As The Rest Of Sydney Gets Tiny Freedoms, Here’s What It’s Like In The Western Suburbs RN

Contributor: Khushaal Vyas

In a world where the weekly grocery shop is the most exciting thing about our existence, everyone is doing it tough. Yet, it’s impossible for me to ignore that my community in Western Sydney is hurting on a scale that I’ve never seen in this city before.

There are currently close to no avenues out west to get even a momentary respite from the current state of affairs. This week, we started our stopwatches to time our one-hour allowance outside the house. Our communities continue to mask-up outside the home. Of the very few public parks and recreational facilities available within our LGAs, most are heavily patrolled and some authorities may further restrict the little freedom we have by switching off park lights and removing sports equipment, soccer nets and basketball hoops.

To rub salt in those wounds, we continue to be treated to images of large numbers of our fellow Sydneysiders unmasked and congregating in groups outside cafes and across Sydney’s beaches with little to no enforcement. I acknowledge that I probably sound super jealous. Of course I am. We wish we were afforded the same level of respect and trust. These aren’t the scenes of a Sydney fighting through this together. It’s a scene that, in a picture, underlines the double standard Western Sydney has struggled with for months.

Photo: Getty.

Unfortunately, whilst we’ve heard time and again that the heightened restrictions in Western Sydney is because the restrictions follow the virus and that “the virus does not discriminate”, we know from lived experience that whilst the virus may not discriminate, government policy certainly does.

From the outset of the Bondi cluster, we saw the government emphasise its trust in citizens and noble calls for Sydney would fight this outbreak together. That solidarity disappeared the moment the outbreak reached the Western Suburbs. The trust in citizens turned into announcements of “police crackdowns”. Being in it together turned into sending in soldiers and the literal cavalry. Today, the buzz of patrol helicopters has transformed into the expected ambience of our suburbs.

Of course, the common response to this is to argue that the exclusive Western Sydney restrictions are necessary given that the high case numbers must indicate a lack of compliance. Indeed, Brad Hazzard argued that there had been a high level of compliance in the East and North as compared to the West. This is notwithstanding the fact that the recent super-spreader event at a Maroubra party indicates that outlying non-compliance exists in every suburb.

Unfortunately, these arguments emphasise how little decision makers understand about Western Sydney. Unlike the more affluent areas of Sydney, the vast majority of the West work in essential industries where it is not possible to work from home. With Western Sydney typically being home to larger families in the one household, it is hardly surprising that much of the spread has been due to essential workers becoming infected at work and inadvertently spreading the virus within their households.

gladys berejiklian new freedoms nsw 919 cases
Photo: Getty.

Evidently, compliance has not been the overarching issue facing our community. You only need to look at residents waiting hours to queue for mandatory testing or the hordes of shuttered local businesses to see the sacrifices being made on a daily basis.

What has been a major issue, however, is the lack of support to assist our communities in dealing with the severity of restrictions. Whilst all of Sydney has had to sacrifice day-to-day freedoms, thousands of families in Western Sydney who are unable to work from home have had to additionally sacrifice their entire livelihood as the cost of compliance. These same families were forced to mount their own campaign before the Federal Government finally decided to provide any kind of income support. It should be obvious that it is in the public interest to ensure citizens are not forced to choose between compliance with health orders and paying the rent. Yet, it’s something we still had to fight tooth and nail for. Ultimately, it is these families who have sacrificed more than most that we are demonising when we use Western Sydney as the scapegoat for government failure.

Beyond the frustration of the unfairness of current policy, my concern now turns to the impact of double standards on overall public health. After all, any path out of the pandemic is inherently tied to public trust in government decisions. So when we impose selective curfews on Western Sydney, even after the Premier rejected their efficacy, it damages that trust. When our communities make sacrifices that are unprecedented anywhere else in the country but continue to be blamed, it damages trust. When governments focus purely on harsh enforcement, without providing the community with meaningful support to comply with those restrictions, it absolutely damages trust.

At this point, whether or not you agree that there has been a double standard is not really the point anymore. The existence of distrust and an “undercurrent of resentment” should be enough to encourage a different approach. My worry is that the tighter the government squeezes Western Sydney, the more likely those who are struggling will be pushed to fringes and become vulnerable to misinformation and campaigns against public health measures.

Restoring community trust through solidarity, support and equal and fair treatment isn’t just a crusade for morality. It has real tangible impacts on our overall health goals as a country – regardless of where you live.

Khushaal Vyas is a South-Western Sydney resident and a recipient of the Premier’s Multicultural Youth Medal. To his great shame, in the ‘What Australian Bird Are You’ quiz, he was deemed to be an Ibis.

All adult Aussies (yep, even if those of us under 40) are currently able to get the safe and effective AstraZeneca vaccine through a GP. Click here to see which clinics are offering it, and talk to a doctor to see if it’s right for you.

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The best vaccine is the first one you can get, and that’ll be our ticket out of this mess.