Doorstop Interview – Bankstown – Saturday 7 August 2021


SUBJECT/S: COVID-19 vaccine rollout; COVID-19 crisis getting worse; Urgent need for vaccines in western and southwestern Sydney; COVID-19 advertising in languages other than English.

MARK CONDI, CEO OF BANKSTOWN SPORTS CLUB: I just want to welcome everyone here today to Bankstown Sports Club. As you all probably know, Bankstown Sports Club and most of the other hospitality industries and venues have been shut now for six weeks. All of our 600 employees have been stood down and with the most recent COVID cases, just announced today we realised that the only thing we could do and manage was to encourage vaccination.

So, we reached out to New South Wales Health some weeks ago and encouraged them to open a facility here in Bankstown Sports Club. The condition was that we would provide the venue free of charge but hopefully they could employ some of our staff, which they have done and that’s been fantastic. They’ve employed about 18 of our staff on a daily basis. We’ve been encouraged with the vaccination rates yesterday, we hit our 1000th vaccination and today the vaccination rates are quite encouraging. We realise that Canterbury Bankstown needs to step up here. I’ve been a citizen and have worked in Canterbury Bankstown almost my whole life and I know that this city can stand up when it needs to and it needs to stand up today. It needs to stand up and come and get vaccinated so that we can get our lives back to some normality, get our people back to work, like this amazing facility back open again.

JASON CLARE MP: Thanks very much Mark and thank you to your whole team for everything that you’re doing here in helping to make our community safe. Bankstown Sports Club is closed at the moment, you can’t come here for a beer, but you can come here for a jab. What Mark and the team are doing here at the moment is incredibly important. You’re making it incredibly easy; you don’t have to book you can come straight on in. It’s open from eight o’clock to five o’clock, seven days a week and there’s plenty of car parking here as well. So please, if you live in the Bankstown area, if you’re here in southwest Sydney, if you haven’t had the jab yet, then please come on down to Bankstown Sports Club, you don’t have to book you can just come on in and the whole process only takes half an hour. It could be the most important decision you make all year. Because it could be the difference between life or death.

Here in southwest Sydney, we’re in the centre of the storm. This is where the virus is spreading faster than anywhere else. And this is where people are getting sick and are dying. We saw a terrible example of that during the week not far from here in Liverpool where a man who was 27 lost his life to COVID. Only 27 years old. He’d only got married six weeks ago and now he’s gone. His whole life in front of him and now he’s gone. It is a scary and a telling reminder about how serious this is, how dangerous this virus is, and how important it is to get the vaccine as quick as you possibly can.

This outbreak here in Sydney, this crisis, this nightmare here is getting worse and worse by the day. You see it in the numbers that have been released by the Health Minister in New South Wales again today and the virus is spreading here quicker than anywhere else. The only way out of this nightmare is to get more people vaccinated and to get more people vaccinated as quick as possible. This really is a race. The faster we get people vaccinated. the faster we get out of lockdown. The faster we get people vaccinated, the fewer people here that are going to get sick and die.

There are three things that are desperately needed. First, we need more vaccination hubs just like this. It’s great that we’ve got this vaccination hub here in the Bankstown Sports Club, but we need more like this right across southwest Sydney. The local council has asked the federal government to set one up at the velodrome. It’s been rejected. The Vietnamese community have offered up their community centre at Bonnyrigg, that’s been rejected. The Gallipoli Mosque up in Auburn are doing the same sort of thing as we’re doing here at the Bankstown Sports Club, but it only happens every couple of weeks. They don’t have the vaccine back there until the 20th of August, a week and a half away and they’ve got a waiting list of 500 people standing ready to get the jab. We need more hubs like this, and we need it fast. The federal government talks about having a lightning squad to come to hotspots. Well, this is the hottest spot in the country, and we need more vaccines here as quick as possible.

The second thing is we need to get more information to the people who live here in different languages. The fact is 70% of the people who live here in my local community, don’t speak English at home. They won’t be tuning in to Channel Seven, Channel Nine, Channel 10, ABC, or even SBS News tonight. So if you’re going to get the message to people about how dangerous this virus is, about the importance of staying at home, or where to get the jab, you’ve got to get that information to people in different languages. Now, one way to do that, is through SBS Radio. SBS Radio broadcasts to more than 3 million people a week and they do it in 70 different languages in most of the languages that are spoken here in western Sydney. The federal government hasn’t put anywhere near enough money into ads on SBS Radio. It’s not the only thing we need to do but it’s a big part of it. If you’re going to get the message to people about staying at home, about how dangerous this virus is, and about where to get the jab, then you’ve got to get it to people in the language they speak at home. Just as you’ve got to set up vaccination hubs where people work or where they pray or where they play, you’ve got to get the information to people in the languages that they speak and the languages that they speak at home. SBS Radio is one obvious way to do that.

And finally, we need more vaccines. There is a national shortage of vaccines. Premiers have been talking about that at their press conferences again today. The Prime Minister says that we should be able to hit 70% of people vaccinated by the end of the year. We should almost be there now. Remember, we were promised at the start of the year that everybody would have access to the vaccine by October, that’s a couple of weeks away and we’re barely at 17 or 18%.

Two thirds of the country is locked down at the moment, because the Prime Minister stuffed up. Because he didn’t buy enough vaccines. The country’s in crisis at the moment because of the Prime Minister’s incompetence, because he didn’t do the simple task of buying enough vaccines. When you’re at war, you expect the government to buy enough bullets to fight the war, well we are at war with this virus and the Prime Minister didn’t buy enough vaccines to fight this virus. This time last year, other countries were buying vaccines from lots of different companies like it was going out of style. Just on Pfizer, the US government bought 100 million doses of Pfizer with an option to buy 500 million more. And we were offered 40 million doses and we didn’t take the offer up. We didn’t buy any Pfizer until the end of November last year and then we only bought 10 million, only enough for a quarter of the country. We’re paying the price for that now. And if you want proof of that, just look at the empty streets here in Bankstown or the choking hospital wards here in western Sydney. Happy to take questions.

REPORTER: What reason can you think that they would reject vaccinations at the velodrome?

CLARE: Well, the response from the Health Minister’s office is that we’ve got a hub at Homebush and that they’re setting one up at Newcastle. That answer tells you how out of touch this government is with the reality of life here on the ground in western Sydney. You need hubs big and small, you need them at clubs, you need them at churches, you need them at mosques, you need them at community halls, you need them in schools, you need them in workplaces. If you want to vaccinate the country, you’ve got to make it as easy as possible. So set up the big hubs but you also need those small hubs. You’ve got to set up hubs where people go, places that people trust. People are more likely to get vaccinated if they’re in line with people that they play with or that they pray with. That’s why it was a great idea to set up a vaccination hub at the Lakemba Mosque a couple of weeks ago. We got 700 people vaccinated in a couple of days but that’s a one-off. We need to do more of that. So setting it up at sports facilities, setting it up at sports clubs, but also setting it up in mosques, Hindu temples, Sikh temples, churches, schools. You’ve got to think outside the box here if you’re going to get the whole community vaccinated.

REPORTER: From today’s press conference Canterbury Bankstown is now the area of greatest concern. How do we get out of this, as you said, it keeps shifting to a different LGA?

CLARE: It certainly is. Western Sydney didn’t cause this nightmare. This is happening because the state government locked down Sydney too late. If they’d locked down Sydney earlier when it was in Bondi, Bankstown wouldn’t be suffering now, but we are where we are. Most people here are doing the right thing, they’re staying at home, they’re only going out if they have to, to get food or medicine. But what we’ve seen over the last few weeks is it only takes a few people to do the wrong thing for this virus to spread like wildfire. The only way to put this fire out is with the vaccine.

REPORTER: As a representative of the community here, do you think the lockdown should be harder? I mean, we’re seeing it down trickle into the Nepean district.

CLARE: I think Sydney should have been locked down earlier and it should have been locked down harder. The start of this lockdown wasn’t really a lockdown at all. People were able to go to IKEA, we were told that you only had to go out for essential items, but you could go out and buy a Louis Vuitton handbag. It was a mock-down rather than a lockdown. There was a big mistake that was made early on. There’s no use looking backwards, you’ve got to look forwards now. I’d listened to the health experts about what has to happen. I fear that there was health advice early on to lockdown earlier and it wasn’t taken. Everybody knows now that Sydney was locked down to late but that’s not the only reason we’re in this problem. It got out of quarantine. We’ve been asking the federal government to build purpose-built quarantine centres in every state in the country. Apart from the lives lost, the trauma it’s caused, the suffering that this is causing at the moment with people unable to work, unable to send their kids to school, the financial cost here in Sydney is something like $2 billion a week and this is going on and on and on. The quarantine centre that’s now being built in Victoria, it’s costing $200 million dollars to set up. Think of the money that’s been lost apart from the human misery caused here. If a purpose-built quarantine centre was built in New South Wales this time last year, this could have been avoided. It wasn’t and we’re paying for that now.

REPORTER: You also touched on, especially in areas like these, the diverse language groups and the diverse cultures. Do you think that could have also, like police are saying there is a lack of compliance in this area? Do you think that might be misrepresentative as a lack of communication, miscommunication with the language barriers here?

CLARE: There is no doubt in my mind that the federal government and the state government have both failed miserably at communicating with our community. That’s borne out by the fact that we’ve had four or five maybe more people die of COVID in their home. We heard a week or so ago about people turning up at hospital dangerously ill, about people turning up at hospital with a dead body. Now what the hell’s going on there? That should tell you that the message is not getting through about how dangerous the virus is, what to do when you get it or the importance of getting vaccinated. There’s no point passing that message on to people in English, if they don’t speak English. None of us are safe unless everybody gets the message and everybody gets vaccinated. So you’ve got to get that message to people in the languages that they speak and that’s not happening, not enough is being done there. I mentioned SBS Radio, that’s a no-brainer, that’s an obvious thing that we should be doing. If the government has a radio station that’s broadcasting in 70 different languages, why aren’t we running ad after ad after ad telling people what to do, how to do it where to get vaccinated? But it’s not just that, people are getting rubbish on their phones from WhatsApp groups telling them that the virus has a chip in it or that it’s an experimental drug or that you could die if you take it, that people are getting the same sort of rubbish messages on WeChat. This is a battle online and in cyberspace as much as it is in getting that message out to people on our radio stations.

REPORTER: Just finally, what did you make of the article revealing that Australians living overseas don’t want to come home from overseas, they’ll need permission to leave?

CLARE: Millions of Aussies are suffering because of this Prime Minister’s incompetence. People can’t go to work, they can’t go to school, they can’t go out and have fun with their mates, and a lot of people can’t come home from overseas and then go back again. People can’t even go for a holiday down the coast at the moment, let alone go for a holiday overseas. Why? Because this government stuffed up the two jobs that it had this year; to build purpose-built quarantine centres to keep us safe, and to buy enough vaccines.

As I said earlier, there isn’t a much more basic job of a government than to keep its community safe and we’re in a war here with a virus. If this was a war with another country, you’d expect the government to make sure that we’ve got enough bullets to fight it. This is a war with a virus. The only way to win this war is to get enough people vaccinated and we are desperately short of the vaccines that we need right now. Why? Because the government didn’t buy enough different vaccines last year.