Community spirit amid coronavirus outbreak - Speech, House of Representatives


Wendy Saclier remembers meeting Mike, the man she would go on to marry, more than 50 years ago at a Tanzanian Independence Day function.

She was a speech therapist, and he was an archivist—a passion that continued right through his life. Mike Saclier worked, successively, at the Tasmanian state archives and headed up the Butlin archive on business and labour at the Australian National University for many decades. He was somebody who was serious about history, serious about labour history and serious about civil war history. He was a loving father to Rod and Ele, and to Leigh Hubbard, his adopted son, who re-entered his life some 15 years ago. When Leigh Hubbard came back into his father's life, he said that he wished he had re-engaged with his father sooner. He was fascinated by the fact that they both shared a passion for labour history and for the civil war, and it made him think about the role that genetics plays in one's life. As Leigh Hubbard told me:

'What Mike didn't know about civil war battles, generals and politics wasn't worth knowing.'

When Mike contracted COVID-19, his family thought he would be okay. He had some underlying health conditions, but they hoped he would pull through. Wendy was uplifted when she sent him a text saying, 'Amazing company you keep—Prince Charles and now Boris,' and Mike replied, 'But I'm holding out for the one that Trumps all others.' But, unfortunately, just days later, he passed away—one of the Australian victims of COVID-19.

We think about statistics when we think of coronavirus. Johns Hopkins tells us that, as of this moment, there have been 7,241,079 cases globally and 411,320 deaths. But it's important that we put faces to those names, and Mike Saclier was one of the faces.

One of the earliest victims was Li Wenliang, a Chinese doctor who died aged just 33, almost a full half century younger than Mike. Li Wenliang is known in China for being one of those who, early on, spoke out about the dangers of COVID-19.

Amidst the pandemic, there have been so many wonderful stories of people pulling together. Here in the ACT, I have compiled an ACT support services map, which illustrates more than 100 social services available to people during the lockdown. I want to acknowledge all of those who went above and beyond to assist their neighbours, including: the Early Morning Centre in Braddon; the Blue Door drop-in centre in Campbell; the Griffin Centre's Friday lunch in the city; the St Vincent de Paul night patrol van; Orange Sky, which provided laundry services around Canberra; the many mutual aid organisations, including those in Charnwood, Dunlop, Fraser, Palmerston, Gungahlin, Crace, Bonner, Harrison and throughout Canberra; the group Turbans 4 Australia, in Gungahlin; the Evatt, Melba and McKellar community building group; the Ngunnawal community food pantry; Gungahlin Mosque volunteers; the Buy Nothing groups in Gungahlin, Crace, Nicholls, Ngunnawal, Casey, Moncrieff, Forde, Franklin, Harrison, Florey, Scullin, Page, Belconnen and beyond; the Adventist Development and Relief Agency; Anglicare emergency relief; Companion House in Cook, which continued its vital work supporting refugees; the Salvos Assessment Line in Canberra; St John's Care in Reid; Communities@Work in Gungahlin; the Holy Cross Tuckerbox in Hackett; the Mustard Seed Uniting Food Pantry in Gungahlin; The Pantry in Watson; HandUp Food Care in Charnwood; Helping Hand Food Pantry in Spence, the Food Co-op in Belconnen; the Lyons Food Corner; the one Pantry in Woden; GIVIT, which worked as a donations hub throughout Canberra, ensuring that people who wanted to make in-kind donations could get them to where they were needed; the mutual aid groups in Cook, Aranda, Macquarie, Evatt, Melba, McKellar, Dickson, Downer, Reid, City, Braddon, Turner, Ainslie, O'Connor, Watson, Hackett, the inner south, and Weston Creek and Woden regions; Youth With A Mission in Watson; and EveryMan in the Canberra city.

These are just some of the extraordinary Canberra community organisations that supported their fellow citizens at the time of the pandemic.

There are others who did much to lift our spirits. If you are ever feeling down, I can guarantee an uplift from going to Catherine Barrett's 'Kindness Pandemic' Facebook page, which hundreds of thousands of people have joined and on which thousands of stories have been reported. There are tales of people who stepped in to share their scarce supplies of toilet paper, to pay for groceries for neighbours, to assist those who are in trouble on the street, to put up murals and simple stories, to provide coffee to neighbours who are homeschooling and to be there to mow the lawn and assist in buying groceries for elderly neighbours. Astrid Jorgensen's Pub Choir could no longer carry out its in-person events, so it moved to a Couch Choir model in which Astrid crowdsourced extraordinary videos of thousands of Australians singing together—songs like David Bowie's Heroes—and demonstrated the very best of Australia in a time of need.

Australia's charities have been there for Australians like never before, but they've suffered challenges at this time. Two-thirds of volunteers said they have had to cut back on their volunteering work. Seventy-eight per cent of charities reported a downturn in revenue, largely because of a drop in donations. People were tapped out after the fires, and the squeeze on household budgets has meant that people aren't able to donate. A report by Social Ventures Australia and the Centre for Social Impact suggests that just a one-fifth fall in revenue for the sector could see as many as a sixth of charities collapse and a quarter of a million charity workers out of a job. We have a sector which has done so much to support Australia, and yet only one in 13 charities are covered by the government's JobKeeper program.

Across Australia, we have vital charities that are struggling right now. The FSHD foundation, which funds medical research into muscular dystrophy, lost a potential $1.2 million in donations after its annual Sydney charity ball was postponed.

Debate adjourned.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.