Question time: economic recovery for regional NSW

12th May 2020

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (16:23:03): My question is directed to the Premier. In order to ensure the economic recovery of New South Wales is equitable throughout the area, including regions, will the Premier explain to the House what her Government will be doing to ensure that areas such as Lake Macquarie, Newcastle and the Hunter are not left behind?

Ms GLADYS BEREJIKLIAN (WilloughbyPremier) (16:23:28): I thank the member for Lake Macquarie for his question and acknowledge that his community experienced a cluster of cases very unexpectedly. I thank the health workers in his community who managed to support the community in controlling the spread and reducing the spread. Having discussed that matter specifically with the Deputy Premier and other colleagues it has guided our decision about the issues we need to look at in relation to regional New South Wales in particular, how we manage the health aspects and how we manage the economic recovery to make sure we find the right balance at the right time.

Many of our regional communities at this stage are immune from having any cases, but we know that can change in an instant. I acknowledge everybody who supported those people and supported that context to make sure it did not spread. Let me assure the member for Lake Macquarie that the regions are foremost in our mind, as is supporting the most vulnerable throughout the community. A few examples I am happy to share with the House are, as you know, the JobKeeper support package, which is one of the most inspired areas of public policy I have ever seen in my public life. But it did not cover, for example, council employees.

The New South Wales Treasurer, on the advice of the local government Minister, made sure we were able to extend a very generous contribution to local government so that they could keep employees onboard. I know it had a disproportionate advantage for regional New South Wales because many people employed in regional communities are employed by major government institutions including local government. That ensured that we played our part in rural and regional New South Wales. In the same vein the Deputy Premier, Minister Marshall and others were able to lobby the Treasurer to provide an extension of drought funding, which was announced on the weekend.

We appreciate that even though our communities have to deal with the fear and the anxiety associated with COVID, many regional communities are also still dealing with the consequences of drought. Even for those communities who have had some rain and are emerging out of the deep drought, the supply chains are still disrupted in rural and regional communities and some communities, such as yours, are impacted because the supply chains are disrupted and jobs are impacted. Another important initiative that our Government took that has a disproportionate advantage in regional and rural New South Wales is bringing forward those smaller projects to make sure we keep people employed and create new opportunities for employment.

More broadly, Minister Ward recently announced a package for volunteers and for those who might be at risk of homelessness. Again, we know that people on low wages or perhaps now on no wages, in particular in the regions, are suffering. We supported non-government organisations and councils to ensure that volunteers who are able to, who might have spare time on their hands at the moment, can be engaged to support communities in that regard. There are a number of other statewide policies that we have announced that support our rural and regional communities. Please know the virus is indiscriminate. It can attack anyone, anytime, anywhere. Also, the economic consequences of this pandemic are indiscriminate. We have seen entire sectors, entire communities, literally on their knees because of what is occurring.

The member for Lake Macquarie raises an issue that all of us worry about in our own electorates: We worry about the wellbeing of those we represent. I ask every member of this House: If there are examples in your communities where there are specific pockets of disadvantage that we may not have cast our attention to please do not hesitate to let Government members know; please do not hesitate to approach Ministers. This is a time when all of us should come together to make sure we are addressing and dealing with those issues for those who are most vulnerable. The Minister for Mental Health announced a very important package to support those who may never before in their life have experienced anxiety and never before in their life felt the pressure they do now. It is an anonymous and supportive way in which people can come forward and receive that help and support. I know this issue is important to the member for Lake Macquarie, because he has raised it in this House a number of times, given his background as a mental health nurse.

We know that all of us have had to adjust our lives in ways in which we never expected to. Please know that no Government is perfect and certainly we are far from perfect, but please know that at every stage of the pandemic we have tried to make sure that we have addressed support to each area of society, to each sector so that nobody is left behind. We know that the consequences are that some people are suffering more than others. Our aim as a Government is to make sure we extend that support and reduce those barriers for people being able to have a good quality of life as all of us make our way through this protracted issue. I thank the member for his question and assure him that the question could be asked by any member of this place. We are very cognisant of the issue he raises.

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