On behalf of my community, post the Federal budget and prior to the State budget, which is about to be released, I want to talk about what is really needed in the electorate of Cessnock that I have the great privilege to represent. I know there has been much fanfare, ribbon cutting, ceremony, hard hats and fluoro vests about basic infrastructure that I say is important, but sometimes it is less important. I represent a community that traditionally consists of hardworking, low-educated people who make up an unskilled workforce. They are blue collar workers in the greatest tradition and greater sense. I represent a collection of villages, every single one of which was founded on coal. The family traditions, the relationships and rivalries that have developed across those communities have certainly stood the test of time. Many of those villages are more than 150 years old now. The people who live there still have the basic fundamental values of hard work, a decent living, a fair go and family.
Unfortunately, in 2006, 2011, 2016 the electorate of Cessnock statistically found itself in the position of being the lowest-educated community or electorate in New South Wales. Cessnock has the lowest number of people who take on studies after leaving school, the highest number of people who leave school at year 10 or before, the lowest number of people who complete year 12 and the lowest number of people who move on to a university education. The importance and significance of those facts are very much in our face as we move into the future. We have been told for the past decade or more that in the future 50 per cent of jobs and occupations will require a year 12 qualification and post-school education qualifications—tertiary, diploma, certificates, et cetera.
Sadly and unfortunately, there is a massive gap in the ability of my community to face that future because they just do not have that skillset or that ongoing relationship with education. My message to the Prime Minister of Australia, the Treasurer and this State’s Premier and Treasurer is that while they may make much fanfare about a road, tunnel or bridge that is being built, which will cost them money from the very day it is opened, and more and more money each and every year, I need them to invest in people. I need them to invest in the education of the people of Cessnock right across the electorate. I need them to invest in struggling families that, with the massive stresses of finances, often fail to stay together. I need them to invest in re-engaging people with their education.
I need them to invest in the mental health of my community—their health and wellbeing, exercise, diet and risk factors that prevent disease such as diabetes. That is the investment I need. I do not need them to invest billions and billions of dollars in some vanity project that will make a difference to someone who already has every opportunity in life. I need them to invest in people across New South Wales, particularly in regional areas and in electorates like Cessnock. As we head towards the handing down of the New South Wales State budget, I implore the Treasurer of this State to realise that putting people first will ultimately have a multiplier effect on every dollar he invests.