21 October 2020


I want to take this opportunity from the outset to thank the people of Greenway for getting through and continuing to get through what has obviously been a very trying time not only for Australia but for the world in both an economic and a health sense—and also an emotional sense. Certainly, there is, I believe, a great risk of complacency possibly being our biggest enemy at the moment. I said a couple of months ago that as I walked through the main street of Blacktown it was hard to find someone who didn't have a mask on, but then a couple of weeks later that all appeared to change. So I think we all need to ensure that we are maintaining social distancing, that we are not going to work when we're sick, that we are not sending our kids to school when they have symptoms. Another thing not a lot of people realise is that Western Sydney is a big place, as my friend the member for Werriwa will attest. Whilst there have been some outbreaks in various parts of Western Sydney—and we have had those at some shopping centres in my electorate and just adjoining my electorate—the reality is that right across Sydney there is a great risk. It doesn't matter where you live, whether it's Western Sydney or south-west Sydney. It depends upon all of us doing the right thing and ensuring that we don't become complacent.

The other thing that I wanted to note was that, more than ever, myself personally, my family and many people I engage with are very conscious of supporting local small businesses in any way they can. Be it through who you purchase from for home improvements and for your gardening, for example—I think we've all taken up, and are probably still at the tail end of, some special projects we thought sounded like a great idea a couple of months ago—more than ever, it's important to remain conscious of supporting local small businesses.

At the great risk of excluding the myriad small businesses and, in particular, restaurants and cafes that I frequent in my local area, I want to mention a couple. There's Sam's Gourmet Cafe in Riverstone, who, the last time I went there, were not able to accommodate sit-down customers, but are still serving the community and keeping everyone going; Limestone Cafe in Schofields; Young Lions Cafe in Blacktown; Borrowed Table in Kellyville Ridge; and Oregano & Oil in Blacktown. Walking through the main street of Blacktown, there has been, I believe, a sense of vibrancy. People are getting out and about, but we need to make sure that we do that in a very sensible way.

My electorate has a very large number of people of faith—and many different faiths, at that. This has been a very trying time for people of faith who are used to gathering in large congregations for events as well as regular weekly services. Last week I was so pleased to be able to join with some of my local community for a socially distanced and COVID-safe dinner. I've spoken in this place about the big functions that they have and how disappointing it was for them and also for me not to be able to attend one of their main gatherings this year. It was a delight to be able to have the opportunity to engage with them again as well as the Ahmadiyya Muslims at Marsden Park—a large number of whom live in my electorate—and to listen to how they've been coping and continuing that outreach with their various communities. I also had the opportunity not too long ago to catch up with Pastor Mark Tough, of St Clements Anglican Church in Lalor Park. As he was showing me through their church, he pointed out that it has been a difficult time for them but they have done what they needed to do.

On a personal note, I have spoken in this place a few times about my dad, who is a devout Catholic—a beautiful man of 88 years old who lives alone and independently. He made the decision very early on—it was a very difficult decision for him—to stop going to mass at St Bernadette's in Lalor Park. With the COVID restrictions, that was probably the best for him. As I continued to check up on him, he said to me, 'It's great; I go to mass every day'. I said, 'Dad, what are you talking about?' He goes to a virtual mass every day. He goes through the Catholic resources. It's always a delight, Dad, when you let me know which church you've popped up in. He contacted me a little while ago and he said, 'I just heard the best homily,' and he went through the homily and how great it was. I said, 'Who was it, Dad?' He said, 'It was a cathedral in Darwin.' So, of course, I contacted the member for Solomon and said, 'Look, my dad is a fan of your church,' and it just so happens that the member for Solomon is in the choir there. I take my hat off to those people of faith in my community who kept their faith strong—and whose faith has become stronger as a result of the pandemic.

I also want to send out some special well wishes to all those young people who have commenced or about to commence their HSC exams. We expect so much of our young people. I think two things in particular have come through in this pandemic. The first is how adaptable young people are. By and large, as I have engaged in various online forums, in particular, with young people, I have noted their sense of adaptability but also their sense of optimism. Whilst I don't want to undermine the fact that mental health is very important and needs the best support it can get, I think we sometimes underestimate young people a bit too much. They really are adaptable. They really are doing their best. I personally believe that much of this generation is going to come through stronger than mine came through. But, of course, there are many people who are going to need assistance, and I think it goes without saying we all support any measures that can be provided in a variety of formats, be they through health professionals or counsellors or giving parents the tools they need in order to support their children.

The second point related to that is: having gone through that period of virtual learning with my own eight-year-old, and having my three-year-old continue to go to preschool every day, especially during the height of the pandemic, I want to thank all those educators right around our community, and certainly around Australia, who have done such an outstanding job. The school pick-up and drop-off is a nightmare at the best of times when you have large housing developments, as I know the member for Werriwa has in her area. It's bad enough without a pandemic—the traffic problems and so forth. I take my hat off to all those local schools in Greenway who have adapted as best they can to do this for the safety of their children, their staff and their local communities. Thank you for that.

I want to make some mention of what is one of the centrepieces of Labor's budget reply—that is, child care. Greenway is a relatively young electorate. It is among the 25 youngest electorates by median age in the country. I have some 9½ thousand children under the age of five in my community, many of whom's families choose to utilise local childcare services so that their parents can work. As a consumer of child care myself, I can say how much I have valued that. I think we have all met those constituents. Invariably, it is the mother of the family unit who will say: 'I work three days a week. I would work four, and I'd love to work five, but any more than three and I actually start to lose money.' That simply does not make sense. It does not make sense from an equity perspective and it does not make sense from an economic perspective.

I think it's so important to make child care more affordable. The announcement that Labor has made, making child care more affordable for 97 per cent of families in the childcare system, is so vital. This will cut costs by between $600 and $2,900 a year, with no family being worse off. We would scrap the $10,560 childcare subsidy cap, which, as I said, often sees parents losing money from an extra day's work. I recently had the great pleasure of welcoming the Labor leader and the member for Kingston to Kids Early Learning in Lalor Park, which is operated by Blacktown City Council. What a fantastic job our local council childcare operators do. They were excluded from wage subsidy assistance. I take my hat off to Blacktown council and the other local councils in my area—but Blacktown in particular, who went to such extraordinary lengths to not lay anyone off and to keep their workforce gainfully employed.

In the short time I have remaining, I want to acknowledge the passing and legacy of one of Blacktown's great servicers: Dr Russ Dickens OAM, who was a councillor on the Blacktown City Council. He really did live and breathe Blacktown City. The fact that our community is the business hub it is today and a fantastic place to live, work and raise a family in is in no small part due to his 36-year public service contribution. Russ was first elected to Blacktown City Council as an independent councillor in September 1980 and served until 2016. He was mayor in 1987 and deputy mayor from 2012 to 2014. Russ was a Blacktown stalwart. He was a local veterinarian—probably, I would say, the best known vet in Blacktown. He cared for thousands of local pets. He was the person, including the entire period he was serving as a councillor, who would be at the Blacktown Pet Fest checking people's pets free of charge. You would go and visit him, and his place in Seven Hills—which I think everyone knew so well—would be a Noah's Ark. Russ's legacy extends far beyond Blacktown city. He was actually one of the first vets to study disease in koalas and provide clinical management advice. He was a founding member of the Australian Koala Foundation, a non-profit, non-government organisation dedicated to addressing the causes of population decline in koalas. I had the great privilege of serving alongside Russ on Blacktown City Council from 2004. In that time he was always a tenacious advocate. He was a strong believer in the ability to make immense and lasting changes in local government. He was also fiercely independent. He would vote the way the merits of the argument were going. He made conscious decisions, in many cases, to support either the incumbents or the opposition on council at the time, and there was absolutely no doubt about this man's integrity. I had tremendous respect for him. He was a very gently spoken, strong-willed man who always had Blacktown as his first priority but also the welfare of animals, which was his lifelong passion. I extend my deepest condolences to Lorina and their children, Sue, Helen, Jenny and Rowan. Vale, Dr Russ Dickens OAM.