Anna Bligh a highlight for Illawarra Forum

The peak body working for the community services industry in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven attracted hundreds of people to its annual conference in Kiama on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Illawarra Forum's annual "Stand Up, Stand Out" at The Pavilion covered a range of important issues for the industry.

Highlights included a presentation by former Queensland premier and current YWCA NSW chief executive Anna Bligh who lived in the Shoalhaven in 1977.

"I did my last year of school at Nowra State High School," she said.

"When I did my HSC I lived in Nowra with an aunt. And my grandmother lived in the area after retiring to Berry. I have very fond memories of this area."

Ms Bligh's early career involved working in areas such as women's issues and domestic violence.

She said her new position at YWCA which she took up nine weeks ago was a return to the community service industry.

And it was for an organisation that was established on a sustainable model that continued to evolve.

Other notable speakers were Australian Council of Social Services chief executive Dr Cassandra Goldie, who has done considerable work at the federal level, NSW Minister for Ageing, Disability Services and Minister for the Illawarra John Ajaka, and federal opposition spokesman for human services, Senator Doug Cameron.

Illawarra Forum chief executive Nicky Sloan said the community services industry was experiencing a period of unprecedented change.

The conference was timely because reforms and reviews were under way at both a national and state level.

And that was affecting the entire community services industry at an organisational and service delivery level.

Speakers and breakout sessions addressed challenges and opportunities for the industry at a time when sustainability was an important issue.

"We have started some really interesting discussions over the last couple of days about the sustainability of our sector into the future and about the importance of our industry as a major one of growth for the next 10 years in this region," Ms Sloan said.

"We have talked a lot about the economics and the way we might need to start new conversations about taxing in Australia to have the kind of life that Australians want to be living," she said.

"We have had some really big, really interesting discussions. Cassandra Goldie was brilliant and posed those really big economic reality questions and really challenged some of the rhetoric around the fact we are hearing all these stories about welfare blowouts and that we can't afford certain things in Australia.

"She said, 'Here we are in the wealthiest nation per capita in the world, we are the fifth-lowest taxing nation in the world and we actually have less people in unemployment than we did 10 years ago.

"We really need to challenge some of the stories we are hearing from our leaders'," Ms Sloan said.

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