be back next year to represent them.