Ms Bird (Cunningham) (17:03): I'm pleased to be able to respond to the statement provided to the House by the Minister for Health and the shadow health minister when we last met during what has been an extraordinary challenge for all of us through this pandemic situation. I'll just update the House with the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District numbers released this morning. There have been a total of 117 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the region. Currently, thank heavens, none are hospitalised. One hundred and fifteen have recovered, and the total number of people tested is 25,152. I commend all of our health services, from the health minister and the shadow health minister, who made statements, right through to all of the authorities and the service providers that have been involved in that outcome. There is no doubt that a number of months ago we were all very concerned that we would see very different numbers to those, not only in my own region but across the country, as we saw the impacts that this pandemic was having in other countries evolving internationally.

When we last met, I had a brief 90-second opportunity to thank many of the amazing locals who had been working day in and day out to support our community at this time. I acknowledge the doctors, nurses and medical staff, and educators right across the board—early education, schools, TAFE, our universities. Then there are the retail workers. Of course, many shops were shut, but many others were under enormous pressure, as we saw from the panic buying but also in general. They remained open to deal with all that was needed to keep the shops safe while providing essential goods to people. Cleaners across workplaces, public transport and all those places were quietly going about their job, ensuring that we were safe. Transport workers were still out on the road, making sure deliveries got through, particularly as more and more people were relying on things being delivered to their home as they self-isolated.

Mental health workers, homeless service workers, disability care workers—as my colleague the member for Macarthur said, these times hit those who are the most vulnerable the hardest, and they have had an even greater need for the services that those workers provide. The same goes for family and domestic violence workers. Sadly, we know that there is much more pressure on those services at such times.

There are also our public servants, including the obvious frontline public service workers such as our police and emergency service workers. But there are also people like those who work in our embassies and Foreign Affairs, who, we would all know, were putting in extraordinary hours as they interacted with our offices, our staff and the general public to help people who were trapped overseas or were trapped here trying to get home—all of those circumstances. The public servants have had to roll out government programs that were announced with very short lead times and yet had to get out there and make sure that those services, under those new programs, were delivered. It has been an extraordinary effort.

I would also acknowledge union representatives. Many in my area had to immediately start to help people work out what the situation was as work conditions changed and how the JobKeeper program would operate, and make sure that things were actually facilitated—as we saw at the top level between the minister and the ACTU—at the local level and that we could all work together to make sure these things operated well. I want to acknowledge those representatives, as well as other organisations in our area that worked in that space. I particularly think of the Illawarra Business Chamber, who did a lot of work getting information out to their members about how those programs would operate.

I want to report to the House a particular incident. We had the Ruby Princess docked at Port Kembla in my electorate. Of course it is still at the centre of some significant questions under current investigation. Given the deep concerns of many in our community about the pandemic at the time, when the state government decided to direct the ship to Port Kembla it would not have been surprising if people had expressed anger at this. Quite rightly, our local community were concerned and deeply sceptical about the decision. Despite that, they rallied in common human concern for the crew, who were still aboard that ship. Messages of support were sent to them. Friendship packages were sourced, packed and supplied to the crew. I and my colleagues the state members for Wollongong and Keira, supported by my federal colleague the member for Whitlam and my state colleague the member for Shellharbour, all worked together to get those packages to the crew.

I want to particularly acknowledge John Kewa, who leads the amazing team at our local Mission to Seafarers, who work tirelessly to provide support to the seafarers in our port. I also acknowledge Nicole Dillon and family, who suggested the idea of reaching out to the crew and encouraging community participation; Peter Ernst, GM of the Port Authority of New South Wales, for his excellent role in liaising between the New South Wales Police Force, NSW Health and Princess Cruises Australia, ultimately to get clearance for the delivery of the friendship care packages; Mark Sleigh, the CEO of Destination Wollongong, for his brilliant ability to make sure we had extensive media coverage, especially in sharing good-news stories to the wider community and the world in a time when communities were gripped with fear and uncertainty; and Richard Mohr for his support and especially for the lovely postcards, which people were able to sign. They were laminated and delivered prior to the Ruby Princess's departure. We will never forget the scene of that huge cruise ship sailing out of Port Kembla with one of our local tugs giving it a farewell with the hoses. They put a huge sign on the back saying 'Thank you, Illawarra.' I think it just shows the great humanity that sometimes we see, and may we see more of it during such difficult times. For the care packages I want to acknowledge Jill Crossley, Nicole Dillon and family, Paul Scully MP and Alison Byrnes-Scully; Ryan Park MP, Susan Wallis, David Bosanquet, Louise Del Rio, Steven Krinks, Colin and Annette Booth, Lenah Kewa and family, Paul Loemker, Kiley Martin and Llewelyn Hinder and many others whose names I don't have, who gave up their long weekend at Easter to assist in that mammoth task.

We were joined by an organisation called Good360 Australia. It was an extraordinary contribution by them: $70,000 worth of goods that they sourced. Thank you to Alison Covington, the founder and managing director of Good360, and her team, and also the Port Authority of New South Wales. As you can imagine, with that much of a contribution it was a huge effort to pack those onto the crates that needed to go onto ships to be delivered, and they helped with that. We also acknowledge and thank the Australian Mariners Welfare Society for contributing $12,000 towards the project, and our sincere thanks go to the Mission to Seafarers Sydney for contributing $500. I also want to acknowledge Kollaras & Co, who helped with us transporting the goods to the ship. There were obviously many, many stories of people doing important things at the time.

Watch Sharon’s speech on the Illawarra’s support for the crew of the Ruby Princess here.


In the time that's left to me I just want to indicate to the House that I'll be looking for some other opportunities to talk about how the government's initiatives that I've outlined—in particular, JobKeeper—are working in our area. There are some concerns. I genuinely welcome the JobKeeper program and I think it's a good initiative, but there are some anomalies that are causing real concern. I really ask the government to listen and take the concerns on board. The Treasurer has the power under the legislation to sign off and make changes.

For me, the dnata workers who work at our airports are a particular case. I have a number of them living in my electorate; they work at Sydney Airport. Some of them have contacted me. Basically, they've worked in this job for many, many years and, beyond their power, the ownership has gone from Australian ownership to a foreign ownership, yet they've continued doing the same job in ensuring that our aircraft are supplied and food is provided, all the things that all of us enjoy as we travel—not so much recently. But those workers, because of that ownership change, have been locked out of accessing the JobKeeper, and many of them are not eligible for jobseeker either.

That's the case for my constituents. So I ask the government to have another look at that, because these workers do need that support.

Watch Sharon’s speech on support for dnata workers here.