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An Open Letter to the NSW Government

11 Aug 2021 - Media Releases

If you’re in business right now your life revolves around 11am: the daily NSW Government press conference. You wait, with bated breath, every 24 hours, for news that could make or break your organisation and the employees at the heart of it.

At the Y NSW, we’re in the business of keeping people healthy. While we wholeheartedly support the lockdown to save lives, we are starting to wonder: when will the Government look beyond 11am?

What will the health of our state look like when we emerge from the pandemic, moving from a perpetual state of crisis and looking to the future?

The Y NSW stands in between the point of ‘survive’ to enable people to ‘thrive’. Our gyms, clubs, classes and youth services act as a preventative and protective barrier to long-term, costly and debilitating health impacts.

But right now, we are not being supported to do our job. We are a not-for-profit organisation. Every cent we make goes into funding our youth and community programs. Our recreation and aquatic centres are closed, gymnastics and fitness classes aren’t happening, and sport is called off at the Y across locked down areas.

More than 50 per cent of the Y NSW’s recreation staff are stood down and 15,630 memberships are suspended. We are bleeding costs to maintain 17 sites which have been closed now for more than six weeks.

Our sector has been hit hard. We are the first to close and the last to open, albeit with unviable restrictions and regulations to adhere to.

Our sector has received no direct Government support, while many others have received sector-specific funding. While we worry about what the future holds for us, our real concern lies with what this means for public health.

While people stay home in lockdown, the cost to public health grows – not just because of COVID-19. There was already a cost. When the Y is open, and when there isn’t a global health crisis, we stand in between physical inactivity costing the health system $3.7 billion a year, and contributing to death and disability hitting the system to the tune of $48 billion.

And what of our mental health? As Lifeline records their highest ever call rates, we know that exercise is a worthy antidote. 83 per cent of people surveyed by Fitness Australia said that the key goal for going to the gym was supporting and improving mental health. More than 80 per cent of our members report an improvement in wellbeing from using our services.

And finally, once we hit that magical 80 per cent vaccination rate, what of survival skills in our water-loving state? With pools indefinitely closed, the ongoing exodus of staff from lifesaving and learn-to-swim roles exacerbates an already alarming skill shortage (600 jobs below capacity according to Swim Australia). Last Summer, drowning rates spiked by 30 per cent, I hope that this will not be an increasing trend, but with such disruption to children learning this life saving skill, I can’t help but fear the worst.

Of the $5.1 billion industry support packages handed out to various sectors – including corporates – community sport and recreation have received nothing. The Y NSW doesn’t qualify for any of the grants on offer, JobSaver doesn’t fill the gap. Our contribution to society has been disregarded and our commitment to strengthening people physically and mentally completely undervalued.

We took this plea to Treasury. We’ve heard nothing back.

I am calling on the NSW Government to have some vision and consider the threat to public health beyond this immediate pandemic. I am calling on them to consider what a NSW without swim-schools, gyms and club sport looks like and I’m asking for them to stop playing favourites with funding.

We cannot keep the community healthy and safe in mind, body and spirit if we cease to exist. The people of NSW deserve to be healthy beyond COVID-19

Susannah Le Bron

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