Making your vote count

I hear from a lot of people who are worried about the way governments are running the country.

As a local MP, it’s my job to listen and represent these views in the Federal Parliament. But we all have the chance to have our say on election day.

At this election, you have the opportunity to choose a better future for you, your family and our community. The COVID recovery is too important to get wrong.

We can’t afford three more years of a tired eight year old Liberal Government, led by Mr Morrison - who is more interested in blame shifting than a plan for the future. Every time Mr Morrison is called out on his failures, his response is the same - “it’s not my job”, “it’s a matter for the states”, “I don’t hold a hose”.

Parramatta deserves better. We need to get started on a plan to build back stronger and deliver a recovery that works for everyone, including:

  • Protecting Medicare and providing quality and accessible health care;
  • Rebuilding Australian manufacturing to ensure that the future is made in Australia;
  • Creating good, secure jobs by building new industries and supporting apprentices;
  • Investing in education and affordable childcare to give every child the best start in life;
  • Better local infrastructure to reduce congestion

Every citizen over the age of 18 has the power to vote governments in or out. And most Australians who can vote, do. But a significant number of people are missing out.

Around 1 in 6 Australians who could have voted at the last election either didn’t enrol to vote, didn’t cast their vote, or didn’t fill out their ballot paper correctly, meaning their vote wasn’t counted.

This really matters. We only get the chance to vote governments in or out every few years. The decisions they make affect our lives and livelihoods and the future for our children and grandchildren – a fact made all the more obvious by the pandemic.

So we need to make our votes count. There’s a few simple things you can do to make sure your voice is heard:

Enrol to vote. It only takes a couple of minutes to enrol online. If you’d prefer to fill out a paper form call my office and we’ll send one out to you. If you’re 16 or 17 you can put your name on the roll so you can vote as soon as you turn 18.

Update your address if you’ve moved house. This means you’ll be voting for the person who represents your local area instead of where you used to live. It only takes a couple of minutes to do this online, or you can call my office for a paper form.

Make sure you fill out your ballot papers correctly. The rules are slightly different for federal and state elections. You can find information on how to fill out ballot papers online. You can also ask election staff for information at any polling place.

Don’t forget to vote! If you don’t think you’ll be able to make it to a polling place on election day, you can apply to vote by post or visit an early voting centre. You can also cast your vote if you’re overseas.

It only takes a couple of minutes to make sure your vote is counted and that the voices in our community are heard. Scan the QR code for all the links you need to find this information on the Australian Electoral Commission website or visit julieowens.com.au/vote.

Morrison Government cuts COVID support

By Julie Owens MP

30 September 2021

Despite desperate pleas from workers and businesses - and a staggering drop in payroll jobs during lockdown – the Morrison Government has announced it will start to cut COVID support payments when 70% of eligible NSW residents are fully vaccinated.

 

NSW is expected to hit this target on October 10 – in less than a week. There is no local data telling us how many businesses are currently relying on JobSaver, but I am sure this sudden change will have a huge impact on our local economy.

 

We do know that more than one in 10 payroll jobs in Parramatta have been lost since the start of lockdown and it's estimated that 1 in 5 local workers are relying on the COVID-19 Disaster Payment.

 

While nobody expects these support payments to go on forever, hitting vaccination targets and easing restrictions does not mean people automatically get their jobs and businesses back.

 

Parramatta needs a plan for economic recovery. The economic pain won’t disappear overnight. In some cases it will last for years. I fear these cuts, made with less than two weeks notice, will make things worse.

 

If the Morrison Government delivered on vaccines and quarantine as quickly as it has moved to cut support, we may not have gone into lockdown in the first place.

 

According to the announcement, once NSW is 70% fully vaccinated the Morrison Government will start cutting JobSaver payments and people receiving the COVID-19 Disaster Payment will need to re-apply every week.

Once NSW reaches 80% vaccination the Disaster Payment will be cut for two weeks then cease altogether. The Morrison Government will stop funding JobSaver and a fraction of the original support will be paid until 30 November.

 

This Morrison Government is cutting support with no plan for Parramatta’s economic recovery. Easing restrictions does not mean the economic burden will be lifted. If you are worried about how these cuts will affect you or your business, please get in touch with my office.

Federal corruption goes unchecked

By Julie Owens MP

24 September 2021

Now more than ever we need a strong federal anti-corruption commission.

In my 17 years as Member for Parramatta I’ve spent a lot of time chatting to people in the local community. Over the past few years I’ve noticed a growing suspicion about the ways governments make decisions. People don’t usually call this ‘corruption’, but they tell me they’re concerned that wealth, power, and sheer political self-interest is influencing the way that taxpayer money is spent. Trust in the motives of Government is at an all time low. 

In recent weeks we’ve seen a Federal Minister, Christian Porter accept an undisclosed amount up to $1 million dollars from secret benefactors with unknown motives to fund his personal legal action against the ABC. And we’ve seen our Prime Minister describe his resignation as the action of a man who is upholding Ministerial standards.

When the Prime Minister tells us his government’s latest scandal is evidence that it’s members are upholding the highest standards, it’s clear that we need a powerful, transparent and independent national anti-corruption commission.

There are already anti-corruption bodies in every state and territory with the power to hold their local enforcement agencies, public sector and members of parliament to account and in NSW, the Independent Commission Against Corruption has held several Premiers up to scrutiny – most recently Gladys Berejiklian.

Under intense pressure from Labor, leading up to the last election, the Morrison Government promised to establish and anti-corruption commission but more than 1,000 days later, all they’ve done is release an “exposure draft” for a Bill – that is, a proposal – that has been panned by experts including the Centre for Public Integrity, which said it would create “the weakest watchdog in the country”.

Instead the Government has proposed a ‘Commonwealth Integrity Commission’ (CIC) that it claims will have more “more powers than a Royal Commission”. That’s true, so long as it has an invitation from the government to investigate…the government. It won’t be allowed to hold public hearings, respond to complaints and may be prevented from investigating past allegations of corruption against the Government.

Labor has committed to establish a National Anti-Corruption Commission that will operate as a standing Royal Commission into serious and systemic corruption in the Federal Government, with the power to investigate and hold to account Commonwealth ministers, public servants, statutory office holders, government agencies, parliamentarians, personal staff of politicians and other Commonwealth public officials.

You don’t have to look far to find examples that point to the need for a strong federal corruption watchdog. In the lead up to the last election the Morrison Government handed out $100 million in grants to sports clubs in marginal electorates – the now infamous ‘sports rorts’. Parramatta Pool was one of the top 20 recommended projects that missed out, while in another grant program, the open and functioning North Sydney Pool was approved for a $10 million upgrade from a fund meant to help women in rural and regional areas. Now Parramatta is entering its fifth summer without a pool and Bridget McKenzie, who resigned as a Cabinet Minister over the scandal, has been promoted back to the Cabinet with a $152,000 pay rise.

For democracy to work, people need to have faith that they can vote for a Government that will make decisions in their interests. As a politician myself, I’ve always believed we should be held to a higher standard – not just because we are spending taxpayer money, but because we hold the reputation of democracy in our hands. 

It really is time for us to stand up and create a genuine national anti-corruption commission that can hold the rule makers to account and work in the interests of the people we represent.

Lockdown Chaos

By Julie Owens MP

17 September 2021

 

Payroll jobs in Parramatta have fallen by 11.7% since the beginning of lockdown on June 26 - a direct result of 18 months of Morrison Government failures on vaccines, quarantine, and economic supports.

 

But this isn’t the full story. This data doesn’t capture the impact on self-employed workers or people who are still employed on reduced hours.

 

The number of people receiving the COVID-19 Disaster Payment paints a clearer picture. 1 in 5 adults in our community - 20.4% - have lost work and are relying on the payment to get by.

 

This is the highest number of adults receiving the payment anywhere in NSW.

 

And this doesn’t include business owners relying on grants and JobSaver or thousands of people in our community relying on other unemployment payments like JobSeeker.

 

I’ve heard from many people struggling to make ends meet and cover food, bills and rent or mortgage repayments after 14 weeks of lockdown with no clear end in sight.

 

Parramatta’s economic recovery is hostage to the vaccine rollout – a rollout that has left our community behind.

 

Our first and second dose rates are rising thanks to determined locals chasing down appointments.

 

But it shouldn’t be this hard when we don’t have any time to waste.

 

That’s why I’m calling for walk-in vaccination hubs to be set up in the Parramatta CBD and surrounding suburbs. If you think our state and federal governments should stop blaming Western Sydney and start working together to set up walk-in vaccine clinics in Parramatta, visit: https://julieowens.com.au/vaccinehubsnow

 

Morrison Government said no to Pfizer

By Julie Owens MP

10 September 2021

While countries like the UK and the US were busy signing vaccine supply deals with Pfizer in July 2020, the Morrison Government ignored Pfizer’s request for urgent meetings.

 

Freedom of Information documents obtained by Labor confirm the facts: 

  • In June 2020, Pfizer first wrote to the Morrison Government about vaccine supply, not the other way around.
  • In the weeks that followed, the Government rejected a Pfizer offer to meet with the Health Minister.
  • The Government rejected an offer to meet with senior members of Pfizer global leadership – leaving it up to the health department to have an introductory meeting with Pfizer Australia.
  • Pfizer made clear it wanted to move quickly and said it had the potential to supply millions of doses in 2020.

 

The vaccine rollout was always a race, but Australia started a lap behind because the Morrison Government took a deliberate “wait and see” approach to vaccine deals.

 

Australia was never at the “front of the queue” as Scott Morrison claimed. Our vaccine supply deals with Pfizer weren’t signed until Christmas Eve.

 

Australians are now paying the price for this failure - we have more people in lockdown and fewer people fully vaccinated than any other developed country.

 

To get through this pandemic, we urgently need access to more vaccines. Many in our community are still waiting for their appointments. Parents who can’t arrange child care are forced to choose between visiting mass vaccination hubs with their kids in tow – potentially exposing them to COVID – or delaying their vaccination. And more and more children are testing positive to COVID every day.

 

That’s why I’m demanding that walk-in vaccination hubs be set up in the Parramatta CBD and surrounding suburbs so that everyone has an opportunity to be vaccinated.

 

If you think our state and federal governments should stop blaming Western Sydney and start working together to set up walk-in vaccine clinics in Parramatta visit: https://julieowens.com.au/vaccinehubsnow

Healthcare system in crisis

By Julie Owens MP

03 September 2021

Healthcare system in crisis

Right now our health is at risk. Our economy is held hostage. Families are being kept apart. Children are stressed and missing school.

This is happening because the Morrison Government has failed to deliver on vaccines and quarantine and his economic and welfare strategy has left people and businesses behind. And people caught in this crisis are struggling to navigate NSW Government rules that seem to change every day.

Enough is enough – the government needs to do better. I will always fight for Parramatta families and if you’re doing it tough, I want to hear from you. Sign the petition here tell me your story and put your name to the campaign to force the government into action.

 

Parramatta still doesn’t have local walk-in vaccination hubs

COVID hospitalisations have doubled in the past fortnight and we’ve seen Westmead Hospital turn away patients, ambulances backed up for up to 8 hours and exhausted frontline workers forced to work 16 or more hours on double shifts.

They are all victims of the Morrison Government’s failed vaccine rollout, which left NSW vulnerable to this outbreak and has left parts of Western Sydney including Merrylands and Granville with some of the lowest vaccination rates in NSW.

To get through this pandemic, we urgently need access to more vaccines. Many in our community are still waiting for their appointments. Parents who can’t arrange child care are forced to choose between visiting mass vaccination hubs with their kids in tow – potentially exposing them to COVID – or delaying their vaccination. And more and more children are testing positive to COVID every day.

That’s why I’m demanding that walk-in vaccination hubs be set up in the Parramatta CBD and surrounding suburbs so that everyone has an opportunity to be vaccinated.

If you think our state and federal governments should stop blaming Western Sydney for this outbreak and start working together to set up walk-in vaccination centres in Parramatta now. click here to sign the petition

 

Cuts to Medicare under the cover of COVID

While Australia is struggling through a pandemic and the media is distracted by the latest covid numbers, Scott Morrison has snuck through almost 1,000 cuts and changes to Medicare.

One in six Medicare rebates have been affected, radically altering the cost of hundreds of orthopaedic, cardiac and general surgeries.

Despite the scale and impact of these changes, doctors and healthcare providers only learned the details around three weeks before they came into effect on July 1. That means people who planned surgeries before their doctor was notified about the changes now face out of pocket costs of up to $10,000.

This follows a pattern of rising out of pocket costs under the current Liberal Government, which has seen gap fees go up by around $10 for GP visits and a whopping $30 for specialists. It now costs 43% more to see a doctor in Parramatta than it did in 2013.

I’m fighting to stop the Morrison Government from eroding what’s left of Medicare. I hope you’ll join me – scan the QR code to sign the petition on my website and tell the Morrison Government to abandon these cuts and changes.

If these cuts and changes have affected you or someone you care about, click here to  get in touch with my office.

Help during lockdown

A huge number of people and businesses in our community are relying on government support payments to get through this lockdown. But many in our community are not eligible for these payments or find they don’t go far enough.

Volunteers and local community organisations continue to step up wherever the government is absent, providing emergency relief including meals, food parcels and food vouchers.

I’ve added a list of government payments and services and local emergency relief providers to my website. Find more information here if you or someone you know needs help.

 

 

Failed vaccine rollout putting hospitals at risk

By Julie Owens MP

20 August 2021

Western Sydney has been left behind by Scott Morrison’s vaccine rollout. Now our hospitals are being stretched to breaking point.

Last week, three hospitals – Westmead, Blacktown and Nepean – were forced to turn away COVID patients.

As daily case numbers have tipped over one thousand, there has also been a surge in the number of hospitalisations and people needing intensive care. At time of writing, there are 115 people in intensive care and 43 people on ventilators.

The overwhelming majority of people in intensive care are unvaccinated. Only 13% have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine.

COVID patients are now filling 1 in 5 intensive care beds in NSW and there is very little capacity left in intensive care units to cope with the expected rise in case numbers.

Our hospital and community healthcare workers have been caught in the middle of this crisis. Doctors, nurses, paramedics and cleaners have taken huge personal risks and worked tirelessly to keep us safe since the beginning of the pandemic.

Now they tell us they’re exhausted. Paramedics backed up outside hospitals in COVID exposed PPE don’t even have the opportunity to have a drink of water or go to the toilet.

All these workers and the desperately ill patients filling up our hospital wards deserved much better. They deserved an effective vaccine rollout that gave everyone who wanted to get vaccinated the opportunity to do so.

Six months into the rollout, I’m still getting calls every day from people who can’t book a vaccine appointment in their local area. Others tell me they’re facing a months long wait to get their first dose when it’s now a requirement for them to go to work.

The NSW Government has announced an easing of restrictions for fully vaccinated people on 13 September. While I’m sure we’d all agree that we want to see the light at the end of the tunnel, only 20-29% on people in Parramatta and surrounding suburbs are fully vaccinated.

With Westmead Hospital turning away COVID patients and setting up a makeshift unit to triage patients, it’s obvious that we urgently need access to more vaccines.

That’s why I’m demanding that walk-in vaccination hubs be set up in the Parramatta CBD and surrounding suburbs.

The Morrison Government’s failure to secure enough vaccine supplies and get them where they’re most needed has put Western Sydney at greatest risk in this outbreak.

If you think our state and federal governments should stop blaming Western Sydney for this outbreak and start working together to set up walk-in vaccination centres in Parramatta now, sign the petition on my website.

Parramatta needs walk in vaccination hubs

By Julie Owens

20 August 2021

Parramatta went into lockdown with one of the lowest COVID vaccination rates in NSW. Thanks to the Morrison Government’s painfully slow rollout we still have some of the lowest vaccination rates in Sydney.

On 16 August, just 20-29% of residents in Parramatta and surrounding suburbs were fully vaccinated. Rates are even lower in Granville, Merrylands and Guildford – suburbs that have seen an exceptionally high number of COVID cases – where just 10-19% are fully vaccinated.

Public health experts have pointed to complex booking systems and the lack of easy access to vaccines in Western Sydney as key factors holding back vaccination rates.

My office is still hearing from people who are struggling to access the vaccine every single day. They tell me mass vaccination hubs offering Pfizer are booked out months in advance. Those opting for AstraZeneca are still struggling to book a local appointment, as not all GPs are offering the vaccine and those that do will only vaccinate existing patients.

For some people, the reason they can’t get vaccinated is simply because the nearest vaccination centre is to too far away.

In countries like the USA and the UK – which ordered Pfizer a full five months before the Australian Government finally inked a deal – you can’t travel far without finding a walk-in vaccination centre. They’ve been set up in shopping centres, libraries, theatres, even train stations.

To get through this pandemic, we urgently need access to more vaccines - but at present, there are no mass or walk-in vaccination centres in Parramatta.

The closest mass vaccination centre taking bookings is at Sydney Olympic Park. The closest walk-in vaccination centres still accepting new patients are in Bankstown and Fairfield.

The Morrison Government’s failure to secure enough vaccine supplies and get them where they’re most needed has put Western Sydney at greatest risk in this outbreak.

If we’re to have any hope of turning this around in Parramatta we need more walk-in vaccination centres that we can actually walk to, in our community centres and places of worship. Local organisations have offered to help, but so far their pleas have been ignored by the government.

That’s why I’m demanding that walk-in vaccination hubs be set up in the Parramatta CBD and surrounding suburbs.

If you think our state and federal governments should stop blaming Western Sydney for this outbreak and start working together to set up walk-in vaccination centres in Parramatta now, sign the petition here.

COVID information not up to standard

By Julie Owens

17 August 2021

Last week the ABC reported that official COVID health information for multicultural communities was almost two months out of date.

On 12 August, translations published on the Federal Government’s Department of Health website still stated that AstraZeneca was the preferred vaccine for Australians over 50 – medical advice that changed back in June.

The Arabic translation didn’t mention the crucial advice that all adults in Greater Sydney should get the vaccine, whether AstraZeneca or Pfizer.

This isn’t the first time multicultural communities have been given confusing or misleading information about coronavirus. Last year the Department of Health was caught using Google Translate for critical public health information, with “nonsensical” results.

The Department of Health updated the translated information within hours of the ABC story being published, which begs the question – why didn’t they just update the translations every time the health advice changed?

Everyone deserves to be safe, and to be provided with timely, accessible and accurate public health information. When the government fails to get this information out in other languages our culturally and linguistically diverse communities get left behind.

The consequences for multicultural places like Western Sydney are obvious. We’re home to most of the ‘local government areas of concern’ and case numbers are still rising.

Most Western Sydney residents weren’t old enough to be eligible to get vaccinated until lockdown started and the rules changed. Now many of us are relying on outdated information to make decisions about whether or not to get vaccinated. Unsurprisingly, Western Sydney has some of the lowest vaccination rates in NSW and most of us are still completely unvaccinated.

The Morrison Government’s repeated failure to communicate coronavirus information to culturally and linguistically diverse communities is part of a pattern.

In the 7th week of lockdown, my office is still taking calls from people trying to work out if they can claim support payments because there have been so many changes. And the Prime Minister’s failure to communicate clear information about vaccines has left many in the community confused and contributed to a concerning rise in vaccine hesitancy.

Put simply, the coronavirus information we’re receiving from this government is not up to standard.

Labor has been calling on the Morrison Government to engage community leaders and improve coronavirus information for CALD communities since the beginning of the pandemic.

More than a year later our CALD communities are still being left behind.

Vaccine rollout has left Western Sydney behind

By Julie Owens

10 August 2021

Last week the Federal Government released data on vaccination rates across the country.

The data revealed that Parramatta has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Sydney – just 35.1% of residents over 15 have had their first dose and only 17.7% of us are fully vaccinated.

We came in just behind south west Sydney including Fairfield, where the vaccination rates are 33.1% (first dose) and 14.6% (fully vaccinated) and the inner south west including Canterbury-Bankstown, where the rates are 33.5% and 16.1%.

This is not a coincidence. All the ‘Local Government areas of concern’ facing the harshest lockdown restrictions recorded lower vaccination rates than the rest of Sydney.

The contrast with places like the North Shore, where more than half the residents have had their first dose and 26.9% are fully vaccinated, is stark.

There’s a straightforward explanation for this. People in Western Sydney are younger on average than people in parts of Sydney with higher vaccination rates.

In Parramatta, more than half the population is under 40, meaning most of us weren’t eligible to get a first dose until after the current lockdown started and the health advice on AstraZeneca changed.

Prioritising the most vulnerable members of the community in the vaccine rollout – seniors, people living in aged and disability care and frontline workers – was and is the right thing to do.

The problem is, the Morrison Government has bungled this rollout so badly that we are now several months behind the original vaccination targets and Western Sydney has been left behind.

My office has been inundated with calls from people who are confused about the health advice on AstraZeneca because Scott Morrison failed to communicate it clearly in a stream of panicky late night press conferences.

We’ve also heard from many people who are struggling to navigate the government’s website to book an appointment for Pfizer or AstraZeneca.

It seems that GP clinics are not accepting online bookings for new patients, so people who can’t get the vaccine from their usual GP face an uphill battle.

Walk-in vaccination clinics have started to appear in Western Sydney (not Parramatta) and many local pharmacies are now taking bookings for AstraZeneca.

Sadly, the same shortages that have plagued GPs throughout this rollout are also affecting pharmacies. As of the end of last week, less than half of the pharmacies approved to administer the vaccine are ‘online’ and pharmacies in COVID hotspots are reporting a two week wait to receive vaccine supplies.

Scott Morrison waited until December 2020 to ink a deal with Pfizer when other countries were securing supplies in June. Now, after condemning lockdowns, he’s telling us they will continue until 70%-80% of the eligible population is vaccinated.

This is a tall order when we are still relying on a leaky hotel quarantine system, we’re at the back of the queue for Pfizer, and the government is still failing to get the supplies we do have where they’re most needed.

The NSW Premier has asked us to “keep trying” to get the jab. Thanks to the Morrison Government, that seems to be all we can do.