Small business and COVID-19

May 14, 2020

The people of the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury have had a hell of a 2020. The smoke from bushfires had barely cleared, allowing us to breathe again, allowing businesses to open and tourists to return, when coronavirus hit. At times the Blue Mountains has been considered a hot spot of the COVID-19, with people urged to be tested for even the slightest symptom. Our distilleries ditched gin for sanitiser.

Hawkesbury's Karu Distillery supplied as much high-proof spirit to be used as a sanitiser as they could to essential services such as charities, police and food services. Owners Nick and Ally Ayres wanted to help out any way they could. And Lee Etherington from Wild Hibiscus Flower Company also confessed to me at one point that he had sacrificed a thousand litres of his best crafted gin into sanitiser. He just wanted to help. This sacrifice was being repeated in small and medium businesses all over my electorate. Small business has shown enormous innovation and creativity. I hope that my Macquarie Marketplace map has been a help and has made it easier to find out which businesses were still trading and still open, particularly at the height of the restrictions.

Like many members, people flooded my office with calls to check that they were obeying the rules, because they wanted to be part of protecting the community from the most serious health crisis that anyone living has seen. We pulled together, with most people managing to put politics aside to work for the common good and the health of every person in our community. But we weren't unscathed. Sadly, the deaths at the Newmarch aged-care facility on our doorstep have meant local families have tragically lost loved ones. Others have had an anxious wait as family members remain in Newmarch.

Throughout all of this, the nursing staff of aged-care facilities have kept on caring. Nurses in hospitals have kept on caring. Doctors and admin staff, supported by the heroes of our time, cleaners, have kept on caring. I've spoken to nurses who, having been exposed to COVID-19, spent two weeks in isolation to make sure they hadn't contracted the virus, returning to work to continue that care on the very first day that they could. We really got to know who the essential workers are. I hope we appreciate them all, and I'm stunned to hear suggestions from the New South Wales government that workers like nurses are facing a possible pay freeze. Some thanks for the risks that they've taken!
I was able to show the community's appreciation in a very small way by delivering some sweet treats to our local hospitals, Hawkesbury, Springwood and Blue Mountains, drawing on local businesses like Auntie May's in Bullaburra, the Humble Bakehouse in Bligh Park and the Ori Cafe in Springwood. It was just something to help brighten their afternoon in their relentless work.

You really can't thank essential workers for their efforts in this health crisis without talking about teachers. While there is no denying that it has been a really confusing time for teachers, principals and parents, they've all been desperate to understand the health advice about whether they can be back in the classroom and how best to be back in the classroom. The creation of online modules, the supervision of children of essential workers in a school, often juggling the home schooling of their own children, protecting themselves and their families—all of this has meant a huge load for members of the teaching profession. We thank them. Of course there is the anxiety of casual teachers who were excluded from the JobKeeper program. That starts to touch on a second major health issue that my constituents and many others face: how to maintain good mental health in the face of a terribly uncertain and troublesome time.