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Tuesday, 22 November 2011
Page: 13526


Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (21:04): I acknowledge a very important local leader in our community who is retiring. Unfortunately, I will not be able to make his retirement function, but I have taken the opportunity to put a message through to him for that event. His name is Neil Preston. Neil is the manager of the Greenacres Disability Services in the Wollongong area and is very, very well known to many in our community and indeed to many in this place as a fierce and constant advocate for those with a disability.

Only the other week, I and the member for Throsby hosted Senator Jan McLucas, as the parliamentary secretary for disabilities, into the area on a surprise visit to Neil at work to present him with a certificate of appreciation for his years of public service and advocacy in the disability sector. Senator McLucas acknowledged in that presentation and on the certificate that was given to Neil that he was an agitator and an advocate of the first order. It is certainly something that many in our community are going to miss, in terms of the tremendous work Neil has done, not only in running a very important disability service in our community but for his determination to make work in the disability sector a valued, remunerated and important component of the lives of the people with a disability that he was working with. Whilst Neil talks about retirement, I am sure that that retirement will involve ongoing advocacy and engagement on an issue that has been very dear to his heart for 16 years and to which he has been such a tremendous asset.

As an engineer for the heavy manufacturing sector, Neil did sometimes wonder how he ended up in the disability sector. I am a believer that sometimes in life things work out that we end up where we are most meant to contribute to the broader community that we are a part of. That is certainly the case with Neil. While I have no doubt that he had a sterling, outstanding career as an engineer in the heavy manufacturing sector, I am also sure that the many, many lives that he touched in his role in the disability sector are a legacy that any one of us in this place would be proud to leave behind. Indeed, the former Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children's Services, Mr Bill Shorten, has reflected that any great progress in the disability sector will certainly have the traceable fingerprints of Neil Preston on them, as he has been such a great advocate.

I conclude my remarks on Neil's contribution by reflecting on a very, very significant achievement this year by this government—one of many, I acknowledge, but one that I think is very much appreciated. Whilst there is a lot of work to be done, it is good for it to be underway. It is the National Disability Insurance Scheme. It certainly has been long overdue, and I think it will make a profound difference to the lives of not only those born with a disability, in particular, or those who acquire disabilities through circumstances where they do not have insurance to cover that situation but their families and carers as well. It is a very important initiative that I know Neil very much welcomed.

I certainly acknowledge the Every Australian Counts campaign, which I know many people in this place across all party divides have supported. You only have to go on their website and you will see all the members of parliament who are very keenly supporting the campaign that they are running, because we all know through our own constituencies that it is well overdue and will be a very important change to the sector.

Neil goes in some ways at the beginning of what I hope is a very exciting time for the sector as we progress the National Disability Insurance Scheme, but he certainly goes knowing that he has been a great part of getting us to the point where we are now. I have no doubt, knowing Neil, that, despite his plans for spending some time travelling and doing some things that he has put on his bucket list for too long, he will still be sending emails and advocating from wherever he may be, whatever he may be doing. In the Illawarra we all look forward to that, and I am sure that, even in this House, ministers and parliamentary secretaries also look forward to receiving Neil's emails.

Question agreed to.

Main Committee adjourned at 21:10 .