Southern Highlands Community Forum - Private Members Statement

Ms PRU GOWARD (Goulburn—Minister for Family and Community Services, and Minister for Women) [8.51 p.m.]: Last year the Government released New South Wales 2021: the Government's 10-year strategic plan to rebuild the State and make New South Wales number one again. This year the Government has taken its draft plans to the community to seek feedback and suggestions, which will contribute to the final plans to be released later this year. On 18 April at Mittagong I was proud to host one of the largest turn outs to a New South Wales 2021 forum. More than 170 constituents braved an extraordinarily cold, wet, highlands evening to participate in the most consultative process this State has ever seen. I was accompanied by my Cabinet colleague Chris Hartcher, whose role as Minister for Resources and Energy was well exercised by the end of the evening.

A discussion paper outlining priorities important to the Illawarra region had been prepared as a starting point. Small discussion groups were then led by a facilitator to answer questions. What are your priorities for the region? What actions should the New South Wales Government take to deliver the priorities for the Illawarra? The northern part of my electorate has long been included as part of the Illawarra region, yet if you ask a resident of Bowral, Mittagong, Moss Vale or a resident from one of the villages nestled in the surrounding countryside, they will proudly call themselves a Southern Highlander; just as the southern residents think of themselves as hailing from the Southern Tablelands. Not unsurprisingly, the night's first resolution was to seek a regional name that defines who we are. Ideas were discussed and thrown into the mix.

"Hume Corridor" was mooted, but we do not want people to think of us as an area just for passing through. In the end the consensus was for the self-explanatory "Southern Highlands/Tablelands" and the meeting asked for a regional action plan to be developed for this newly defined region. The discussion groups reached a consensus on more than half a dozen priorities, including mining, transport, health services, the economy, the environment, and support for both the older and youngest members of the community. None of them came as a surprise to me—they are the very issues that are presented to my office on a daily basis. The impact of mining exploration activities in the Southern Highlands has galvanised the local community. Ever since Peter and Kim Martin, conveners of the Southern Highlands Coal Action Group, raised this with me in July 2010 the determination of local landowners and residents to reject mining in the highlands has been evident.

Mining is simply inappropriate under one of the largest aquifers in the State. Surely my colleagues will remember the previous Government's attempts to tap into the same aquifer during the last drought before mothballing the project in favour of the desalination plant. The then Government's determination to proceed to extract water for Sydney was based on the confirmation of the vast size of the aquifer, its purity, and excellent rate of recharge. For precisely the same reasons I am confident that the Aquifer Interference Regulation will protect this region from mining. Mining dominated the question and answer session.

Minister Hartcher answered questions in his forthright way, while assuring the community that all stakeholder groups would be involved in the Strategic Regional Land Use Policy to be mapped out for the Southern Highlands and which will be in place before the end of the year. When questioned about a moratorium on new mining licences the Minister quoted three zeros: zero renewed exploration licences, zero new exploration licences, and zero fracking licences under the O'Farrell Government. Minister Hartcher said he could not stop Hume Coal from continuing exploratory drilling until its renewal licence was determined. Of course, community submissions will be considered as the process requires. The bad old days of brown paper bag determinations are over.

Part 3A, an old Labor legacy that allowed State significant development decisions to be determined by the Minister alone, has thankfully been abolished. The introduction of part 5 to the planning Act sees equivalent development proposals determined by the Planning Assessment Commission—an independent body. Other issues raised in the hour-long discussion period included the need for a new Bowral hospital, improved transport, affordable housing and economic growth to provide local jobs. Renewable energy was raised and participants were pleased to learn that Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy Rob Stokes is preparing a discussion paper. New South Wales 2021 includes a target to achieve 20 per cent renewable energy by 2021.

Feedback from the evening has been overwhelmingly positive. Many concerns were put to rest and the excitement of being able to contribute to the discussion about our region was evident—a truly democratic process. Over the next couple of months regional action plans, which will identify the priority actions to be delivered by the Government for each region, will be finalised. On Friday of this week the city of Goulburn will host a transport master plan forum—another hot topic in my electorate. I encourage my constituents to come along, as it is an excellent opportunity to speak directly to both the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Roads and Ports, who will be present on the night.

Pru Goward

Member for Goulburn

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Authorised by Pru Goward, Parliament House, Macquarie Street, Sydney NSW 2000