Parliament is not sitting through July, so I have taken the opportunity to attend communities and meet with people both in and out of Barwon.

After the frenetic activity of the budget it can seem like nothing much is happening at all, but there is always lots happening.

While government announcements have definitely slowed down, many members have been involved in work in their electorates, particularly where there has been flooding. But there has also been a resurgence of COVID, cold and flu, the Staysafe Committee handed down its findings on learner drivers in regional areas and there was a scare with our local bee industry.

Foot and mouth disease is posing a multibillion-dollar risk to our livestock industry, I have asked the relevant federal ministers to take all steps possible to protect Australia’s livestock industry.

This week I will be back on the road again visiting Narrabri, Wee Waa, Lightning Ridge and Bourke.

COVID and flu shots

Despite the winding back of mandates and the ending of lockdowns, COVID hasn’t left us, in fact there has been a bit of a resurgence of the disease in recent weeks.

Health authorities have been warning us to take more precautions, to keep our distance in public places, to be diligent about washing hands and to wear a mask in public if that helps you feel safer.

Australia recently passed the dreaded milestone of 10,000 deaths from the disease and it doesn’t look like slowing down.

Health authorities still advise people to get vaccinated against COVID and any other diseases that are prevalent in the community and have recently made the fourth COVID vaccination shot available for people over 30 who choose to access it. If you are interested, check with your physician regarding COVID boosters. The government has extended the free flu shot program until July 17.

Flu has also made a resurgence now people are mixing and mingling again, and there are some particularly nasty flu strains going around, with few people having a natural immunity to the new strains. Be careful, winter is still the worst time for colds and flu.

Cost of living

The cost of living continues to be a major problem for many people. The price of petrol, basic food items, mortgage repayments and power bills, among other things, all continue to remain high or are still rising.

Wages are not keeping pace with the price rises, which makes it hard for many, particularly those on lower incomes, to make ends meet.

Some of these price rises are particularly hard on the people of Barwon.

Fuel prices affect so many aspects of regional life, given that many people have large distances to cover in their daily lives or for their jobs, for important personal business, even just getting children to school.

While there is a lot more that could be done, the government provides some help in the form of rebates, vouchers, subsidies and other programs.

Learner drivers in regional areas

The Staysafe Committee, of which I am a member, handed down its report into Support for Regional and Rural Learner Drivers on July 5. I am pretty happy with the report’s findings and recommendations. It was clear that things need to be made easier for new drivers in the bush.

The main findings were: That some people “face challenges in being able to present sufficient identification documents in order to apply for a driver licence.” Others face “literacy and numeracy challenges, resulting in the Driver Knowledge Test being less accessible to them”.

In regional and rural areas, many learner drivers face “significant barriers to accessing driving programs and instructors”. Also, many drivers in the country “learn in vehicles with low safety ratings due to insufficient safe cars being available or affordable.”

The report makes 21 recommendations, including that the Department of Customer Service look at improving and streamlining access to identification documentation and consider waiving or subsidising the cost.

There is a recommendation that the government review the knowledge test to take account of varying levels of literacy and numeracy and that they look at ways of making a range of driver training programs more accessible as well as creating “a publicly accessible database of all driving programs offered across Australia.”

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