Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021


COVID-19: Western Sydney

7:37 pm

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Tonight I'd like to focus on the impact of COVID in south-western Sydney. It was interesting to read today's front page of the Sydney Moring Herald about heavier lockdown measures being imposed in western and south-western Sydney. As patron senator for McMahon, Werriwa, Fowler, Blaxland and Watson, and with a satellite office located in Fairfield, I would like to share matters I experienced firsthand that have enabled this perception to gain momentum. In mid-July, requirements were imposed on essential workers in the Fairfield LGA for COVID testing every three days. This raised concerns about perceptions about why south-western Sydney was being singled out. At first there were logistical problems with testing at the Fairfield Showground immediately after the New South Wales health order was made, which compounded the problems. Residents especially felt that they were being targeted given the strong police presence on the streets.

I live on the northern beaches of Sydney and I went through lockdown at Christmas, but I have to say that we did not see, on the streets of the northern beaches, police cars lined up on Barrenjoey Road or police on the streets like we saw in the suburbs of south-western Sydney. Instead of imposing extra surveillance, there should have been greater focus on multilingual services and closer consultation with community leaders. To this end, in July, I posted a Facebook video message which had been translated into different languages. It was promulgated in the area, encouraging communities to get vaccinated. My office also started conducting direct-calling into households, and the feedback was clear: people were not happy about the delay in the vaccine rollout. They wanted the Pfizer vaccine. Those in small business and construction could not work from home. There were issues about home schooling and the push to vaccinate their children. Livelihoods were being impacted, and people blamed politicians and bureaucrats making decisions who continued to draw big salaries. All this was against a background of cultural and linguistic diversity and changing messages about restrictions.

Another issue which caused concern was the deployment of Australian Defence Force personnel. Local councillors and community leaders were very critical of government, calling it insensitive. As one mayor stated, deploying the ADF to an area with a large number of migrant residents from war-torn countries was 'insensitive'. I spoke to one major service provider who pointed out to me that, with such a large cohort of people born overseas, many of whom had been granted protection under our humanitarian program—they had escaped hardship, including from war-torn countries where they were fearful of the army.

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 20 August outlined:

Community leaders in south-west and western Sydney fear for people's mental health, women at risk and disaffected youth, as they warn a police curfew imposed unevenly and without social support will further entrench 'us and them' attitudes and inequality …

Regrettably, instead of focusing on maximising vaccinations through walk-in hubs at mosques, churches and community halls, where CALD communities regularly congregate, we heard stories of delays in getting vaccination appointments. I might add that I advised the New South Wales government that that's the strategy, but, regrettably, I received no reply.

In the words of one community leader, 'If you want to do the curfew, regardless of whether it's legitimate or not, do it across the board.' This message resonated greatly. Community leaders reported hardship among small businesses and among families, desperate because they could no longer afford to pay their mortgage, rent, or bills or to put food on the table to feed their children. The perception of having different rules for different parts of Sydney compounded the sense of inequity. An op-ed by Jordan Baker, the SMH education editor, who lived in an LGA of concern, stated: 'It wouldn't feel so oppressive if Sydney was "all in this together", but there's no longer any pretence of that.'

As Dr Martin Kulldorff tweeted on 14 August:

There is, as always, an enormous gap between the people who use elite media and political platforms to demand lockdowns and the people and families who actually bear the burden of those lockdowns.

That's what makes lockdown advocacy for elites so cheap and easy.