House debates

Thursday, 10 December 2020


Bennelong Electorate

12:43 pm

Photo of John AlexanderJohn Alexander (Bennelong, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As we seek to adjourn this chamber for the final time in 2020, it's an opportune time to reflect on the year that has just been, one unlike any we have seen before and, hopefully, unlike any we will see again. The year started, or, rather, 2019 ended with fires of an intensity which Australia has not seen for decades. Despite my electorate being deeply suburban, these fires even reached us in Bennelong. In November, fires sparked up in the Lane Cove River between North Epping and Turramurra. While the fire is remembered by images of low-flying water bombers turning houses and residents pink in Turramurra, there was, momentarily, a real danger that the fire was going to climb the opposite side of the gully and threaten the bushland suburb of North Epping. While Epping and Turramurra dodged a bullet, there were many communities that weren't so lucky. While, one year on, the fires may be drifting from our memory, those who lived on the front line of the threat will always remember the terror of that moment. The jet engine roar of the fire; the oppressive, brick-kiln wind; the stifling, airless heat—these images will stay forever.

The fires were still dying down when our next crisis hit, which was, of course, the coronavirus. Bennelong felt the economic impact of COVID earlier than most communities. Even before community transmission was seen in Australia, fear of the virus had set in across Bennelong. Debilitating rumours spread around WeChat that the virus was being transmitted around the Chinese and Korean communities of Eastwood. Who was spreading these malicious lies we may never know, but the results were instant. Eastwood, normally heaving around Lunar New Year, was a ghost town. I was joined by members of the chamber of commerce, as well as by my state colleague Victor Dominello, at a deserted restaurant that would normally have been packed with celebrating families. Together, we sought to downplay the threat, in line with health advice of the day. Little did we know what was just around the corner.

While patient zero entered Melbourne, I'm sad to say that community transmission started in Bennelong. First, a case popped up at Ryde Hospital. Then there were cases at Epping Boys High School and at a church meeting at Ryde Civic Centre. Then tragedy struck as the first cases arose in Dorothy Henderson Lodge, followed soon after by Australia's first death from COVID. Dorothy Henderson remained the main hotspot of concern for the next few days, which felt like months, and, tragically, five more people from this home passed away.

What happened next makes me incredibly proud of everybody in Bennelong. From being Australia's worst hotspot, Bennelong saw its cases dry up and, mercifully, local deaths fell to zero. Through good hygiene, social distancing and self-quarantining, COVID-19 disappeared from Bennelong and has only returned in very isolated cases, never since rising to become a cluster. This took sacrifice and hardship from local residents and businesses, and I thank everyone in Bennelong for their determination.

As the year ran on and isolation became our new normal, I was also inspired by the caring hearts of locals. My office became a drop-off point for donations to the wonderful Parramatta Women's Shelter. We were bombarded with responses. We heard countless stories of people checking in on neighbours, and, as shops started opening again, shopping locally became a priority for those who could afford it. While my heart goes out to those businesses that didn't make it through to the reopening, I'm proud of those that have made it through to this more positive time. Now we find ourselves at Christmas time, at the end of this endless year. In a sign of the times, our much-loved annual Ryde Carols on the Commons has gone virtual, and the giving trees in places like Coxs Road Mall are going gangbusters.

In this terrible year, we really have seen the best of people. To conclude, I would like to wish everyone in this place, and everyone in Bennelong, a very merry Christmas, happy holidays and a safe 2021. Congratulations on getting through 2020. I hope you all get a well-deserved break. I praise your resilience and common sense and I thank you for your kindness and generosity. Merry Christmas to all.

Question agreed to.

Federation Chamber adjourned at 12:48