Interview with Thomas Oriti – ABC Newsradio Breakfast – Friday 13 August 2021


SUBJECTS: Urgent need for more vaccine hubs and medical staff in western Sydney; ADF role in vaccine rollout; COVID-19 communication in languages other than English.

THOMAS ORITI, HOST: The virus is now creeping into regional parts of New South Wales, with a number of towns now in their own lockdowns. Now Jason Clare is the Federal Member for Blaxland in Western Sydney. He’s also the Shadow Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Regional Services, Territories, and Local Governments and Jason Clare joins us now. Good morning.


ORITI: Look for a national audience and people who perhaps don’t know your electorate, I mean, we’re talking about a big part of Western/Southwest Sydney, so parts of Bankstown, Auburn, Yagoona, Guildford, lots of densely populated suburbs that are of course, proudly multicultural as well but times are pretty tough. How are people coping?

CLARE: You’re right, it is tough. People are pretty down, pretty tired. It’s very, very hard if you’ve if you’ve lost your job, but it’s also hard for a lot of mums and dads who do have a job, they’re working from home but they’re trying to teach their kids through homeschooling at the moment. People are scared because more and more kids are getting sick here at the moment. To be honest, Thomas, people are angry. The people in my community here in Western Sydney didn’t cause this mess. It was caused because the State Government locked Sydney down too late and because the Federal Government didn’t buy enough different vaccines last year, and we’re paying the price for that now.

ORITI: Okay, but I mean, the numbers have been concerningly high in your part of the world for weeks and weeks and weeks now. There’s been a lot of talk, I want to ask you about public health messaging and whether those messages are getting across to people who perhaps don’t have English, as a second language. We covered a story yesterday that some of that information has actually been out of date anyway. But you know, it has been weeks and weeks it’s not the first lockdown we’ve experienced, shops are closed, I mean, do you think the spread of COVID in Western Sydney is primarily about the message just not getting across or are there other factors at play here too?

CLARE: The Federal Government finds it hard to communicate a clear message in English, let alone in different languages at times. But particularly when it comes to communicating to an electorate like mine, they’ve failed dismally. As you rightly point out, this is a multicultural community, about 70% of people here speak a language other than English at home. When the government’s website has wrong information on it about what vaccine you can or should take, that doesn’t help.

Brad Hazzard the other day made the point that we’re getting people dying at home from COVID because the information is not getting through about how dangerous this is. People are turning up to hospital dangerously ill. I’ve put forward a constructive suggestion, I’ve said, ‘Get more ads on the SBS radio’. As great as ABC Radio is, not a lot of my constituents will be tuning in this morning, but a lot of them will be tuning into SBS Radio. It broadcasts in 70 different languages to about 3 million Aussies every week and we’re not doing enough to use that asset to get messages out to people about how dangerous the virus is, about what you need to do to comply with the rules, and about where you can go to get the vaccine.

ORITI: Okay, but is the region well-equipped to deal with the influx of people lining up for the vaccine? Because it does seem like people are wanting to get the shot now. Are the clinics well-staffed and are people getting through?

CLARE: The short answer to that is no. We’ve got people desperate to get the vaccine. We’ve got a couple of those “pop up” hubs to get the vaccine that have now been set up, one at the local sports club, one at the local mosque. The one at the mosque is temporary, but we’ve had long lines snaking around the corner.

ORITI: So this is the Lakemba and Bankstown is it? Just for people who want to know.

CLARE: That’s right. This shows that people are keen to get the jab. But this week, we had to turn 120 people away from one of these vaccine hubs at sports club because there wasn’t enough medical staff there to give the jab. That’s appalling. When you’ve got people in the epicentre of the crisis who are dangerously exposed because they don’t have the jab and they want it, you can’t be turning people away, which is why I’ve said we need more medical staff here to staff these vaccination hubs and if there aren’t enough doctors and nurses available here in Sydney, then bring in the military. We’ve got the military here already. Why don’t we use Army medics?

ORITI: So you will support that?


ORITI: You’ve got Labor Leader Anthony Albanese is asked that the Federal Government consider having ADF personnel provide support at mass vaccination hubs. You think that that’s the way to go to actually have the ADF there?

CLARE: Well, we used the ADF to help vaccinate aged care. We should be doing the same thing here right now. If there’s a shortage of doctors and nurses and medical staff to give people the vaccine here and there obviously is because we had to turn people away this week, then we should be bringing in Army medics to help to vaccinate people. It seems to me to be a simple solution.

ORITI: Is it a staff issue? Or was that a supply issue? Was it a situation where the vaccines were there, there weren’t the people to actually physically administer them?

CLARE: That’s right. We had the vaccine, we had AstraZeneca, but didn’t have enough staff to give people the jab.

ORITI: Do you support the move to enforce tighter restrictions in some of the LGA’s, including in your area in Sydney’s West, as opposed to places elsewhere? I mean, some have argued there should have been blanket rules across the city. We keep getting told we’re all in this together. What’s your view on that?

CLARE: Well, that’s a hard question. Thomas, I wouldn’t want anybody else to go through what we’re going through here at the moment but it is confusing. I represent an area that’s got two local government areas with two different sets of rules. In one part of my electorate you can’t leave to do your job unless you get tested for all of the authorised jobs. In another area it’s totally different. The big mistake that was made here was that Sydney was locked down too late and when it was locked down, it was half-hearted. People were told to stay at home here, but you could still go out and get a Louis Vuitton handbag. The other mistake which is now patently obvious, is that there should have been a ring of steel all around Sydney to stop it leaking out, metastasising into the regions. Why is it Thomas, that a judge can go skiing in Thredbo but people in my electorate can’t go five kilometres?

ORITI: You’re the Shadow Minister for Regional Services so important to bring this up. I mean, the Delta variant is creeping in to regional New South Wales now. A number of areas are in lockdown, that happened pretty quickly. Do you think the government’s taking on that advice now and they are shutting down given just how transmissible this variant is?

CLARE: We’re constantly playing catch up. I’m glad that they’re locking down faster places where the virus is occurring, but it’s all too slow.

ORITI: It wasn’t too slow. They shut down regional parts of the state very quickly, as soon as they heard about the cases didn’t they, that wasn’t playing catch up?

CLARE: And I’m glad they did there. I’m glad they did there. But they were too slow in Sydney and I am worried about the regions because they’re less equipped to deal with this than Sydney is. They’ve got fewer staff, the Health Minister made that point yesterday as well and creeping into Indigenous communities is a terrifying thought. You’ve got communities there where there are more people with chronic illnesses. It’s like COVID getting into an aged care centre or a hospital. So we’ve got to do everything we absolutely can to make sure that COVID doesn’t get in there. It’s been one of the great success stories of the last 18 months that we haven’t seen COVID in remote Indigenous communities and I hope that continues.

ORITI: Well, we’ll see how things pan out. Jason Clare, thank you very much for joining us this morning.

CLARE: Good on you, thanks Tom.