City of Cessnock

I take this opportunity to tell the House about the town of Cessnock, which gives my electorate its name and is the town where my family and I live. We should all do this from time to time: take a moment to remind the House about the different areas we represent. It is very easy, especially in opposition—or, as some have proven, in government—to focus on the negative all the time. But Cessnock has plenty of good stories to tell. Wine production and the beautiful vineyards—not to mention our beautiful golf course—seems a natural place to begin. Any members of the House who have been to my electorate will attest to its beauty, and to the quality of the hospitality. There are top-class restaurants and accommodation, not to mention the quality of the wine itself, and of course the people. My thoughts on roads are well known, and I will not go over them again.

In recent years concerts have become a major activity in the vineyards, with more and more major acts coming to the area. Elton John, Rod Stewart and Dolly Parton are all coming to the area in the months ahead, as will the CMC Rocks the Hunter Country Music Festival. This is both a huge endorsement of the qualities of the vineyards and a great opportunity for growth of the broader City of Cessnock. I think this is an important point. While it is easy to view the Pokolbin area in isolation, I believe the gifts of the Pokolbin area must be felt across the entire Cessnock electorate, and used to address issues right across the town. In the past decade we have seen a number of large projects in the centre of the town. One of the biggest local projects we have seen in recent years—delivered by a Labor local council—is the very modern Baddeley Park Sportsground, which I can assure the House is the envy of Newcastle Rugby League and probably most of country New South Wales.

I say this because it has hosted the final of the Country Divisional Championship numerous times since it opened in 2005, as well as the Newcastle Knights and the Newcastle Jets trials, and was going to be a training venue as part of Australia’s FIFA World Cup bid—still a sore point for many of us. The Cessnock Performing Arts Centre is another project that has added to the vibrancy of the town. A major investment by the last council and opened a couple of years ago, the Performing Arts Centre is a superb venue, and has hosted loads of plays, stand-up comedians, musicians and entertainers such as Jon English and Kasey Chambers, and other events that may not have come to the area had it not been for this facility. I am also told the centre is hosting a particularly big event next February, so watch this space. Cessnock is also a town full of achievers.

When it comes to people achieving things, Cessnock is perhaps best known for sport, and particularly rugby league. Following in the footsteps of the Johns brothers and Bill Peden, Cessnock product and tackling machine Joel Edwards will line up for the Knights against Melbourne on Sunday, in his first appearance in the finals. I am sure members of the House who are not Knights supporters will also have a keen interest in the outcome of this game, so that we can keep the trophy in New South Wales. He is not the only example though. Cessnock has produced junior and senior representatives in both rugby codes, football, netball, basketball, hockey, tennis, swimming, water polo, gymnastics, shooting and archery at both State and national levels. I am sorry if I have forgotten some sports but, as members can tell, there are a few to remember.

I must make special note of gymnastics because only last weekend my daughter Isla won the right to go to the State championships. The Cessnock Police and Community Youth Club is the home of gymnastics in Cessnock and many other police and community youth clubs across the State. The existing police and community youth club site has recently been sold and a new site is to be developed in nearby streets. I welcome the announcement from the Coalition Government that funding will be available for new police and community youth clubs. This new centre in Cessnock is a clear signal of growth and prosperity and a community that is experiencing an upward trend in life and lifestyle. I and other parents in the town see our children achieving in sport and are tremendously proud, not only of their ability and application but of the healthy lifestyle they are embracing.

But while sports men and women may be notable examples, Cessnock people are achieving on all scales and in all fields. We continue to see young people returning home with a degree in law or medicine or any of the other fields that address needs in our community. The challenge of course is to keep them, but that is a challenge that is helped by the vitality and sense of the collective within our community. There is a continued focus on the low level of tertiary education in Cessnock, and this needs to be addressed. However, the electorate of Cessnock ranked third in the State for its proportion of people with a trade qualification, according to the last census. What I read into this is that, while education levels in Cessnock do need to improve, there are plenty of good people with good skills in the town.

It is not all doom and gloom. Cessnock is a town in which the community and dozens and dozens of volunteer groups play a huge role. Cessnock, the town, is just one part of the Cessnock electorate. Over the years, the electorate has moved north, south-east and west, but Cessnock town has always been its heart. What I have tried to do today is to cut through some of the negative impressions that people place on the town of Cessnock, and speak about some of the things the town has going for it. I urge members of the House and people across the State to come and have a look for themselves.