People in west and southwest Sydney have been traumatised and made to feel like criminals in their own homes, an inquiry into the state government’s handling of the pandemic has heard.
The majority of the 12 local government areas under the harshest lockdown restrictions are in the city’s west and southwest, which are hubs of multiculturalism and home to many people from non-English speaking backgrounds.
A group of community leaders on Friday told the parliamentary inquiry people in the region feel “totally alienated from the rest of Sydney”.
Many feel targeted because of their ethnicity.
While people in the city’s east have been pictured sunbaking at Bondi, some in its west have been arrested for watching a relative’s funeral at a distance from inside their car, the inquiry heard.
“We have been made to feel like criminals in our own homes,” Arab Council of Australia chief executive Randa Kattan said.
“That’s what happens when you find yourself flanked by police as you leave the 7-Eleven store.
“That’s how it feels when you wake to hear choppers hovering overhead.”
The disparity in lockdown approaches is embodied by the curfew placed on the hotspot areas, the group said.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian had previously ruled out curfews, saying the measure did not work in the fight against COVID-19, but in late August introduced one after media pressure, claiming the advice from health and police had changed.
The curfew was this week lifted following a furious backlash, but community leaders say the damage has been done.
Amar Singh, President of Turbans 4 Australia, told the inquiry seeing military and police patrol the streets had been extremely triggering.
“Curfews is what we’ve heard of as migrant Australians from our mothers and grandmothers,” he said.
“Bringing in those things mentally made a very big dent, a scar, on the average person living in southwest and west Sydney.”
Ms Kattan said the curfew broke a community “already on their knees” with the heavy lockdown.
“It is absolutely sadistic to roll it out when you have no evidence that it would work,” she said.
“It was just another message that you don’t matter.”
The measure also added unnecessary financial and job-related stress, Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey said, with the vast majority of people in the area not working nine-to-five jobs.
NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Tony Cooke, who leads the southwest metropolitan area command, denied the area was being singled out.
“The numbers of fines across the three metropolitan regions are very, very similar,” he said.
“In fact, more have been issued in the central metropolitan region than have been in southwestern Sydney.”
Officers who responded to the highlighted funeral in Rookwood on Wednesday were just doing their job enforcing public health orders, he said, and most attendees in their cars agreed to move on and were not fined.
Clear and consistent restrictions and messaging for everyone in Sydney is all those in the city’s west want, the inquiry was told.
“What is good enough for Merrylands is also good for Mosman,” Ms Kattan said.
It would also help increase compliance, Lebanese Muslim Association director Rabih Elkassir said.
“Harmony and compliance have a shared correlation,” he said.
But with vaccination rates ramping up and an end to lockdown in sight, community leaders fear recovery from the outbreak will also be a tale of two cities.
“The road out must be a broad highway that can carry all of us, not just the lucky few,” Ms Kattan said.
Australian Associated Press