Ku-ring-gai Electorate 2020

18 November 2020

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS (Ku-ring-gai) (23:29:12): This year has certainly been a year like no other. New South Wales has experienced some of the most extraordinary times. This time last year the year ahead was not clear: Our nation was still in one of its worst droughts and the Black Summer bushfires had started to ravage our State, destroying homes and livelihoods. Shortly after, the pandemic reached our shores. We saw cases grow in hundreds and our community had to learn to live with all kinds of restrictions, which impacted our lives both socially and economically. I take this opportunity to thank our frontline workers for everything they have done and will continue to do. I thank our doctors, nurses, ambos, paramedics, police officers, RFS volunteers, contact tracers, teachers, pharmacists, shopkeepers, childcare workers and bus and train drivers, just to name a few. Without their dedication, commitment and courage, our State would not be in the positive position it is now.

Despite the challenges of 2020, light has shone in my electorate with the exciting announcements of the completion of major projects and the overall civic-mindedness of the Ku-ring-gai community. As the member for Ku‑ring‑gai, one of my favourite times of the year is attending the end‑of‑year assemblies. It is truly an uplifting three weeks. Sadly, this year is a little different due to the pandemic. I was fortunate enough to attend the St Leo's Catholic College year 12 graduation ceremony recently. I thank Principal Anthony Gleeson for his warm welcome and I commend the school's COVID-safe plan. Even if its physical doors could not be open to everyone, it was great to see the ceremony being live streamed to the students' relatives and friends. The year 12 cohort of 2020 has endured a lot. I congratulate every student on the completion of their HSC exams and wish them the best of luck for the years ahead. I thank the teachers, staff, volunteers, parents and family members in our community, who are the custodians of our youth and who have had to adapt the most to our ever-changing world.

It is a sign of our times that technology and digital infrastructure has played a critical role in keeping our world connected, particularly with the running of our electorate offices. My usual Friday constituent meetings were suddenly on Zoom, community messages were being recorded and streamed, and our office kept working but was physically closed to the public for a short time during the height of the pandemic. My staff—Deanna Turner, Di Woods, Miki Nicholson and Janet Newing—gave me great support over the past year; they are very experienced and hardworking. They have had many challenges due to the disruption of the year and at times have had to deal with very distraught constituents. I wish their families and them a restful summer holiday.

In welcome news, 2020 saw the announcement and completion of major infrastructure projects in my community: NorthConnex opened to motorists last month; Waitara Public School and Ku‑ring‑gai High School both had extensive upgrades completed under the New South Wales Government's statewide education investment; and all railway stations in my electorate have now been funded to be made accessible to all individuals, with lifts to be installed under the Transport Access Program. This year also saw our community come together like never before. The Civilian Army was formed in conjunction with KNC—formerly known as Ku‑ring‑gai Neighbourhood Centre—and volunteers from our community, led by the independent schools who helped the vulnerable in our community.

As this is the last sitting week for the year, I take this opportunity to address the State budget. Our Government's joint focus is to safeguard the health of its citizens and to restore economic activity. The 2020‑21 budget sets a path to build our economy for a post-pandemic world. Funding of $46‑million has been earmarked to support 100 new school-based wellbeing nurses, and $6 million has been allocated to establish Community Wellbeing Collaboratives to tackle suicide clusters. There is a massive $107 billion infrastructure investment to create jobs across the State in areas including health, education and transport and for 200 new and upgraded schools. As well, $29 billion has or will be invested in New South Wales' COVID-19 response and recovery.

There is no doubt that this budget is a stimulus budget that backs the people of New South Wales, turning a year of adversity into an era of opportunity. As we near the end of 2020 and our lives are going back to some degree of normality, I thank everyone in our community for their resilience over the past year. Everyone will have their own story and every individual will take away their own unique learnings. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah and Happy New Year. Stay safe and I look forward to a brighter 2021.