A blueprint for change in Barwon
During last week’s Parliamentary sitting week, I highlighted the State’s crucial role in the formative years of our children’s lives so as to avoid vast differences in outcomes based on where they lived.
As parents, we hope that our children have the educational opportunities, medical services, employment or business opportunities that allow them to have a good, long and healthy life. However, for many children in Barwon the historical performance of health, education and economic metrics would show that many kids in regional NSW are not currently destined for the best life possible.
When you take the lower incomes of regional communities and include the increased costs of food and fresh produce, transport and accessing health services, the disadvantage becomes clearer.
From a health perspective, the numbers are also not good. We know that life expectancy and preventable death statistically get worse the further west you go. Our medical staff do the best they can, but attracting and retaining medical staff into regional areas is a nationwide problem. If we are to have healthy and happy kids who are ready to learn, we need to support the health services that support that learning.
I have mentioned education, we know that education provides the foundation for long-run social and economic success, both for individuals and for communities - so how does Barwon fare in regards to academic performance? The educational results attained in the Barwon electorate are generally lower than the remainder of NSW, with attendance rates much lower in some remote parts of the state.
Studies have indicated that poorer Australian students were 18 months behind their better-off peers at school, with regional students an average eight months behind at school.
The teachers we have are great, and doing their best - we have some real standouts, but attracting and retaining suitably qualified staff is an ongoing challenge. Providing teachers with the support they need and creating engaging learning environments will develop and raise aspirations in relation to further learning. Kids need an adequate range of electives. I get that rural and remote schools can’t have everything, but if we want kids to be positive about education and learning we need to provide electives that interest and stimulate them. There can be substantial costs in accessing further education opportunities. These costs hold some kids back from their potential.
Most of the state's universities are clustered in capital cities or regional centres. I do note the benefits of Country Universities Centres and hope to see more of these in the bush (let’s try for Cobar next). Student thresholds required for TAFE courses in smaller communities are very difficult to meet and therefore getting courses of choice running in smaller towns often doesn’t happen. That means kids who can’t travel because of distance or other disadvantage have an uphill battle to access further education. This just entrenches disadvantage.
I care about what happens to communities, families and kids in regional NSW, especially Barwon. I want to see kids in the bush get the same sort of opportunities as kids in the city, and it is my view that Parliament has a binding responsibility to make sure that any child in NSW is given the best possible start in life. Good health, good education and the best prospects for a long and happy life.