COVID-19 Public Interest Debate

I strongly support the motion and thank the Minister for Families, Communities and Disability Services and member for Kiama for bringing it to the House. It is important that the House thanks and acknowledges the work of people who are on the frontline of keeping our State COVID safe and ensuring there is compliance.

As members would appreciate, the Sydney electorate is highly and uniquely susceptible to the health and economic impacts of this pandemic. The inner city is home to populations of people who are homeless and to large public housing estates. Most residents live in densely populated apartments in close proximity to each other, sharing small spaces such as lifts and corridors. Inner-city residents have less private open space and rely more on the public domain for recreation. The inner-city's retail, and food and beverage hubs depend on people from other areas working in the city. The late-night trading, hospitality and creative arts sectors are based in the city, and those sectors are especially impacted by the pandemic.

I am grateful for the swift and effective actions of the New South Wales Government, the City of Sydney, businesses large and small, the social services sector and the community as a whole for their strong focus on compliance and for supporting each other through this unprecedented time. As it is Homelessness Week, I highlight the work that is being done to support some of the most vulnerable in the community. Early on in the pandemic a task force was created—including Department of Communities and Justice staff, City of Sydney staff and homelessness service providers—to rapidly support people in need. We saw excellent collaboration and increased funding for emergency or temporary accommodation. New wraparound services were introduced, long‑term accommodation was provided through social or community housing providers and the health needs of rough sleepers were addressed. As the Minister has outlined, we have seen record spending to save and change lives.

Given the interconnected nature of Sydney's rough sleeper population, we can only imagine the tragedy that would have occurred had there been a COVID-19 outbreak amongst the city's homeless population. Instead, the exact opposite occurred, with many rough sleepers having life‑changing experiences, and being provided with safe and supported housing—many of them for the first time. I acknowledge and thank the Minister for his leadership on this front. I also acknowledge the Lord Mayor of Sydney and the City of Sydney for their strong support—including financial support—as well as the many service providers who played key roles.

I highlight the work of the Kirketon Road Centre in Darlinghurst, which provided COVID-19 testing services specifically to rough sleepers and other vulnerable groups. During the recent growth of the cluster in Potts Point the centre has expanded its services to the wider community and to additional sites. In addition, I thank the Wayside Chapel, Lou's Place, Sydney Streetlevel Mission, Rough Edges, Hope Street and so many other providers that have excelled in a challenging time. I also include The Haymarket Foundation for providing medical and case work support to rough sleepers and the Holdsworth Community centre for the support it has provided.

The New South Wales Parliament and Sydney Town Hall—two historic institutions that usually host high‑profile events—have used their catering facilities and services to provide food relief to those who need it. Working with OzHarvest and 60 community organisations, as well as its own Meals on Wheels program, the City of Sydney has been delivering over 20,000 meals and 1,500 staples bags a week to people in need. I thank my many constituents for looking after each other during this time despite the stress so many in the community are experiencing. For many, that has occurred online.

I acknowledge Facebook community groups such as Darlo Darlings, Potts Pointers and Pyrmont Locals for sharing information and spare supplies, and helping each other get on with life during this very abnormal time. These platforms are sharing information about where you can get hard-to-find or important supplies such as cloth masks. During the initial lockdown, many people were contributing to their neighbourhood through projects such as Buy Now Shop Later, where residents could buy ahead of time to support local businesses or pay for an extra meal or drink so that the business could stay open, pay staff and provide services to someone in need. A number of community pantries have been established.

These social platforms have been critical in getting out up-to-date information about community transmission, which in the past week in Potts Point has been so important. I am grateful to Potts Pointers and Darlo Darlings for joining me in getting messages out about the need for the local community to get tested, isolate, distance, wear a mask, and wash hands. These actions would have saved lives, jobs, and businesses. There is still more work to do to ensure we are a COVID-safe community, but I am seriously encouraged by the work of the Government, the City of Sydney, the business sector, the social services sector, and the community at large for responding so sensibly and seriously to this pandemic. I commend the motion.