Critical questions for our local future


We live in very special part of the world, and it is easy to be complacent.  But is it sustainable for our future generations?  Are we doing enough for vital parts of our fragile coastal environment?  Can we manage our steadily ageing population and workforce?  Are we building a workforce matched to local needs and backed by proper training and education, and providing opportunities for employment and building local skills?

These critical questions for the sustainability of our local community into the future emerged from Woolgoolga Rotary’s “Dr Who?” evening, where three prominent doctors turned their minds to the key issues.  In each case, the need for the political will to make the hard, long-term planning decisions was highlighted.

Two of the speakers, Drs. Sue Kehrer and John Kramer, highlighted the difficulty of building local capacity in the health sector, including recruiting and retaining people with the expertise that we need.  Dr Kramer pointed to our ageing workforce, with reduced capacity to service the demands of an ageing population.  But problems need solutions, and both speakers have a great track record of trying to build these skills here (in pathology and general practice respectively).

Dr Steve Smith (National Marine Science Centre) focused on sustaining our coastal environment, and particularly our fragile estuaries, in the face of the relentless invasion of discarded plastics. He pointed out that plastics never biodegrade, but disintegrate into ever smaller fragments, that themselves generate huge environmental problems.  “Think globally and act locally” was his challenge.

Forecasts for the current decade indicate an increase of over 15% in the retirement-age population of Woolgoolga, putting pressure on the health care workforce, which itself is aging and under-resourced.  Dr Kramer is investing in the future by building a new surgery complex. Sullivan Nicolaides is building a new laboratory in Coffs Harbour with much-expanded testing capability.

Dr Kehrer pointed out that, while many saw only disadvantages in working away from large urban centres, there were in fact opportunities for regional careers spanning a more diverse, challenging and satisfying set of activities.

Population growth pressure in coastal areas continues to threaten our estuaries, and Dr Smith highlighted the problems of creekside vegetation clearing, urbanisation and agriculture in catchment areas, and pollutants and sediment run-off. We need healthy estuaries to filter pollutants and protect our seas, and to protect our coasts from storms; 70% of commercially and recreationally important fish species need estuaries during their life-cycle to survive.

Dr Kramer also mentioned other local issues, including unemployment, threats to the ‘small town vibe’, school capacity, vandalism, the drug culture, and small business viability.

The event was open to the public, and was the initiative of Rotary President Patty Delaney, who welcomed an audience of nearly 40. They came up with searching questions for the panel.  The buzz in the room from conversations spanning topics far and wide continued long afterwards as groups left, their horizons expanded and complacency challenged.