SCOTT LEVI, PRESENTER: It’s just over a month now since the initial stay at home order was issued for Greater Sydney including the Central Coast, Illawarra, and the Blue Mountains. Pat Conroy is the Federal Member for Shortland, a seat which straddles the lockdown area of the Central Coast and non-lockdown area of the Hunter. I would reckon the Hunter will follow suit soon with the way it’s getting going in parts of your electorate Mr Conroy, good morning.
PAT CONROY, MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND: Good morning, how are you?
LEVI: Yeah, this has really escalated since we last spoke on Friday. What are some of the difficulties for your constituents?
CONROY: Well it’s the non-existent hard border between the Central Coast and Lake Macquarie. People have to cross that LGA border for work, for school, and that’s why I feel Lake Macquarie and the broader Hunter may be locked down soon as well. And obviously there’s the other very worrying contacts at the Northlakes Shopping Centre and that area on the Central Coast. So lots of my constituents on the Central Coast are doing it tough and lots of my constituents around Lake Macquarie are very concerned that they will soon be in lockdown following the Central Coast.
LEVI: How much of that area is your electorate?
CONROY: So I’ve got 30,000 people on the Central Coast down to Doyalson, San Remo, Budgewoi, Buff Point, so I’ve got about 25 per cent of my electorate on the Central Coast. Our office has been inundated with phone calls from people who are really struggling economically because of the insufficient support during this really tough time. The Central Coast has the second highest reliance on retail and construction, and they are the two industries hardest hit by the lockdown and they’re obviously two industries with a lot of face-to-face contact. So my constituents are doing it really tough at the moment.
LEVI: Yes, no good at all and for this all to blow up across the weekend, you know it makes it even harder for them. Do you – well the cats out of the bag now, I guess there’s no point in ‘I told you so’s’ or whatever, but you know, it is very frustrating isn’t it?
CONROY: It is, and I think while hindsight is obviously 20/20, I think if the Premier had locked down the eastern suburbs of Sydney much harder, I think we may not be in this position.
LEVI: Well it’s quite different to what they did in Victoria. I’ve got relatives there who were in lockdown for three months and they’re in lockdown again. They had curfews at night, they had five kilometre radius restrictions, they had a proper identification of what an essential worker is. I mean from the very first sign that the Delta strain had got going in Sydney, there were a number of LGA’s locked – well not even locked down because people from the Central Coast could go there, people from the rest of Sydney could go there. It was rather odd wasn’t it? Why - I mean, I know industry is so important to keep going, but now we are reaping the benefit of not saying no basically, of not saying what Dan Andrews said and saying ‘no you can’t do that, no the rule is this’.
CONROY: I fear that’s right, and I’ve got colleagues, people who work in my office whose husband works in construction and they travelled down every day to Sydney and they were mixing there and everything in between. I just think the New South Wales Government was a bit reluctant to lockdown and be seen to be copying Dan Andrews, and they went very soft in the eastern suburbs, and it’s now areas like the Central Coast that are paying a penalty for that failure.
When you chuck in the fact that the vaccine rollout has failed on a national level, that we’ve had 26 outbreaks from our national quarantine system, because let’s not forget that this has occurred because we had the Delta variant escape from quarantine and then we had insufficient people in the community vaccinated. So that’s driven this, and the soft lockdown from the New South Wales Government has made it worse. And then the third layer on top of that is the refusal of the Federal Government to re-implement the JobKeeper payment which means people have no option but to go out and work.
LEVI: What about the vaccination hub debate for our area? You’ve seen them opening just across your border there at Belmont, you know they are doing 20,000 a week. Wollongong’s one is set to open, they’re right across Sydney. Should the Central Coast have a mass vaccination hub?
CONROY: Absolutely, absolutely. And I know Gosford and Wyong Hospitals are doing really good work, but the mass vaccination hubs are the way to go. They’ve worked in the United Kingdom, they’ve worked in the United States. I, in fact, got my first vaccination from the Belmont hub yesterday, and the process was very smooth –
CONROY: It was Pfizer because I am in the appropriate age group for that. I didn’t jump the queue, I just took a booking online.
LEVI: When did you book?
CONROY: I booked two weeks ago, no sorry three weeks ago. But I must confess, I had to log on for about four hours to keeping trying to get through the IT system because there’s been a lot of problems –
LEVI: Still quicker than the Coast, we had people say they had at least 60 days to wait for Gosford for Pfizer.
CONROY: Yeah, and that’s the current wait in Lake Macquarie as well, but the actual mass vaccination hubs are working very well. They were churning through the needles, the jabs, and they were doing it in a way that was really safe and with appropriate distancing. So it is beyond me why the New South Wales Government hasn’t set up one on the Central Coast.
Part of the problem as Brad Hazzard, the New South Wales Health Minister has pointed out is the lack of supply. There is just not enough vaccines, particularly Pfizer, to go around, and this is driving everything else. And I just think this is something where Australia was doing really well last year – we were all really proud of our efforts, we felt like we’d dodged a bullet – but then people fell asleep at the wheel and failed on the quarantine system and getting enough vaccines to the country. And I just think that’s critical.
LEVI: Pat Conroy, Federal Member for Shortland, thanks for your time and yeah, a tough time for your constituents at the moment. Lake Munmorah, San Remo, Budgewoi are all exposure sites at the moment that we are looking very closely at. Let’s hope people have been vigilant and use the QR codes as well. Thanks for your time.
CONROY: Absolutely, and if anyone is doing it tough, please call my office for assistance. We’re calling people in those suburbs today and every day this week, but please call if you need assistance.
LEVI: Alright, thanks for your time.