Locals fighting to make Parramatta a better place to live

By Julie Owens

04 May 2021

One of the best parts of my job is seeing the fantastic work that people are doing to make out community stronger, and to make Parramatta a better place to live.

Save Willow Grove

I’m sure most of you are aware of the long running fight to Save Willow Grove.

The NSW Government plans to demolish the 1880s Italianate villa, the only one of its kind in Parramatta, to make way for the new Powerhouse Museum.

The grassroots campaign to save this valuable heritage site and build a world class museum elsewhere in Parramatta has won overwhelming community support, with more than 1,200 people and organisations making submissions objecting to the Government’s plan to demolish the building.

It’s also won support from the CFMEU, which has placed a Green Ban on Willow Grove and moved its annual May Day march to Parramatta this year. Past Green Bans saved The Rocks, Centennial Park and a local bushland site which is now the Central Gardens Nature Reserve Merrylands.

In response, the NSW Government has agreed to ‘move’ Willow Grove to an unspecified site. The reality is that heritage buildings like Willow Grove can’t be moved, and the fight to save it continues. You can find out more about how you can support the campaign on their Facebook page.

Westmead Push for Palliative Care

Another campaign you may have read about in the pages of the Parra News is the Westmead Push for Palliative Care.

Palliative care aims to give people with an advanced disease and little or no prospect of survival quality of life at the end of their lives. It’s provided by specialists who are experts in pain management and compassionate and spiritual support.

Despite being one of the biggest hospital precincts in Australia, Westmead Hospital has not had a dedicated palliative care ward for many years.

This means that locals are not receiving specialised care at the end of their lives, and are forced to choose between palliative care at home, which is not an option for people with complex medical conditions; in a ward that is focused on providing care to recovering patients; or in a different hospital with doctors unfamiliar with their medical history.

I think our community deserves much better. If you agree, search ‘Westmead Push for Palliative Care’ on Facebook to find out how you can help.

Save our Local Buses

The NSW Government recently scrapped a range of local bus services without consulting the community, including the M52 express service to the City. Other local services including the 525 to Strathfield have been cut in half.

On top of this, the NSW Government is pushing ahead with plans to privatise all of Sydney’s remaining public bus services – despite reports from the NSW Auditor General and Transport NSW showing that privatisation of bus services in Sydney’s inner west and Newcastle has led to slower, less reliable services and fewer bus stops.

Local activists have started a petition to Save our Public Buses and they need more signatures to trigger a debate about these changes in the NSW Parliament. If you’re concerned about how these changes will affect you and your family, you can add your name to the petition here.

Honour fallen Anzacs by supporting our veterans

By Julie Owens

27 April 2021

Anzac Day in 2020 was very different for all of us.

The ceremonies and marches were cancelled, but people in Parramatta still found ways to pay our respects under COVID restrictions.

I joined people around Australia reflecting on the sacrifices made by our veterans and those who continue to serve by holding my own dawn service on my balcony as part of Light up the Dawn.

While we lit candles in socially distanced safety, defence personnel worked tirelessly to support the pandemic response.

Their efforts contact tracing, in quarantine and at state border checkpoints helped stop the spread and make community commemorations possible this year.

On Sunday I was honoured to be part of services held by the City of Parramatta RSL Sub-branch, Granville RSL Sub-branch and the Consortium of Tamil Associations NSW in Wentworthville.

This is important – but our support for veterans shouldn’t start and finish with symbolic recognition on Anzac Day.

Since the start of the Afghan war, we have lost many more veterans to suicide than soldiers killed in combat.

Veterans have been telling us for years now that we need a Royal Commission into this unending tragedy. The Morrison Government resisted their calls – proposing a National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention, despite veterans’ concerns that it would not have the independence, scope or resources of a Royal Commission – before finally calling a Royal Commission last week.

Labor is disappointed this has taken so long, but we are ready to work with the Government to make sure this Royal Commission has the strong and broad powers and Terms of Reference that it needs.

Unfortunately, early reports indicate that it will not cover the role of departments like Defence and Veterans' Affairs, previous reviews and inquiries like the 2019 Productivity Commission report, veteran homelessness, or the impact of anti-malarial drug trials on veterans' mental health.

The Morrison Government needs to do better – and the first step is to consult widely on how the Royal Commission should be run. This means listening to the voices of the veterans’ community and the families of veterans who have tragically died by suicide and can no longer speak for themselves.

One of the best ways to honour the service of our fallen diggers is to look after our living service men and women and their families through a strong veteran support system. Listening to the voices of veterans and their families through this Royal Commission is a crucial step towards building one.

If you need to talk to someone, Lifeline provides 24/7 crisis support on 13 11 14 or at lifeline.org.au

Rising child care costs are hurting working families

By Julie Owens

13 April 2021

Australian families pay some of the highest child care costs in the world. And the cost of child care keeps going up.

Since the Liberal Government was elected in 2013, child care fees have gone up by 35%. According to the Government’s own estimates, fees will increase on average 4.1% each year for the next four years.

Over the same period, wage growth has slowed to a crawl, and wages are only expected to rise 1% this year.

This means child care is increasingly unaffordable for working families in Parramatta – one local mum told me recently that her child care fees were higher than her mortgage repayments!

In many cases, parents who want to work full time are forced to work part time because the cost of child care would see them actually lose money for working extra days.

This isn’t just hurting local families – it’s hurting the economy.

Research from the Grattan Institute and KPMG has highlighted the ways our child care system dampens productivity, and the Government’s own Budget papers point to the drag on the economy caused by lower workforce participation rates and a declining population.

But there’s a silver lining in all of this. If we fix our broken child care system, we can boost our economic recovery so everyone benefits – whether they use child care or not.

Labor has a plan to make child care more affordable by scrapping the annual cap on the child care subsidy, which often sees parents – usually mothers – lose money if they take on extra days at work.

We also plan to lift the maximum child care subsidy rate to 90% and increase child care subsidy rates for every family with a combined household income less than $530,000.

Under a Labor Government, 97% of families with children in child care will be better off. Research from KPMG and the Grattan Institute estimates that similar reforms could generate GDP growth of between $4 billion and $11 billion every year.

Parramatta parents should be free to choose between staying home and quality child care – not penalised by higher child care fees when they take on extra hours or days at work.

Nationally, more than 100,000 families are locked out of our child care system because they simply can’t afford it. Our policy will open the door to child care for these families and make it more affordable for virtually all families with children in child care now.

If you’ve got children in child care – or you’ve been locked out by rising fees – click here to find out how much you could save under this policy.

And if child care reform matters to you, or you need help navigating the complex child care system, please get in touch with my office.

The Government has been silent on this issue, despite predicting a rapid rise in child care costs – so it’s critical that voices in our community are heard.

Where can I get the COVID-19 vaccine?’

By Julie Owens

06 April 2021

This is probably the most asked question in Parramatta.

You may already be aware that the COVID vaccine is being rolled out in phases, meaning more vulnerable groups are being vaccinated first.

Phase 1a began in February and is only available to quarantine and border workers, some frontline health care workers, and aged care and disability care residents and staff.

We’re now in Phase 1b, which means over 70s, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults over 55, some adults with a medical condition or disability and other healthcare and frontline workers can book a vaccination appointment.

According to the Morrison government, 4 million doses should have been administered by now and everyone who wants the vaccine should be able to get both doses by October. But the Government is already way behind schedule and has only administered 597,000 doses as of 30 March, when similar countries have already vaccinated tens of millions of people.

The vaccine is the most effective way of protecting the community from COVID-19, so timing is important. If you think you’re eligible for the vaccine, click here to find out which clinics are giving the jab. Your GP or medical clinic may not be on this list, but your GP is still the best person to answer any questions you may have about the vaccine.

If you have a Medicare card, the vaccine is covered under the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS), and should be bulk billed, meaning you should not have to pay a fee for the initial appointment or the vaccine.  If you’re not eligible for a Medicare card, you can apply for an Individual Healthcare Identifier (IHI) number at servicesaustralia.gov.au and get the vaccine at a GP led Respiratory Clinic or NSW vaccination clinic.

If you still have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine you can call the 24/7 National Vaccine Helpline on 1800 020 080. You can fine information in different languages at health.gov.au/resources/translated.

I’ve heard from locals who are eligible for the vaccine in phase 1b, who are struggling to book an appointment. If you’re having trouble booking an appointment or finding information about the vaccine, please contact my office.

Parramatta goes over the JobKeeper cliff

By Julie Owens

30 March 2021

Last week there were 10,000 workers and almost 5,000 businesses in Parramatta relying on JobKeeper. 

On Sunday, they all went over the ‘JobKeeper cliff’ when the Morrison Government ended the scheme. 

I fear this means that many workers will lose their jobs, and many local businesses will close. 

Tomorrow our community faces another cliff, when the Morrison Government cuts the coronavirus supplement ‘top-up’ to unemployment payments like JobSeeeker 

While the Government hasunder intense pressureagreed to a permanent increase of $50 a fortnight, over 10,000 people in Parramatta will have their payments cut by $100 a fortnight to just $44 a day. 

These cuts come at a time when there are 7 people on JobSeeker for every job advertised and unemployment in Parramatta has risen to 8.3% - 17.8% among young people. 

Altogether, the cuts will rip as much as $6 million dollars out of our local economy every fortnight – an economy that has been forced to contend with the construction of the Parramatta Light Rail on top of COVID. 

When we talk in numbers, sometimes we lose the fact that we’re talking about people’s lives. You or someone you love might be one of the tens of thousands of people in Parramatta who have been, or will be, directly affected by these cuts. And our whole community will feel the impact. 

If you’re worried about how you are going to make ends meet, there are a lot of local services that can help. Click here for links to information about emergency relief including food banks, financial counselling, crisis accommodation and bill help. You’ll also find information about mental health support that can help you navigate this stressful time. 

Many of the organisations providing this help are local community organisations that receive little or no government funding. They have worked tirelessly to support vulnerable people during the pandemic, including temporary migrants and asylum seekers who received no support from the governmentand many people who’ve never had to seek this kind of support in their lives. 

They do an amazing job, but they’re not set up to provide continuous support to people the government has left behind – nor should they be expected to. 

I’ll keep speaking up on behalf of people in my community who are missing out. If there’s anything my office can do to help during these tough times, please get in touch. 

Responsible lending laws face the axe

By Julie Owens

23 March 2021

Last week the Morrison Governments legislation to axe Australia’s responsible lending laws passed the House of Reps.  

Why does that matter?  Well according to CHOICE, the Australian Financial Complaints Authority has received a whopping 31,000 complaints about credit products such as housing finance, consumer loans and credit cards since the Royal Commission concluded its hearings in late 2018. 

Terrigal on the NSW Central Coast had the highest number of complaints in the country.  But Parramatta postcode came second with 729.  To put it in perspective, for every 100 households in the 2150 postcode, 7 made a complaint.  That’s a lot of people in trouble. 

So what are these Responsible Lending Laws?  Well they were introduced in the wake of the global financial crisis to stop banks making loans to people who could never repay them – seems obvious. 

They impose two basic requirements on banks when they offer someone a loan: the bank needs to make sure the loan is appropriate for a person’s circumstances and secondly, that they can afford it. 

These laws pre-date the Royal Commission into the financial services sector, which revealed widespread misconduct, including banks charging customers fees for no service; charging fees to deceased customers; and approving loans with falsified documents. 

When the Royal Commission handed down its final report they made 76 recommendations. The first was simple – keep responsible lending laws as they are. 

Two years laterin spite of promising to implement all recommendations, the Government has ignored 50 calling for action. Now, oddly, they’re pushing through changes that fly in the face of the only recommendation that asked them to do nothing. 

The Morrison Government says its all about getting credit flowing through the economy again – even though mortgage lending is at record highs and interest rates are at record lows 

The Banking Royal Commission received 10,000 submissions from people around Australia. The fact at the heart of all of these stories is that banks and their customers have an unequal relationship and when the relationship sours, the consequences can be tragic and life-changing. 

Our responsible lending laws go some of the way towards levelling the playing field.  

In the face of mounting pressure from Labor and more than 125 community organisations, the government has deferred further debate on the Bill until at least May. 

The changes still need to pass the Senate, where Labor will vote against them. If this matters to you, I encourage you to write to the crossbench Senators who will have the final say.  

If you want more information about how these changes could affect you and your loved ones, please contact my office. 

Our visa system is broken – and it’s tearing families apart

By Julie Owens

16 March 2021

At some point today, someone will call my office with a heartbreaking story of a family torn apart for years. 

The reason? Not divorce, war, illness, disaster or incarceration, but Australia’s broken family and partner visa system. 

Right now, there are nearly 100,000 Australians waiting for a partner visa, some waiting up to nearly two and a half years for their visa.  

That means at least 200,000 people – not including any children – are waiting around two years to be reunited with their loved ones.  

Anyone who has been separated from their family for an extended period of time – as many of us were during COVID – will know how hard it is to endure this separation, and the long-lasting effects it can have on your mental health. 

Families face this separation not knowing when their application will be processed, so they put their lives on hold. They don’t put down roots, get jobs, buy homes or build communities.  

And when nearly 100,000 people put their lives on hold, this has a profound impact on our society – especially in multicultural places like Parramatta. 

The worst part of all of this is that it doesn’t need to happen. When Labor was last in government, the average processing time for partner visas was 9 months.  

Since then the Coalition Government has cut jobs and funding from the Department of Home Affairs, which is tasked with processing the applications, while more than doubling the application fee for partner visas to almost $8,000.  

In the face of a Labor campaign and mounting criticism the Morrison Government has made some announcements about increasing the number of partner visas that will be granted this year – when by law there should be no limit – and suspending a requirement forcing applicants to fly overseas in the middle of a pandemic to have their visas granted.  

The family that will call my office today doesn’t need another announcement – they need the Morrison Government to act. 

Last month Labor successfully called for a Senate inquiry into the family and partner visa system, which will investigate concerns including fairness, processing times, efficacy and cost. 

If this is affecting you or someone your care about, I encourage you to make a submission to the inquiry. 

You can make your submission in writing online or by post until 30 April here

If you need help to make a submission, or with a partner or family visa issue, please contact my office. 

Local seniors struggling to access aged care

By Julie Owens

09 March 2021

Look around.  More than half of all Australian women you see, and about a third of the men will end up in residential aged care and they’ll stay there for an average of 2-3 years. That means in your lifetime you will most likely either live in aged care or love someone who does. 

So we should all be concerned at the findings of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety, which handed down its final report at the end of last month.  

The Royal Commission has made it absolutely clear that our aged care system is in crisis, with tragic outcomes including aged care residents with maggots in open wounds and up to half of all aged care residents being malnourished. 

It also shone a light on the barriers older Australians face when they try to access aged care, including the long, “cruel and discriminatory” wait for home care packages, which are designed to help older Australians continue living at home. 

When the Royal Commission was called 100,000 older Australians were on this waiting list. Years later 100,000 older Australians are still waiting, and those needing the highest level of home care are now waiting more than two years for care that has already been approved.   

I recently heard from a local 93 year old who’s been told he’ll have to wait 12 months to have his home care package upgraded so he can access care he needs now. 

The Royal Commission uncovered extra barriers to care for seniors from different cultural backgrounds, who struggle to find aged care services that meet their cultural and language needs.  

A recent report by Seva and UTS found there are only two service providers offering culturally appropriate aged care for the South Asian community in the Cumberland, Parramatta and Blacktown regions – where this community makes up 14% of the population and 1 in 10 of its members are over 65. 

The great tragedy of the Royal Commission is that hardly any of this is new information. The Federal Government has received 21 other reports on the aged care system since 2013, yet they failed to act and, during Scott Morrison’s time as Treasurer, cut aged care funding by $1.7 billion. 

The Morrison Government will be measured on its response to the Royal Commission’s final report. It’s clear that Australians need a government that can deliver – and not simply announce – systemic change.