Funding open for smart energy use

Three new Commonwealth Government energy programs designed to encourage efficient energy usage by local businesses, households and communities have opened for applications, Federal Member for Cunningham, Sharon Bird announced today. “These new energy efficiency programs enable the Illawarra to take advantage of the opportunity to use energy resources more efficiently, which will save money, and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “There is important potential in these new funding programs for the whole of our local community to work together to drive energy efficiency use in business, at home, and in local community facilities. “I strongly encourage Wollongong City Council and local businesses to consider applying for funding under these new energy programs”, Ms Bird said. The new energy efficiency programs are: Low Income Energy Efficiency Program: $100 million to trial smart energy use in low-income households across Australia. Community Energy Efficiency Program: $200 million partnership with local government and not-for-profit community organisations to co-fund energy efficiency upgrades. Energy Efficiency Information Grants Program: $40 million to support small and medium businesses by providing information and advice to make energy efficiency choices. Guidelines for each of these energy efficiency programs is now available at Applications are invited from 13 February 2012.

Over $54 million in compensation payments to Trio victims commence

More than 5,300 Australians can expect to start seeing their share of over $54 million in compensation payments beginning today.  Money will be progressively credited to member’s superannuation accounts over the next two weeks. This is a good outcome for the 5,358 people in APRA regulated funds who were defrauded of their superannuation in the collapse of Trio,” Minister Shorten said. “I want to thank the Member for Thorsby and the Member for Cunningham who both made strong representations on behalf of their many constituents who were robbed of their savings by Trio.  I also want to thank APRA for their hard work.  The Government is reviewing future compensation arrangements,” Minister Shorten said. The Government has granted over $54 million in financial assistance to benefit the members of four Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) regulated superannuation funds that were formally under the trusteeship of Trio.  The assistance, granted under Part 23 of the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993, is for members of the Astarra Superannuation Plan, the Astarra Personal Pension Plan, the My Retirement Plan and the Employers Federation of NSW Superannuation Plan. Continue reading

RDA Illawarra appointments welcomed

Federal Labor Illawarra MPs, Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones, have today welcomed the new appointments to the Regional Development Australia Illawarra (RDA Illawarra) Committee. Mr Eddy De Gabriele has been re-appointed Chair of the RDA Illawarra. He will be joined by two continuing re-appointed members, Helen Backhouse and Dianne Murray. Three new members have been appointed: Mr Warwick Shanks, Mr Daniel Rowan and Mr Craig Osborne. “We welcome Eddy’s continued leadership of the RDA Illawarra, the addition of three new members and continued participation of Helen Backhouse and Dianne Murray. “The RDA Illawarra has a blend of experience and new, fresh faces”, Ms Bird said. Mr Jones said, “The RDA Illawarra has worked closely with both Sharon and I to progress a number of regional development initiatives, including the extension of the NBN roll-out. “We look forward to working closely with the RDA Illawarra Committee to continue the economic transformation of the region.” Ms Bird and Mr Jones expressed thanks and appreciation to out-going members, Peter O’Rourke, Greg Fisher and Geoff McQueen.

Fair Work Australia low paid workers' decision very welcome

The Federal Member for Cunningham, Sharon Bird, today welcomed the historic decision by Fair Work Australia (FWA) to award a substantial pay rise to Australia’s lowest paid workers. “I am really pleased that this pay equity case, which proceeded in the first place because of the strong commitment of a Commonwealth Labor Government, has succeeded. “Many of these low paid workers in the social and community sector are women. “These workers do tremendous work in helping hold our local communities together by working to address homelessness, with victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse, counselling for families in crisis and supporting people with a disability. “These workers make a difference each and every day, yet their pay has been undervalued for too long. “There will be a phasing in period to ensure that the FWA decision is implemented. The Commonwealth Government, as the Prime Minister has made clear today, will provide its share of funding. “State Governments will also be required to commit to funding their share of this historic decision. “I congratulate the Australian Services Union (ASU) and other unions involved in bringing this historic case, with the Commonwealth’s support, to FWA. “The decision is recognition of the role played by the social and community sector, and the work undertaken each day by committed workers, who are predominately women”, Ms Bird said.

Wollongong families benefit from Education Tax Refund by up to $4 million

Nearly 7000 families in the Cunningham electorate made claims for the Education Tax Refund (ETR) last year helping with the costs of starting and returning to school, Federal member for Cunningham, Sharon Bird, revealed today. “Sending children to start school or returning to school for another year can be expensive for families. “I want to remind parents that the Commonwealth Government introduced a 50 percent Education Tax Rebate (ETR) to help with those unavoidable costs and encourage them to keep receipts for the school purchases and make a claim for the ETR. “Last year, 6560 families living in my electorate made an ETR claim and received $4.1 million of assistance through the ETR. “Eligible education expenses include school uniforms, laptop and home computers, home internet connections, computer software, and school textbooks. “Families may claim an ETR of $409 for eligible expenses up to $818 for each primary school child and $818 for eligible expenses up to $1636 for each secondary school child”, Ms Bird said. She said that an ETR could be claimed in an individual’s tax return or by completing the Education Tax Refund for Individuals claim form available from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO). Ms Bird has also produced an Education Tax Refund envelope to help families keep secure and organised all receipts relating to education spending, which are available by contacting her office on 4228 5899.

Coledale Public School to benefit from Solar funding grant

Coledale Public School has been awarded $15,000 under the Commonwealth Government’s National Solar Schools Program, Federal Member for Cunningham, Sharon Bird, said today. “I am really pleased that Coledale Public School has been successful in being awarded this funding grant. “Coledale Public School will use this funding to install solar panels and energy efficiency lighting. “Applications by schools were assessed using merit-based criteria where schools had to demonstrate value for money, as well as environmental and educational benefits. “The National Solar Schools Program provides school children with the opportunity to learn more about how energy is generated and using energy more efficiently. “Coledale Public School is to be congratulated on its initiative”, Ms Bird said.

Strong response to Illawarra Region Innovation and Investment Fund

The Illawarra Region Innovation and Investment Fund, created to secure jobs and the long-term economic future of the Illawarra, has received 28 proposals that could result in $95 million of new investment in the region. An advisory committee, chaired by a member of the local business community, Mr Robert Terpening from Bisalloy Steel Group Limited, has been appointed and will review the proposals. Successful proposals are expected to be announced in March. The Commonwealth has committed $20 million towards the Illawarra Fund, with a further $5 million each from the New South Wales Government and BlueScope Steel. Federal Minister for Industry and Innovation, Greg Combet, said the strong interest in the Illawarra Fund would create opportunities and help build sustainable businesses throughout the Illawarra. “The Illawarra Region Innovation and Investment Fund is strengthening the region by stimulating co-investment opportunities and diversifying its economic and employment base,” Mr Combet said. “The interest in the Illawarra Fund is enormously promising. It shows that there are lots of firms ready and willing to invest in the region. Continue reading

Illawarra seniors to meet Minister for Ageing

The Minister for Mental Health and Ageing Mark Butler and Illawarra Labor MPs Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones will today meet with over 200 local seniors in Wollongong as part of a national conversation on healthy and positive ageing. The views of local seniors will help inform the Gillard Labor Government’s response to the Productivity Commission Final Report, Caring for Older Australians. “Australians are living longer, healthier and more prosperous lives than at any other time in history. They have greater opportunities to age well, lead vibrant lives and participate productively in society,” Mr Butler said. “To capture the opportunities presented by an ageing population, we need to provide support and encouragement to older Australians to continue contributing to our community - whether in work, in retirement or in caring roles. “Providing access to quality care and support will give older Australians the confidence to age with dignity and security. “We also want to see a system that is financially sustainable, and is fair for those being cared for as well as for the rest of society, and a system that meets the highest standards of quality.” Continue reading

Cultural exhibition to tour to Wollongong

Wollongong will soon host a unique arts and cultural exhibition thanks to almost $1.7million in Australian Government funding announced today by Arts Minister Simon Crean. “We are committed to taking the great art-forms of the capital cities to the regions to ensure all Australians continue to access and participate in our dynamic arts and culture,” Mr Crean said. “The funding announced today will support 14 organisations to develop and tour exhibitions to venues across Australia, with a particular focus on regional and remote communities.” This support is provided through the Australian Government’s national touring program Visions of Australia and the Contemporary Touring Initiative. The funding will provide a wide variety of communities with the opportunity to view significant exhibitions from major galleries and museums, as well as cutting edge contemporary art. “In advance of Australia’s first National Cultural Policy in almost 20 years, we are demonstrating our commitment to regional arts initiatives,” Mr Crean said. “This investment will enhance the liveability of the regions and encourage greater participation in the cultural life of our nation.” Continue reading

Illawarra urged to support Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians

The Federal Member for Cunningham, Sharon Bird, and the Federal Member for Throsby, Stephen Jones, today urged all Illawarra residents to show their support for the Constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians. Yesterday the Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander handed its report to both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. The report’s conclusions, based on thousands of discussions with individuals and organisations, submissions and public consultations, across Australia, is that: The Australian Constitution should ensure the equality of all Australians Constitutional recognition will more accurately reflect Australia’s national identity, and Constitutional recognition will go some way to building a stronger relationship among all Australians for the future. “The Panel report is comprehensive. It is available online at “I urge all Illawarra residents to examine the report and its recommendations, and show support for the Constitutional recognition of our Indigenous Australians”, Mr Jones said.Ms Bird said that, “Constitutional change has a chequered history in Australia, with most referendum proposals failing to gain support. “We need to develop a consensus for Constitutional change just as Australians did with the historic referendum of 1967, which removed discriminatory references to Australian Indigenous people.” The Commonwealth Government will now consider the Panel’s report and recommendations.