BIGGEST INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT IN HISTORY OF NSW NATIONAL PARKS

More than 750km of new and upgraded walking tracks, 33 campground upgrades and 61 new and improved picnic areas are set to be delivered, as part of a record investment in community infrastructure in NSW national parks.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the NSW Government is investing $257 million to deliver 170 new and improved community infrastructure projects across the national parks estate.

“Not only are our national parks good for the environment and our health and wellbeing, they are good for the health of the economy – injecting around $18 billion into the economy each year and supporting 74,000 direct and indirect jobs,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“We’ve seen a huge surge in visitation during the pandemic as people rediscover the joys of the great outdoors, and we want to do everything we can to make the national park visitor experience even better.”

Environment Minister Matt Kean said the record funding amount will be delivered over three years, with priority given to projects that benefit the community and boost eco-tourism across the State.

“Whether it’s improving accessibility with new walking tracks and trails, or new and improved places to share a picnic with family and friends, we are delivering the single biggest investment in community infrastructure in the history of our national parks,” Mr Kean said.

“Over this summer alone, more than 18.5 million visits are expected in the State’s almost 900 National Parks, providing a much needed boost for nearby small businesses and nature-based tourism operators.

“I urge each and every one of those visitors to jump online and head to the national parks website which is jam-packed with the information you need to know to keep yourself safe, your friends safe and your family safe in our national parks.”

Visitors to all NSW national parks are reminded to check the NPWS Alerts for up to date information on any track or precinct closures as well as current COVID-safe requirements.

SMALL AND REGIONAL BUSINESSES WIN BIG IN NSW

Small, medium and regional businesses are reaping the benefits of the NSW Government’s Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) and Regional Procurement Policy, with the NSW Government spending more money with SMEs and regional businesses.

In the 12 months since the policy commenced on 1 February 2019, spend with regional suppliers increased by 19.6 per cent or $255 million, while spend with SMEs increased by 3.8 per cent or $337 million from the previous year.

Minister for Finance and Small Business Damien Tudehope said the SME and Regional Procurement Policy was helping family businesses and entrepreneurs to supply goods and services to the NSW Government, often for the first time.

“We introduced the policy to encourage NSW Government departments to keep SMEs and regional suppliers front of mind when making procurement decisions,” Mr Tudehope said.

“These businesses are the backbone of their communities and by giving them the opportunity to supply to Government we are helping support sectors hit hard by natural disasters, such as drought, bushfires, floods, as well as COVID-19 in the past year.”

Mr Tudehope said the NSW Government engages more than 52,000 SMEs and more than 24,000 regional businesses a year.

“That means local tradies and other suppliers are picking up Government work and keeping jobs in their local area,” Mr Tudehope said.

“If we support these businesses to grow, they will support jobs, families and communities as we move towards a post-pandemic NSW.”

The policy requires Government agencies to first consider buying goods and services from an SME or a regional business for all direct procurements up to $250,000. The Small Business Exemption allows Government agencies to buy directly from small businesses for any purchases up to $50,000 even if there is a mandated whole-of-government contract in place.

Vaccari’s Bakery in Griffith, which was started by brothers Glenn and Jason Vaccari and celebrated 25 years in business in July last year, is a regional business that supplies to the NSW Government.

“We have been selling our bakery products to our local schools for a number of years,” owner Erin Vaccari said.
“We have about 20 employees and it’s great that the NSW Government is able to support businesses such as ours in regional areas.”

For more information on the SME and Regional Procurement Policy, go tohttps://buy.nsw.gov.au/policy-library/policies/sme-and-regional-procurement-policy

Three die, one critically injured in crash – Muswellbrook

Three people have died, and a man is in a critical condition, following a head-on crash at Muswellbrook overnight.

Just before 9.30pm (Sunday 17 January 2021), emergency services were called to Bengalla Road following a crash between a Kia Carnival and a utility.

The driver and sole occupant of the utility – a man believed to be aged in his 30s – died at the scene.

The male driver and a female passenger in the Kia also died at the scene. They are yet to formally identified and their ages aren’t known.

A passenger in the Kia, a man believed to be aged in his 60s, was airlifted to John Hunter Hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Police from Hunter Valley Police District established a crime scene and an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash is underway.

A report will be prepared for the Coroner.

Boy missing from Hunter region

Police are appealing for public assistance to help locate a boy missing from the Hunter region.

Jayden Dalton, aged 12, was last seen at a shopping centre on the corner of Thomas Coke Drive and Taylor Avenue, Thornton, about 7.40pm yesterday (Friday 15 January 2021).

It’s believed he boarded a train at Thornton Railway Station about 7.55pm, before exiting at Beresfield Railway Station just before 8pm and was seen walking towards Woodberry.

He was reported missing to officers from Port Stephens-Hunter Police District, who commenced inquiries to locate him.

Concerns are held for his welfare due to his age and medical conditions.

Jayden is described as being of Caucasian appearance and about 130cm tall.

He was last seen wearing black ‘Harry Potter’ t-shirt, yellow shorts, black ‘Nike’ shoes and white socks. He had a black and purple scooter with him.

Anyone with information about this incident is urged to contact Crime Stoppers: 1800 333 000 or https://nsw.crimestoppers.com.au. Information is treated in strict confidence. The public is reminded not to report information via NSW Police social media pages.

Woman charged with murder – East Maitland

A woman will face court today charged with murder following a fatal domestic-related stabbing in the Hunter region overnight.

About 7.20pm (Saturday 16 January 2021), emergency services were called to a home on Ronald Street, in the Maitland suburb of Tenambit, after reports a man had been injured.

Officers from Port Stephens-Hunter Police District attended and found a 51-year-old man suffering stab wounds to his stomach. Despite the efforts of police and paramedics, the man died at the scene.

A 23- year-old woman, known to the man, was arrested and taken to Maitland Police Station.

A crime scene was established at the home which is being forensically examined. Detectives have commenced an investigation under Strike Force Creekborough.

The woman has since been charged with murder and refused bail to appear at Newcastle Bail Court today (Sunday 17 January 2021).

Auditor-General asked to investigate dodgy Yeelirrie uranium mine approval

The Greens have asked the Auditor-General to investigate the approval of the Yeelirrie uranium mine in Western Australia by former federal environment minister Melissa Price, after a damning ABC report this week showed a deeply flawed approval process.

Greens Environment Spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young wrote to the Auditor-General Grant Hehir on Thursday and requested his office consider the matter (letter attached).

“The Morrison Government’s conduct when it comes to approval of this uranium mine stinks. Former environment minister Melissa Price, ticked and flicked the night before the 2019 federal election against the advice of her own department,” Senator Hanson-Young said.

“The environmental approval of this mine smacks of political interference and cronyism.

“FOI documents show that somehow between 9.31pm and midnight, the minister managed to examine hundreds of pages of the decision package she had just received, remove key protections for threatened species and grant approval.

“The minister went against her own department’s advice and did so after the company had asked her to expedite the process together with former resources minister Matt Canavan who also intervened to get the approval across the line.

“It seems we have yet another case of an environment-wrecking project riddled with improper process, going against department advice and with political interference all on PM Morrison’s watch. The Auditor-General’s scathing report in June last year showed potentially hundreds of cases such as this exist. It is no wonder we are in an extinction crisis.

“The Morrison Government cannot keep getting away with doing favours for its mining and development mate or our wildlife and wild places will all soon be gone.”

Rural and Remote Health Stakeholder Special Roundtable on COVID-19 by teleconference, 9 December 2020

On 9 December 2020, Regional Health Minister, Mark Coulton, chaired the 11th special rural and remote health COVID-19 roundtable with members of the Rural Health Stakeholder group.

Minister Coulton acknowledged the continuing value and importance of these regular Roundtable meetings, with the focus now shifting to vaccine rollout. Minister Coulton advised of the significant work being undertaken regarding COVID-19 vaccines, noting the logistical considerations to support access to, and delivery of, a safe and effective vaccine.

Senior Department staff provided updates on the Commonwealth COVID-19 response. Participants provided valuable feedback to the Minister on the current focus and efforts of their own organisations in response to the outbreak.

Update on the Rural Procedural Grants Program (RPGP)

The RPGP supports procedural GPs and rural generalists in rural and remote areas to attend relevant continuing professional development (CPD) activities, focused on both skills maintenance and upskilling.  Procedural GPs and rural generalists are able to receive financial assistance to maintain their additional skills in emergency medicine and upskill in anaesthetics, obstetrics and/or surgery. The financial assistance contributes to the costs incurred by the GP or rural generalist to attend CPD activities, including travel, accommodation and engagement of a locum.

Stakeholders welcomed the announcement that temporary flexibilities allowing RPGP participants to claim support for CPD activities delivered online have been extended to
30 June 2021.

These flexibilities were introduced in May 2020 as part of the Government’s COVID response and have been well received by program participants, with a good uptake of online options. Due to ongoing limitations in accessing face-to-face training, the Government has extended these arrangements.

COVID-19 Vaccine Update

The Department provided a comprehensive report on the COVID-19 vaccine strategy to support access to, and delivery of, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, as soon as they are available. Australia has secured over 114 million doses of potential vaccines, if proven safe and effective, and registered by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The Government has entered in to a range of agreements for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines. Detailed information can be found at: https://www.pm.gov.au/media/australia-secures-onshore-manufacturing-agreements-two-covid-19-vaccines*.

*Following this Roundtable, the Australian Government announced that the University of QLD/CSL vaccine would not be proceeding to phase 3.

The Government has joined the COVAX facility, as part of a global effort to support rapid, fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. This participation enables the purchase of COVID-19 vaccine doses as they become available. The COVAX facility provides access to a large portfolio of COVID-19 vaccine candidates and manufacturers across the world. Information is available at: https://www.health.gov.au/ministers/the-hon-greg-hunt-mp/media/australia-now-eligible-to-purchase-covid-19-vaccine-doses-through-covax.

Vaccine Policy

Stakeholders were advised that the rollout of safe and effective vaccines will be guided by Australia’s COVID-19 Vaccination Policy, which was endorsed by National Cabinet on
13 November 2020. The Policy sets out key principles, including that COVID-19 vaccines will be made available for free to:

  • all Australian citizens;
  • permanent residents; and
  • most visa-holders.

The Policy sets out the roles and responsibilities of the Australian Government and state and territory governments to implement a COVID-19 vaccine program in Australia from early 2021. Each jurisdiction, including the Australian Government, will develop supporting Implementation Plans, which will articulate how it will give effect to its responsibilities under this Policy.

Responsibilities of the Australian Government will include the regulation of vaccines, their acceptance from manufacturers, setting funding policy, ensuring appropriate data collection and monitoring systems are in place, and national communications and information.

States and territories’ responsibilities include ensuring appropriately qualified and trained workforce for vaccines delivered at their vaccination sites, providing sites where vaccinations can safely take place, and ensuring that immunisation providers at state and territory vaccination sites remain compliant at all times with their safety, ethical, and reporting obligations.

The Policy also outlines that while the Australian Government strongly supports immunisation and will run a strong campaign to encourage vaccination, it is not mandatory and individuals may choose not to vaccinate.

Detailed information on the Vaccine Policy can be found here.

Rollout

The Department reported that as doses will initially be limited, access to vaccines during the early period of the roll out will be made available to highest priority groups.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has provided initial advice to the Australian Government on which groups should be prioritised for the first doses for possible COVID-19 vaccination in Australia, being people who:

  • have an increased risk of developing severe disease
  • are at risk of exposure, being infected with and transmitting the virus
  • are working in services critical to society functioning.

Further information can be found at: https://www.health.gov.au/news/preliminary-advice-from-atagi-on-general-principles-for-the-covid-19-vaccination-program

Logistics and distribution

Stakeholders were advised that the Government is currently consulting with the states and territories, and medical experts on how a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed.

The Australian Government will be responsible for:

  • safely transporting vaccine doses to storage and administration sites within each state and territory, and between these sites and vaccination locations where necessary;
  • ensuring relevant logistics and storage chains are in place for each vaccine type; and
  • establishing a mechanism to track and trace all doses of vaccine as they move through the system.

Data and reporting

Managing the most effective and efficient roll-out of COVID-19 vaccine/s will require significant coordinated data and reporting mechanisms. The Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) will be used to:

  • monitor immunisation coverage levels and service delivery, which can help to identify regions at risk during disease outbreaks;
  • measure vaccination coverage at a local, state and national level;
  • determine an individual’s immunisation status, regardless of who immunised them; and
  • provide an Immunisation History Statement to prove their immunisation status for child care, school, employment or travel purposes.

The Department reported that it is highly likely that two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine will be required for immunisation. Further, each patient will need to have two doses of the same vaccine, i.e. two doses of the Pfizer vaccine or two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The AIR will monitor overall immunisation levels and individual immunisation status. It will be mandatory for vaccination providers to make timely recordings of any COVID-19 vaccinations into AIR.

Rural and Remote

Stakeholders were assured that the Commonwealth is mindful of the unique issues relating to distribution and access in rural and remote Australian communities and is engaging with states and territories to work through the complexities and challenges.

Further Communication

A range of communications materials will be developed regarding the vaccine rollout, targeted at Health Professionals and consumers. The Department will work with representatives of this forum to assist targeted dissemination to rural and remote Australians.

Workforce and Primary Care updates

Stakeholders expressed concerns that the ongoing impact of COVID-19 has heightened risks around workforce fatigue and burnout due to inability to take leave or undertake professional development. Reporting indicates that although Australian state and territory borders are re-opening, availability of locum support is problematic. The Department and stakeholders agreed to keep a watching brief on this issue.

The Department confirmed that the continuation of MBS telehealth items will be a key focus of the 10 year Primary Healthcare Plan.

Meeting summary

Minister Coulton thanked members for their ongoing participation, particularly over the past 12 months. The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines will be a standing item at future meetings.

Twenty-one rural stakeholder organisations are members of the group, along with the National Rural Health Commissioner and the Commonwealth Department of Health.

Participant list

Members participating in the teleconference for the 9 December 2020 were:

  • Rural Workforce Agencies Network
  • Australian Rural Health Education Network
  • Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health
  • CRANAplus
  • Indigenous Allied Health Australia
  • Royal Flying Doctor Service
  • National Rural Health Alliance
  • Pharmacy Guild of Australia
  • Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine
  • Australian Medical Association
  • Federation of Rural Australian Medical Educators
  • Rural Doctors Association of Australia
  • Australian Dental Association
  • Royal Australian College of General Practitioners- Rural Faculty
  • National Rural Health Commissioner

Apologies:

  • Pharmaceutical Society of Australia
  • Rural Health Workforce Australia
  • Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association
  • National Rural Health Student Network
  • National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Worker Association
  • Allied Health Professions Australia
  • Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives

Family fun focus for Australia Day

From a stirring salute to the Hunter’s frontline health workers to the city’s largest simultaneous pool party, there will be plenty of COVID safe activities to enjoy across Newcastle on 26 January.

City of Newcastle is bringing the Australia Day fun to the suburbs this year, delivering a range of diverse events spread across the Local Government Area that will allow families to enjoy the day closer to home.

Newcastle Deputy Lord Mayor Declan Clausen said due to COVID precautions and awareness, localised events across the city provided the ideal way for the community to safely come together.

City of Newcastle’s traditional Australia Day citizenship ceremony, which in the past has been one of the largest in the state, will also become a COVID safe event this year, with the Lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayor holding simultaneous ceremonies via Zoom to allow our newest citizens to make their pledge to Australia in a COVID safe environment.

“Throughout the pandemic, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our community has been our highest priority,” the Deputy Lord Mayor said.

“Our Australia Day program of events, much like our New Year’s festivities, has been designed to provide opportunities for Novocastrians to get involved in activities within their surrounding neighbourhoods and at some of our city’s most iconic locations.

“Smaller gatherings with dispersed crowds offer a safer way for people to come together and connect on 26 January, whether they’re packing a blanket and heading down to enjoy the produce stalls, food trucks and family-friendly entertainment at Richley Reserve, or cooling off at the city’s largest simultaneous pool party with inflatable fun and roving entertainment.

“Fort Scratchley will also use 26 January to provide a fitting salute to healthcare workers at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19, with 24 of those frontline staff given the opportunity to fire the Fort’s historic guns at 1pm.”

Fort Scratchley will offer a day full of activities, with a flag raising accompanied by the stirring sounds of the City of Newcastle RSL Pipe and Drums at 11am followed by the first of three gun firing ceremonies on the day (also at 1pm and 3pm).

Morse code demonstrations and a sausage sizzle hosted by the Lions Club will add to the atmosphere, while visitors are able to explore the Fort’s historic museum exhibition rooms or enjoy a picnic on the grassed headland with spectacular views of the ocean and harbour.

Sports enthusiasts can enjoy the final day’s action of the Beach 5s Rugby Tournament at Nobbys Beach, which showcases an entertaining and fast-paced hybrid game using modified rugby league, rugby union and touch football rules.

The teams-based competition has been hosted in Queensland previously but will have its first showing in Newcastle on 24-26 January, with former professional players Lote Tuqiri, Danny Buderus, Willie Mason and Robbie O’Davis headlining the City of Newcastle-supported event.

Locals looking for other family-friendly options for Australia Day can also check out the current exhibitions on offer at the city’s key cultural facilities including Colour by Questacon and 1×4 at Newcastle Museum and We Can Be Heroes: a backstage pass at Newcastle Art Gallery.

Australia Day celebrations

Food Market
Richley Reserve

10am to 4pm
Food-based market stalls, food trucks, roving entertainment, reptile shows and activities for children.

Pool Parties
Beresfield, Mayfield, Stockton and Wallsend pools

10am to 4pm
Activations include inflatables and roving entertainment.

Historical activities
Fort Scratchley

10am – 4pm
City of Newcastle RSL Pipe and Drums performance and flag raising (11am), firing of the Fort guns at 11am, 1pm and 3pm, Lions Club sausage sizzle, museum exhibition rooms, morse code demonstration.

Beach 5s Rugby
Nobbys Beach

24-26 January
Former professional players Lote Tuqiri, Danny Buderus, Willie Mason and Robbie O’Davis will be headlining the Beach 5s Rugby Festival presented City of Newcastle, which will see men’s, women’s and youth teams contest five-a-side sand-based matches based on modified rules of rugby union, rugby league and touch football

Colour exhibition
Newcastle Museum

10am – 5pm
Engage with more than 20 scientific experiences and see colour as you’ve never seen it before in this exhibition developed by Questacon – the National Science and Technology Centre and presented by Newcastle Museum.

We Can Be Heroes: a backstage pass exhibition
Newcastle Art Gallery

10am – 5pm
Music lovers will be given a backstage pass to some of the biggest bands and gigs in the world through this exhibition, which showcases rarely seen and previously unreleased photographs of Australian and international musicians.

‘DINOSAUR TREE’ DECLARED ASSET OF INTERGENERATIONAL SIGNIFICANCE

The NSW Government has announced the Wollemi Pines, in the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, will be the first site in the State to be declared an Asset of Intergenerational Significance.

The declaration is a legally recognised mechanism to bolster existing measures that protect the species for future generations.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said  the historic declaration recognises the extraordinary global significance of the Wollemi Pines, with some of the adult trees estimated to be up to a thousand years old

“This declaration enables us to take existing protections up another notch, and set specific legislative requirements including a dedicated fire management strategy to secure the survival of the species for generations to come,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“Prior to their discovery in 1994, Wollemi Pines were only known to us in fossil records with fossil evidence pointing to the species’ existence up to 90 million years ago.”

Just over 12 months ago, teams from the RFS and National Parks undertook an extensive operation to protect the Wollemis from extinction when the secret site came under threat from the devastating summer bushfires.

The declaration follows a $6 million investment by the NSW Government to embed ecological risk in the fire management framework and bolster bushfire protections for important ecological sites as part of the Government’s response to the NSW Bushfire Inquiry.

Environment Minister Matt Kean said the site is the first to be declared under new provisions in theNational Parks and Wildlife Act that will enhance conservation for the most precious and rare jewels in our national parks crown.

“The Wollemi Pines are often described as a living fossil, having been around when dinosaurs roamed the Earth,” Mr Kean said.

“Despite the incredible efforts by the NPWS and RFS teams last summer, several hundred juvenile trees in the protected site were impacted and are yet to resprout.

“That’s why we need to act now to put long-term protections in place that reduce the risk of fire exposure and allow the slow-growing juvenile trees to thrive.”

The declaration paves the way for special regulations to enhance the Wollemi Pines’ legal protection including requiring a dedicated fire management strategy, ecological monitoring, and ongoing conservation management.

Other places which will be considered for declaration as Assets of Intergenerational Significance include those containing the most important remaining populations of threatened species, as well as important cultural heritage sites.

WORKSHOPS TO GIVE BUSINESSES A NEW YEAR BOOST

Small business owners are encouraged to start the New Year with a series of online workshops to help them survive and thrive in 2021.

Minister for Finance and Small Business Damien Tudehope said the free workshops covered a range of topics to help businesses start the year with confidence.

“We know 2020 was challenging and many businesses had to pivot or make changes to their operation,” Mr Tudehope said.

“The NSW Government has support measures in place through Business Connect, including online workshops where you can learn about what it takes to run, adapt or grow your business.

“If you’ve got a business idea or want a side hustle, it’s a chance to stop dreaming and make an informed decision about becoming your own boss.

“January is a great time to attend one or more of these workshops, upskill and get the tips you need to make decisions about the year ahead.”

Mr Tudehope said the Business Connect program also continued to offer free advice to businesses affected by COVID-19, bushfires and drought.

“There are more than 120 Business Connect advisors across the state and they provide independent, tailored business advice, as well as multicultural and specialist support,” Mr Tudehope said.

“Business Connect received a $39.3 million boost in the NSW Budget, representing an investment in the futures of the small and medium businesses of NSW.

“Small businesses are the backbone of their communities and if we support them to stay in business, they will keep people in jobs.”

For information on Business Connect visit nsw.gov.au/businessconnect or call 1300 134 359. For information on the workshops and to book go to https://business-connect-register.industry.nsw.gov.au.

The upcoming Business Connect workshops include:

Topic Date
Setting up an online business to avoid costly mistakes January 18, 10am
Business foundations January 19, 10am
Brand building for small business January 20, 6.30pm
Start a business workshop January 27, 12pm
Tools to help you reinvent your business – COVID and beyond January 29, 10am
Develop your 2021 business strategy February 11, 3pm