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Byron Shire
February 8, 2023

Ballina MP Q&A on the govt’s response on COVID-19

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Ballina Greens MP Tamara Smith. Photo Tree Faerie.

What are your thoughts on the September 10 lockdown date and return to school plan? Do you think it will be extended again, given that across the globe, cases are rising within vaccinated populations?

‘Watching the spread of Delta around the world, Australia, Sydney and western NSW, brings into sharp relief the fact that our health systems are not infinite and have limits.

‘People seem to forget that whether you are vaccinated or not, if you get sick and need to go to hospital, there are limits as to how many people can be treated in intensive care during infectious disease outbreaks – where those outbreaks overrun the health systems that are in place.

‘Many of the decisions around lockdowns are about the capacity for health systems to cope, and the number of people who will die.

‘I think we all understand lockdowns in regional NSW when there are active cases, but where is the financial support for people and businesses to stay at home in those circumstances? Last year we saw a lot of financial support. This year, as we enter week four of regional lockdown, the finance packages are aimed at the Sydney lockdown, and not our regional communities, and that is unacceptable.

‘Either support us to stay at home in lockdown, OR be reasonable about areas that have no cases, and allow businesses and individuals to keep working. You can’t hobble the economies of local communities and offer only limited financial support.

‘I have written to the Health Minister asking him to look at a tiered system for lockdowns that are calibrated to actual risks.

‘With no active cases in the Northern Rivers, and nothing north of Coffs Harbour, shutting us down in the same kind of lockdown as a city or region with active cases makes no sense.

‘Let’s have a clear system for understanding when and why a lockdown for a locality is put in place; let’s have ongoing financial support for communities who enter lockdown from day one, and focus on access and equity around vaccinations and public health campaigns to overcome the breakdown in the social contract between people and government’.

 Do you support Labor’s call for a ‘Ring of steel’?

‘The permit system seems to be working well.

‘We don’t really see that in Sydney; police operations are everywhere, and hundreds of vehicles are stopped every day coming in and out of Sydney, and within the city itself. If people don’t have a permit, it is an on-the-spot $5,000 fine.

‘Rings of steel are concepts from comic books and madmen like Donald Trump.

‘They are not actually possible in terms of monitoring every single car on every single road in a state or territory. The real question is how many resources do we put into that style of enforcement versus community work and public health campaigns around vaccination?

‘There needs to be a humane solution to the NSW/Qld border situation, and in my view, the Nationals Deputy Premier needs to agree to whatever Qld is asking for to solve the current stalemate. We have zero leverage, and Qld policy plays out well for their constituency. Meanwhile, thousands of people and hundreds of businesses are being adversely impacted. Just get it done already’.

Is the NSW government response to business adequate during the lockdown? ie 30 per cent downturn is needed before assistance is provided. Is there any feedback you are getting from business on this?

‘The lack of financial support to businesses and individuals during the regional lockdown is unacceptable. My office has advocated on behalf of dozens of businesses in the last three weeks who are facing imminent closure owing to lockdown. I have lobbied the premier, deputy premier and treasurer to immediately adjust the support packages available for businesses in Sydney to support businesses in regional NSW. How many businesses in Byron Shire, for example, can sustain paying $6,000 per week for rent, wages, and overheads while they are not trading, and when the current grants are tied to the dates of the Sydney lockdown and not the regional lockdown? We need those packages on the table the moment a lockdown is implemented – not one month later, or never!’

The Echo reported on August 18 that local health authorities say they are prepared for any spike in COVID-19 cases, yet their spokesperson couldn’t provide the number of ventilators on hand. They do say there are 20 ICU beds across the region and have a ‘detailed escalation and surge plan for COVID-19 positive patients’ within the district. Do you believe this is an adequate response?

‘Our frontline health workers – nurses, doctors, ambos, allied health workers, hospital staff, pathologists, and nurse’s aides have performed unbelievable feats of service and care for the last 18 months. The Area Health Service and all of their staff have worked tirelessly to make sure that we have tests, contact tracing and vaccines.

‘The reality however, is that we are extremely vulnerable if the Delta variant of SARS-COV-2 (or the Epsilon variant) gets beyond control in regional areas, because we simply do not have the ventilators or staff to handle it.

‘In many ways, the current regional lockdown, with the Sydney lockdown, may be because there is simply no ability to help the regions if they need it at the moment when Sydney is at 80 per cent hospital capacity. This is the harsh reality of acute care in regional NSW.

‘Add to that the border debacle, and we are definitely vulnerable in the Northern Rivers.

‘But we have also shown that we do follow the rules, and that the combination of low population density, social distancing, and hygiene has prevented community transmission in our area despite recent cases. 62.4 per cent of people in Ballina Shire have received their first dose of vaccination, and 38.4 per cent their second dose. 47.2 per cent of people in Byron Shire have received their first dose of vaccination, and 25.5 per cent their second dose.

‘My focus is on everyone in our community having access to the vaccination that is right for them, and for people who are vaccine hesitant to get as much information as possible to inform their decisions, and for education and support, rather than punishment and coercion to be the order of the day around public health messaging and vaccination’.


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5 COMMENTS

  1. It’s such a pity,even the Greens response is as useless as the Liberals and Labor,the only party I thought I could vote for,certainly not anymore after reading their responses,but parties simply don’t allow any reasonable,intelligent people into their ranks,people who can think for themselves are a danger to them!

  2. Thanks Tamara for more sensible/logical and liberal/democratic communication with the citizens of this part of Australia. When citizens can’t choose the medical interventions, are coerced or forced into unwanted medical procedures in order to feed their families or travel around their country of citizenship then they are no longer free and are living in a draconian society. Whilst everyone would agree preparing the health services is vital and right, healthy people need to work and move around where infection is non existent or very limited. Clearly being vaccinated makes little difference to transmission of this virus and that is now scientific fact. Not that this vaccine was designed to prevent transmission as that is not its functional design but that’s another conversation! The stats for illness and death from this virus so far does not warrant the use of vaccination passports and sweeping state lockdowns.

  3. The permit system in Sydney seems to be working but some still get under the radar. Orange cases are from 6 contractors spreading the virus up there. The Central Coast have people from Sydney coming up there to mow their holiday home lawn and have spread it there. The Northern Rivers region is vulnerable as it is the last stop before QLD for the ones wanting a Summer holiday. With our small hospital capacity we have to put our tourists in the local hospitals as well if covid affected which is going to be a problem. We are a ticking time bomb up here and need some sort of protection from the Sydney cases. The ring of steel sounds like a cartoon but would make this area more likely to open to QLD if there was a stronger city control down in Sydney. Vaccination will help but what about cross checks at Sydney Airport for every passenger wanting to fly to our Ballina airport. If not vaccinated a 72 hour negative covid test to board.

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