13 October 2021
COVID-19 AND BLUE MOUNTAINS ELECTORATE
Ms TRISH DOYLE (Blue Mountains) (19:36): Via video link: The latest lockdown has been a long old haul—months of restrictions, all of us nervously watching daily case numbers, feeling despair for those who have lost loved ones. Whilst I know many of us are breathing a sigh of relief that restrictions are easing, for some of us there is trepidation mixed with elation. We contemplate the days and weeks ahead and hope that things do not escalate uncontrollably again. Time will tell. Something like a global pandemic rocks the foundations for us all. Life as we know it is ever changed—things we took for granted were no longer available or accessible in lockdown; our vulnerability was exposed. I am well aware that I am one of the lucky ones. To be in lockdown in the beautiful Blue Mountains is far from a terrible fate. If it ever became too much, I had, and have, the choice to step outside into some of the most beautiful wilderness that this planet has to offer.
I live in a tight-knit community where we really do take care of each other. I guess we have all had some time to reflect on the events of the past 18 months—what has worked and what has not, what we have done well and where we can do better. We have seen people pull together, displaying such kindness towards others and, unfortunately, we have seen the opposite as well. I will use the time to share a few reflections, primarily based around my own observations as the member for Blue Mountains. I start by saying how proud I am of my community. I truly believe people in the Blue Mountains electorate have stoically faced the challenge of the pandemic, of the floods, of the fires. Some have found it easier than others but, on the whole, our community has shown an impressive strength to emerge from this by no means unscathed but with a determination not to be beaten.
There are so many people and workers across different sections to acknowledge. Time does not allow this, so I will name a few. I sing the praises of the Blue Mountains small business community. Many in this sector have done it tough and the devastating reality is that some may not survive, unable to weather the prolonged challenges of bushfires, floods and COVID. We have a local economy that is largely arts-, hospitality- and tourism-based—three of the sectors hit hardest by the Black Summer fires and the lockdowns. Some of them waited patiently for painfully long periods of time for government support that was promised and then not delivered, or delivered so late that it may not end up providing the lifeline that they needed. Despite the New South Wales Government's insistence on labelling the Blue Mountains as part of Greater Sydney, we are not. We are mountains folk; once you cross the river and head up the hill, we are not Sydney. When a business shuts down in our local community, it is noticed and the loss is deeply felt. We have a unique topography, a string of villages in the midst of a world-heritage-listed national park. We are surrounded by valleys, cliffs and wilderness, and access to many services resemble that of the regions.
I use this time to also sing the praises of our teachers, school support and administrative staff. Each and every one of them deserve our deepest thanks. They have adapted to the changes brought about by the pandemic with such competence and compassion for our students, remotely and on site. They have been there to support students and their parents and to guide them, unfailingly. Today I recognise the great NSW Teachers Federation and note the significance of the More Than Thanks campaign, which observes that these days teachers do more than ever. Teachers work 55 hours a week or more and have to deal with student needs and constant curriculum changes, and teachers' salaries have not kept pace; in fact, they have fallen way behind other professions. One in eight teachers now leaves the profession within six years because of the pay and workload pressures. There are 1,000 full-time teaching positions unfilled in New South Wales. Without great teachers, our kids do not get a great education.
No speech reflecting on the pandemic can be made in good faith without mentioning the brilliance of our healthcare workers in hospitals, health centres, doctors' surgeries and ambulances. I take a quick moment to thank them for the endless hours of work, the physical and emotional commitment, the sadness, the exhaustion and the frustration at having to stand up again and again and demand to be listened to. I say here and now that our community is eternally grateful. I have fought for many things over lockdown, repeatedly. I have asked for a vaccination hub for my community, which was ignored. I have asked for the then Treasurer to meet with owners of Blue Mountains small businesses impacted by the lockdown—that was ignored. My team and I have made inquiry after inquiry on behalf of our constituents, and we will continue to do so. We will not allow our community to go on neglected.