We are blessed to live in the best region of the greatest nation in the world and 2018 is stretching ahead of us to write the next chapter of our great nation’s story.
We should all aim to be thankful, relentlessly positive and hopeful about the year that lies ahead, but we must also be realistic. There are serious social, economic and cultural challenges facing our nation that require urgent action.
As Australia Day approaches, we are reminded of our nation’s history and its different meaning for some Australians.
Some are engaging in debate about the appropriateness of national celebrations on January 26: what we should be celebrating, how we should be celebrating and which flags should be flown.
All this talk about symbolism doesn’t mean as much as meaningful, considered action.
What is needed to address the injustices of the past and the inequality still experienced today is practical action to improve education, health and job opportunities.
Australia Day should be a day that unites all Australians, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
I strongly believe we need to make a real difference in the lives of Aboriginal Australians throughout Australia.
Aboriginal disadvantage is right here in Gippsland: you don’t need to travel to the outback or rural or remote communities in the north to see it.
Aboriginal people here are struggling to make ends meet and get ahead.
We need to focus on early childhood development, schooling, health, economic participation, healthy homes, safe communities and governance and leadership from Canberra and from Aboriginal communities themselves.
We need to get the kids to school. We need to give them a good, healthy start in life so that they are ready to learn when they get to school.
We need to help Aboriginal kids and their families to value an education, so that at the end of their education or training they can get a real job and they can be economically independent.
There is always work to be done and improvements to be made, but I intend to be as positive as possible as I work with all levels of government and the community to deliver for our region in the year ahead.
For my part, after a peaceful summer break with family and friends, I’m feeling invigorated and keen to meet the challenges that lie ahead in the political year.
As we look ahead to the year before us, let’s not get caught up in debates about flags, dates and symbols.
Let’s continue to create the country we all want to live in – the land of the fair go – and help our mates who need a helping hand.
That’s what being Australian means to me.
And that’s what I’ll be celebrating on Australia Day.