It has been a busy time for Gunnedah across a huge range of issues.

As well as helping to bring the critical lack of resourcing for policing and crime prevention to national attention, we have also been working towards a strong future for our Shire in other areas.

This week, I spoke at a Senate public hearing for the Water Amendment (Restoring Our Rivers) Bill 2023 at Parliament House in Canberra. This is a bill with significant ramifications for regional New South Wales, including our own shire, yet only two Senators showed enough respect to be in attendance during the timeslot for the local government representatives from each of the four basin states.

In addition to the fact that all of these hearings have been held in Canberra and not in the communities that will be impacted, the buybacks proposed by the federal government will have a devastating effect on rural and regional communities.

Water is life in regional New South Wales. Our crops, our animals, ourselves – we all depend on it, and when the water is not available, businesses fail and people move. It causes a population drain to areas where water is better protected – in metropolitan areas. Narromine shire lost more than 200 jobs during the last buybacks with a serious flow-on effect for the whole community, and neighbouring communities.

People whose livelihoods are at stake need and deserve the opportunity to have input into their future in practical and positive ways.

The proposals in this bill will further divide the city and the bush.

I travelled with a group of business and community representatives to our Sister City of Kolomotu’a in Tonga last week for a Gunnedah Shire Employment Expo.

Business and community representatives, along with a number of councillors, travelled at their own expense to Tonga for the Expo that attracted hundreds of people from a large range of industries, including much-needed skill sets such as early childhood learning, nursing, teaching, and trades such as electrical, carpentry, and mechanics. Close to 200 people have already registered their formal interest in pursuing employment.

As well as meeting our shortfall in qualified labour, this partnership with Kolomotu’a could greatly assist the Kingdom of Tonga. There is limited practical experience in a large variety of skilled areas in Tonga, and people who work here will not only be able to contribute to the Tongan economy, but will bring home valuable experience.

We held the expo at the invitation of Her Royal Highness Princess Angelika Latufuipeka Tuku’aho, the patron of our sister city relationship.

It was an amazing moment to stand beneath the “Gunnedah Avenue” sign our friends from Kolomotu’a have erected in permanent tribute to our partnership. This very practical relationship will only continue to grow, and we are expecting Her Royal Highness to once again visit Gunnedah in the first half of 2024.

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