Thank You to Blaxland Community – COVID Response

This is my last speech in this place for this year. I want to dedicate it to the many people in my local community who helped us to get through what has been a really tough year. The people whom I have the privilege to represent here in the Australian parliament were hit harder by the lockdown this year than those in any other part of Sydney. It’s where more people lost their jobs than anywhere else, it’s where more people got COVID than anywhere else and it’s where more people died than anywhere else. I want to thank all of the doctors, the nurses and the pharmacists in my community for everything they did this year—and every year—and everyone who works in our hospitals, everyone who worked at that constellation of COVID testing sites right across the city and everyone who lined up there to be tested.

I want to give a particularly big shout-out to my friend Dr Jamal Rifi. You might have seen Jamal on Australian Story a few months ago. Jamal is one of a kind. He turned his front yard into a COVID testing site this year. He set up vaccination clinics right across south-west Sydney. He even set up a drive-through vaccination hub. He and his team have vaccinated more than 32,000 people so far this year. Jamal has vaccinated more than 10,000 people himself at his surgery, at these clinics, on ships in the harbour and in people’s homes. There are still doctors who do that, and Jamal is one of them. To Jamal I say: you’re a bloody legend, mate. It is an honour to call you a friend. Thank you so much for everything that you’ve done and that you continue to do.

This weekend he’s unveiling his latest idea. It’s an inflatable vaccination clinic at a family fun day in Chester Hill. It’s all designed to create a less scary place where little kids can potentially get vaccinated next year. Jamal, by the way, is supposed to be retired. He has bought a campervan. It’s in the driveway. He should be travelling around Australia at the moment with his lovely wife, Lana, enjoying a well-earned retirement, but he keeps telling me it’s not going anywhere at the moment. He tells me that until the pandemic is over he still has work to do. That’s my friend Jamal. He honestly is the best of us.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank everyone in my electorate who lined up and got the job this year. We were the epicentre of the outbreak in Sydney and we were massively exposed. At the start of the lockdown we had lower rates of vaccination than most of the rest of the country, but we turn that around and now more than 94 per cent of people in my electorate have had their first vaccination and 91 per cent are double vaxxed. Some people got vaccinated at the GP, some at the pharmacy and some at those big hubs. Others got vaccinated at the mosque or the church or the local club. The Auburn Gallipoli Mosque and the Lakemba mosque both became vaccination hubs. So did Saint Charbel’s and Our Lady of Lebanon, as well as Bankstown Sports Club and PCYC Bankstown. That really is community in action. When we were locked down and when they were shut down, these places, which are the heart and soul of our local community, opened back up as vaccination hubs. At the sports club alone, 20,000 people were vaccinated.

I also want to thank everyone who packed a food hamper, everyone who helped a neighbour and everyone who was there on the phone at Lifeline or on 1800RESPECT when someone needed help—people like the incredible Mariam Mourad and Jenny Ashwood and the whole team at the Bankstown Women’s Health Centre.

Last but not least I really want to thank all of our teachers and all the mums and dads out there—all the mums and dads who didn’t just have to make it through lockdown with their sanity intact but had the added pressure of homeschooling at the dinner table. In a community like mine, where English is a second language for so many mums and dads, that’s really, really hard.

This time last year, as parliament wrapped up, we thought we were through the worst of it. It turns out we were wrong. Let’s hope today, as we leave this place for Christmas, that it is finally true. Merry Christmas, everyone, and a happier new year!