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Speech by Senator the Hon Ursula Stephens

Australian Sustainable Cities Awards 2009 – Parliament House, Canberra

Location: Parliament House, Canberra

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Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet this evening, the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their traditional elders, both past and present.

Thank you Don Chambers and Keep Australia Beautiful for inviting me to speak at this special event that celebrates civic achievements in a diversity of fields.

We’ve heard so many wonderful stories this evening of individuals and communities working together to create clean, healthy and attractive neighbourhoods – places where people choose to stay, build their lives and become part of a community.

Our local communities and city neighbourhoods are so important because they are the enduring backdrop against which we live our lives – a steady constant that shapes our everyday experiences of family, home and community.

The environment in which we live has a direct effect on our health, self-worth and well-being, and on our children’s development.

Put simply, healthy neighbourhoods produce healthy people.

That’s why the work of all the finalists is so commendable and why we’re all here this evening to recognise their efforts to improve the natural environment and sustainability of our neighbourhoods.

As I’ve listened to the diversity of projects being awarded tonight, I’ve noticed a strong theme that all share – the role of civic engagement and volunteerism in achieving their goals.

So many of the projects that have been recognised by these awards- Launceston’s First Basin Cottage restored by the enthusiastic and passionate Cataract Gorge Volunteers Group; and the amazing results achieved by Western Australia’s Brunswick River Restoration Action Group – were powered by the time and talents of volunteers.

And other projects, such as the Hobson’s Bay Community Arts Centre in Victoria, the City of Port Adelaide’s waste management programs and the City of Canada Bay’s powermates lending program, all achieved their outcomes through community engagement and mobilisation.

The contributions of volunteers along with community participation have been essential ingredients enabling the success of the projects we’ve heard about tonight.

And not only has this civic engagement enabled the projects to achieve their goals, it’s also had another, although less tangible, impact.

Through these projects volunteers and community members have been brought together through a common cause, generating a shared sense of ownership and pride in their neighbourhood, meeting new people and developing a greater sense of community.

This community spirit is of equal, if not more, value as the tangible outcomes it generated in the form of new amenities, restored environments or energy conservation.

Social cohesion and civic engagement are what enable our communities to thrive and to survive through the tough times, whether they be caused by bushfires, floods or difficult economic times. This is what the government means when we talk about our social inclusion agenda – the need to ensure that all Australians have the resilience and capability to engage fully in our country’s social, working and community life.

The projects that we’ve heard about tonight are enriching local neighbourhoods in a lasting and essential way, not only with the sustainable outcomes they achieve, but also by building the connections between people that create strong communities.

So I would like to finish by congratulating all of the finalists and highly commended organisations for the significant and meaningful contributions you have made to your local communities – not only are you sustainable cities, you also sound like wonderful places to live!