Deep concerns over military presence in South West and Western Sydney

3 August 2021

With defence force personnel joining police in South West and Western Sydney, ACOSS, NCOSS and community sector organisations are expressing deep concerns and urging governments to listen to, respect and act upon the calls of local community leaders.

Settlement Services International (SSI) CEO and ACOSS Board Director Violet Roumeliotis:

“Many South West Sydney residents are from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, including refugees, who are from war-torn countries and might see military presence as a threat. Many people residing in Sydney’s west are refugees who are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially mental health, due to traumatic events they have experienced in the past.

“COVID-19 has considerably exasperated these pre-existing stressors for some community members, and the image of troops patrolling their streets might re-trigger past trauma.”

Settlement Council of Australia (SCOA) CEO Sandra Wright:

“We should be doing everything we can to mobilise the community sector before bringing in a military presence. Our members are specialists in working with migrant and refugee communities, ensuring they understand the health messages, keeping them safe, and encouraging vaccination.

“Early in the Sydney lockdown we were able to mobilise 22 of our members in Sydney within a week to support compliance with public health messages and keep communities safe, with financial support from the government. But they have been limited in how much they can achieve due to the limited funds. We could be doing much more. Only when we’ve exhausted what can be done at a community services level should we bring in the military.”

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis:

“There are already so many barriers preventing people from accessing basic information on COVID-19, bringing in the military will only add to these. We need multilingual information hotlines, accessible platforms to book vaccinations and a culturally inclusive community-led approach.”

“There are thousands of refugees and people seeking asylum in South West Sydney who fled from militaries. It shows a deep and profound lack of understanding and consultation that the Government would decide to deploy the army in these communities. It is heavy-handed and counterproductive, a public health emergency requires a public health response.”

New South Wales Council of Social Service CEO Joanna Quilty:

“The strict lockdown in South-West and Western Sydney is exacerbating inequality across Greater Sydney. Punitive compliance risks only furthering this, particularly if defence force personnel are not trained in working with vulnerable groups and communication isn’t clear about their role. The solutions are communication, income support and vaccinations.”

Australian Council of Social Service CEO Cassandra Goldie:

“Instead of fear and division, people need information that they trust and financial support that enables them to stay safely at home and put food on the table. The Federal Government’s lockdown support excludes those on the lowest incomes – people who had fewer than eight hours paid work have been excluded, despite everyone in lockdown being restricted from finding paid work. Adequate support and a community-led approach must be the priorities, not harsh enforcement.”