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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 1324

Senator GALLACHER (South Australia) (19:50): Last week I had the pleasure of attending Building the Education Revolution program openings in the electorate of Grey. In that period I was also able to visit various people and organisations in order to get a better understanding of the communities they work closely with. In that time I was amazed by the hard work and passion of many individuals who have dedi­cated their lives to their communities. This is very obvious when travelling in regional areas; you truly feel a sense of community. I believe this sense of community is at the core of regional Australians, and this is a reason why the Australian Labor Party has a key focus on regional communities and putting investment back into them.

Regional Australia is often held back by distance but also by the lack of investment made by governments of all persuasions, and this has certainly changed under a Labor government. Regional Australia also faces challenges not seen in urban Australia. For example, certain schools have a particular number of students coming from a position of severe disadvantage, often stemming from entrenched unemployment.

In light of these challenges, communities unite and are strengthened. Leaders emerge out of this to the benefit of the children, individuals and families they engage with. One of the schools that I visited was Flinders View Primary School. The school received just over $2 million for classrooms, a shade structure and school refurbishments as part of the Building the Education Revolution, which according to the opposition is a waste of taxpayers' money. I suggest the coalition go to this particular school and say it was a waste of money because, in fact, it is a prime example of opportunity created for the school and the children.

Flinders View Primary School is in Port Augusta with over 70 per cent of the children coming from Indigenous Australian families. It was explained to me that these children come from very disadvantaged backgrounds, and, although the parents of these students recognise the importance of education, there are some that do not make it a priority for their children. This has meant the school has had to work exceptionally hard with not just the core of education, numeracy and literacy, but in areas like making sure the students are eating correctly and arriving on time. These sound simple to many of us, but are signifi­cant in a child's development. This school has worked hard in creating a community within, where students are made to feel like they are a part of a bigger family, and to keep the students coming to school and arriving on time.

The school is also working exceptionally hard in engaging with parents so they work with the school to improve outcomes for their children's education. One person who is really driving these objectives is the school principal, Mrs Anna Nayda. Her dedication to the school is second to none. It is not just her devotion to the school but her dedication to the children which is simply amazing. The sense of community that you get in the school has meant that past students are always welcomed back. I must also acknowledge her deputy, Bec Mueller, and all the teachers working exceptionally hard to make a difference to these children.

It was also interesting to note that the new classrooms went to an early childhood learning centre. The reason for this was quite simple: Indigenous children are allowed to start kindergarten at three years of age rather than at the normal four years of age. This new state-of-the-art facility for very young children is to get them into the facility at a younger age. It is a wonderful development and I am sure will be of benefit to students and the community.

The second school I visited was Solomontown Primary School at Port Pirie and this is also a school that faces very significant challenges. This school not only has students from disadvantaged back­grounds but also a reasonably high number of disabled students. Like Flinders View Primary School, there is a dedicated bunch of staff—including the new principal, Sandra Mauger, who is driven to get results. The school is very picturesque. It was built in 1897. Twenty-first-century facilities have been brought into a beautiful historic building. The once-in-a-lifetime BER spend on this school was $2.6 million—on refurbished classrooms and library. While the principal was walking the dignitaries around the school, she stated, 'This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we would never, ever believe could happen.' The school community and the parents are so proud of the new facilities; it gives the students a sense of pride in their school. Hopefully, with this infrastructure, numeracy and literacy will improve. This is something that the principal stressed personally to me.

On this trip I was able to visit many other community groups, in particular, the Port Augusta RSL. Again this is a group of passionate individuals often dedicating their time and work to something they believe in. A real testament to the work of the members of the RSL is their outstanding museum. There is no doubt that the members have worked extremely hard in building that facility to the condition it is in today. The Labor government, through the Veteran and Community Grants program, has aided the RSL of Port Augusta with a grant of nearly $50,000 to refurbish their ablution facilities. This will further develop the everyday infrastructure of this wonderful RSL, which will be a benefit to the community, the wider public and many of the school children in the area who utilise the museum for school excursions. I urge all Australians travelling through Port Augusta to stop by and visit this great museum. You cannot miss the building; there is a huge tank sitting right out the front. I must congratulate President Mario Caresimo of the Port Augusta RSL on the success of the branch, and I thank Frank Florvat for showing us around.

Finally, I would like to speak about the UnitingCare Wesley Men's Shed in Port Pirie. I have previously spoken about the Men's Shed in this place when speaking about the Regional Australia Development Fund. It is a fantastic initiative which will support many disadvantaged students and individuals within that community. I was able to sit in with some of the Men's Shed volunteers who just finished their weekly meeting. These men are at different stages of their lives but what brings them together is their desire to help the community. Some of the initiatives involve bringing kids without a male role model in their lives into the shed and simply teaching them basic skills. They are mentors to individuals who are disadvan­taged or who simply need some company. The men's shed is also involved in skills training for unemployed and disadvantaged individuals through UnitingCare Wesley.

One person I would like to mention is Gus Wohlschlager, who has been awarded the AOM for his volunteer work. This is another great example of a passionate individual working hard to bring a community together. He volunteered his time to the Port Pirie Regional Health Service as a transport driver; Port Pirie Regional Council community as a bus driver; UnitingCare Wesley as a truck driver; and as a Men's Shed volunteer in the position of coordinator and fundraiser. Gus is a former emergency service volunteer; former community bus driver for the Port Pirie Regional Council and State Emergency Service; and, finally, a patron, driver and committee member of the Special Olympics, Port Pirie, since 2004.

These are fantastic stories that show the dedication many regional Australians have to their communities. It also shows the great work the Gillard Labor government is doing in regional Australia, providing infra­structure that would otherwise have been a great burden for the community to fund. I enjoy bringing these stories to parliament and feel that it is so important to give the recognition necessary to celebrate these individuals and their communities. I can only thank these individuals and communities for telling their story to me.

Senate adjourned at 19:59