Carol Sparks – Glen Innes Severn Council’s first woman and first Green mayor – was in Sydney last week, discussing medical services, energy to waste, and infrastructure at the Country Mayors AGM at Parliament House.
Councils across NSW are putting together a petition to the government to attract more doctors to their region.
Many towns and villages across the state face a serious shortage of medical services – including Glen Innes.
“There’s a real problem here,” Cr Sparks said. “We need GPs to move to our towns!”
Last September, then-Cr Sparks and the Greens launched a petition calling for a doctor to be on duty at the Glen Innes District Hospital 24/7. More than 500 people signed it in five days.
The hospital lacks a resident medical officer; doctors are brought in from Sydney every weekend – at a cost of $5000 each.
The hospital uses an on-call system: nurses attend to patients, and call in doctors for more serious cases.
Cr Sparks has been advocating for a full-time doctor ever since late 2016, when a patient suffering a double hernia was turned away because the emergency department was unstaffed.
The lack of doctors at the hospital also affects general practitioners and their patients.
GPs here have more than 200 patients on their waiting lists. Quite often, patients are sent out of town to Guyra, Inverell, Armidale, or Tenterfield (which also suffers a similar shortage).
Even when patients have an appointment with a Glen Innes GP, they may find their doctor has been called away to deal with an emergency at the hospital.
"It's nothing about disparaging the current doctors; they've worked marvellously,” Cr Sparks said.
“We just need young GPs – with families, ideally – to come to Glen Innes."
The lack of medical services is also an obstacle to plans to develop the town and grow its population.
“We want to attract people here, but to do that, we need to have the basic facilities,” Cr Sparks said.
It pays to advertise, Cr Sparks was advised at the AGM. She and Council General Manager Hein Basson are looking into best ways of promoting the town to GPs, such as through newspapers and magazines.
Last month, Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall launched a petition to secure $20 million from the state government to refurbish the Glen Innes District Hospital.
Petitions can be signed at Cr Sparks’ office.
Environmental issues – including energy to waste, and recycling – were also on Cr Sparks’ agenda at the AGM.
"We're going to have to face reality soon, and work out how to deal with our waste,” Cr Sparks said.
"Every family is putting out huge amounts. What are we going to do with it? How are we going to deal with it?"
China banned imports on Australian recyclable waste earlier this year, while Queensland is charging huge amounts of money for waste storage.
One solution may be to turn waste into energy.
A new process called cold plasma pyrolysis can turn non-biodegradable plastics into clean fuels (methane, hydrogen) or ethylene (used to make plastic).
Tenterfield Shire Council is already investigating this process; they want more councils to support their waste to energy feasibility study.
Cr Sparks also encourages residents to reduce the amount of plastic they use.
"It's up to every individual, I believe, to work on what they use, and how they live," she said.
It may be something as simple as carrying groceries in a shopping basket or trolley to your car; bringing your own shopping bag; or not buying plastic-wrapped fruit.
The mayor was also intrigued by Southern Lights, a local government project to replace more than 75,000 street lights across southern NSW with cheaper, energy-efficient LED lighting.
She would like to see a similar scheme up here, although installation could be expensive.
Cr Sparks also spoke to the regional infrastructure coordinator about turning council roads into regional roads, which receive more money from the government for upkeep.
She would like to see Bald Knob Road – which runs from Grafton north to Queensland – designated a regional road.