Matter of Public Importance: COVID-19

Mr CLARE (Blaxland) (16:12): Thanks Mr Deputy Speaker and g’day to everybody there from here in Bankstown. I want to start by reading out a bit of an email I got from a constituent the other week. This is what it says: “I haven’t worked since the lockdown, and the majority of people I know are also not working. The strain this is causing is indescribable.

“Many of us have families with kids staying at home who are also struggling. I’ve witnessed a severe effect in their mental state. Some of the children are emotionally drained, anxious and traumatised, and it’s very difficult for many of the parents, who themselves are emotionally drained, to take care of their children all day. Many of the parents are struggling with shame, guilt and low self-worth.

“The financial impact is also immense. The government benefits are low in comparison with our general weekly salary, and many family members are taking out loans, which is adding to the distress. I think the impact of this will last for months if not years.”

That’s just one story, and there are millions like that here in south-west Sydney. There are lots of people who are really struggling. This is hard. Lockdown is hard. People are tired, people are anxious, people are frustrated. They’re confused. They’re hurting, and they’re angry. They’re angry with the state government. They’re angry that the state government locked Sydney down too late and that this is not Western Sydney’s fault. A lot of people say to me, “If the state government had locked down earlier, when the virus was in Bondi, people here in Bankstown, Auburn, Fairfield and Blacktown wouldn’t be suffering now.” But I’ve got to tell you, they’re even angrier with this federal government.

This time last year, we were doing better than almost any other country in the world—because Australians did what we asked them to do, because they stayed at home, because they did their job. But now we’re doing worse than most other developed countries—and why? Because this government didn’t do their job. The rest of the world is now opening up and we’re locking down. Why? Because there aren’t enough Australians who are vaccinated to stop this virus from running amok here in Western Sydney and right across Greater Sydney. It didn’t have to be this way.

This time last year, countries were buying vaccine from pharmaceutical companies like it was going out of style. In July last year the Americans bought 100 million doses of Pfizer. The Poms bought 90 million doses, and we were offered 40 million doses—enough to vaccinate every Australian adult. But we didn’t buy anything from Pfizer until the end of November last year, and then we only bought 10 million doses—enough to vaccinate about a quarter of the country.

We’re paying for that mistake now. If you want proof of that, I would just need to move this camera to show you the empty streets here in Bankstown or take you to the choking hospital wards here in Western Sydney. There are hundreds of people in hospital here now, dozens are in ICU and 23 are on ventilators, and a lot of them call Western Sydney home.

This is a place where people are sick and are dying at the moment. Yesterday, not far from here, in Liverpool, a man in his 20s died, not in a hospital but in his home. He was 27. He got married six weeks ago. He had his whole life in front of him, and now he’s gone.

My whole community is dangerously exposed. We got statistics yesterday that tell us that only 14 ½ per cent of south-west Sydney is fully vaccinated—way below the national average. South-west Sydney is the epicentre of this crisis, and we’re less protected than the rest of the country. We’ve got plenty of police here. We’ve got plenty of soldiers here. But we don’t have enough vaccines.

The front page of The Australian newspaper tells us there’s some ‘lightning response’ option the government’s developing to take vaccines to hotspots—well, we need them here, and we need them here now. The mayor of Canterbury Bankstown has called for a vaccine hub to be built at the velodrome in Bankstown. That was rejected. The Vietnamese community have offered their community centre as a vaccination hub. That was rejected. Local GPs have asked for more Pfizer. That’s been rejected. I’ve written to the health minister about this—no response. The Prime Minister talked about a GP clinic at Chester Hill the other day in question time. It’s not open yet. It doesn’t open for another two weeks, and they say they need Pfizer to be able to operate it.

If you’ve got a lightning squad, get it here fast. This is a race. It really is a race: the faster we get the vaccine, the fewer people here in my community are going to get sick and die.