I wish everyone across regional NSW a very merry, festive and joyous Christmas, a very safe and enjoyable holiday, and a happy and prosperous New Year.
As we get caught up in this season's consumer hype and anticipate the joy of spending time with our family and friends, I ask that we all remember the true meaning of Christmas as, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, we put the needs of others before our own and rededicate ourselves to creating a better nation and world.
In my Christmas message last year I finished by saying that I hoped that 2012 would bring our farmers a good harvest after successive years of drought and natural disasters. Despite the significant rain event in March, the early reports I am getting indicate that we are headed for a pretty good result this year.
For the past two years, cherry growers in the Young and Harden-Murrumburrah areas suffered significant losses due to unseasonal rain. Happily this December the cherry crop is luscious and bountiful. In 2010, at about this time of year, I visited a local cherry grower after he suffered serious losses from unseasonable rain. Last week I bought some of his sweet and juicy local harvest from his roadside stall, - these cherries will be a central part of my family's Christmas dinner.
As the Minister for Small Business, my catch cry this year is 'shop locally.' Small businesses particularly in regional NSW are the backbone of our towns, creating employment and supporting local charities and community groups. I have done as much of my Christmas shopping as possible in small businesses across the Burrinjuck electorate.
This year, many people will be working or on call over the holiday period. Emergency services staff and volunteers spent the last few Christmas holiday periods fighting fires or floods. I hope this year they will be spared similar call-outs, but I thank them for their willingness to put their own comfort to one side to protect our lives and property.
Members of the Australian Defence Forces and Federal Police continue to serve across the globe in peacekeeping, counter terrorism, maritime security and anti-piracy patrols. Please join me in praying for their safe return to their families.
Safety is an issue we should be very mindful of over the holiday period. Last week I visited Wyangala Dam and it was great to see such a high water level, fantastic for cooling off in the summer heat. Along with Burrinjuck these two dams offer a great holiday experience for locals and tourists alike, but please be very careful in or near the water and be very careful about supervising children. Many of you will also be travelling long distances on less familiar roads so please be careful, considerate of other drivers and take regular rest breaks.
To everyone I wish a joyful, relaxing and safe Christmas. May it be a time of peace and happiness, a time to reflect on the many blessings we have, a time to slow down a little bit and take more time to appreciate the things that are really important - family, friends and neighbours; the laughter of children opening their presents around the Christmas tree and the joy of giving.