Covid has shown again that Sydney's welfare comes first – and only then the rest of NSW

It seems there have always been two NSWs – Sydney, and the rest of us. It’s a sentiment that those west of Penrith, north of Richmond and south of Campbelltown have felt forever.

© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Jenny Evans/Getty Images

It’s just that until this Delta outbreak, a two-speed, bipartisan policy never really affected anyone outside the state’s borders, or inside Sydney itself.

New South Wales has been set up to run off the image of Sydney and, if Sydney is looking good, then the whole state must be good, and with the concentration of power – political, social, corporate, media – in the Harbour City it’s been an easy facade to maintain.

© Photograph: Jenny Evans/Getty Images ‘A lockdown earlier might’ve saved Wilcannia, one of Australia’s most vulnerable communities, from its unfolding disaster.’

Related: ‘Government has a lot to answer for’: 30% of Indigenous NSW community struck down by Covid

Even if it’s not true.

Even if it’s not true for Sydney itself.

Labor, Liberal – it’s never made a difference.

The Sydney government is used to getting what it wants; only now, what it wants depends on the rest of Australia, not just the rest of the state.

We outlanders are used to this. We saw this with the forced mergers of LGAs across rural NSW. We see it every time we try to find a doctor or turn up at an emergency room. We saw it in Gladys Berejiklian’s reluctance to declare a state of emergency during the 2019 bushfires – until the fires showed up on Sydney’s doorstep. I could go on.

It’s not like we expected Berejiklian, premier of Sydney, not to coddle Sydney during the outbreak; the Woman Who Saved Australia™ could apparently do no wrong.

That “premier of Sydney” line wasn’t just me being glib either. Berejiklian made it clear she didn’t want to deal with the rural and regional areas when she deflected – sorry, deferred, the regional questions at the Sydney pressers to John Barilaro.

Video: Berejiklian: Reopening will be ‘most pleasing’ yet ‘most challenging’ (Sky News Australia)

The city gets the full-fat premier with all the authority; the regions must make do with the cut-down model, with less power. This Sydney-centric ideology is something all too familiar to rural residents.

It’s been that way forever. The premier of NSW isn’t actually there for most of NSW.

Barilaro was barely heard from at the pressers until Delta escaped to the country, and with the woefully inadequate action taken to prevent it spreading, it raises the question of whether or not Delta transmission to regional areas was considered at all.

It’s hard not to suspect that Barilaro’s presence is less for the benefit of the regions than to reassure the city slickers they don’t have to worry about the premier being distracted with things outside Sydney.

Related: Indigenous Australians in Covid-hit Wilcannia targeted by ivermectin spruiker

The Very Special (Deputy) Premier to the Outer Territories John Barilaro approved of the reallocation of 40,000 Pfizer doses from the regions to the city.

In an op-ed published in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph Barilaro defended the move, treating the forced cancellation and reallocation of regional vaccines as a quid pro quo for voluntary support city residents offered during natural disasters, comparing the Delta outbreak to the 2019 bushfires.

The city had a choice in offering support during the bushfires but the country had no choice in offering support for Sydney.

Getting Pfizer to the Sydney students was the right thing to do but it would’ve been less selfish on Berejiklian’s part if an attempt was at least made to prevent Delta getting to where the doses were taken from.

It’s telling that a ring of steel wasn’t considered, especially not after Berejiklian had spent the year taking cheap shots at Victoria’s lockdown. Delta was already in the only place that mattered – Sydney – so who would a ring of steel protect?

Minor restrictions were lazily enacted, with loopholes wide enough for a Rose Bay resident to drive a car through on his way to check out the Byron Bay property market.

Only after Delta reached the sticks was the state locked down. A lockdown earlier might’ve saved Wilcannia, one of Australia’s most vulnerable communities, from its unfolding disaster – and Sydney’s Marie Antoinette moment.

With Sydney’s hospital systems straining under the load (we in the bush empathise with that) and contract tracing unravelling, even Sydney residents are suffering from this hubris. Trying to maintain the image of an unrestricted Sydney, open for business, beers and picnics ended up costing Sydney business, beers and picnics. Instead, it fomented and then unleashed Delta on NSW, then Australia, and then New Zealand.

Like I said, we NSW outlanders are used to this. It’s the rest of the country who aren’t, because now what the Sydney government wants is held by states it doesn’t control. And it stings a bit to see everyone blaming the entirety of NSW – but, sadly, I can’t blame them for that. We know exactly how they feel. It feels as though the Sydney government is, as usual, being rewarded for bad behaviour. If we rurals could change it, we would.

Since Berejiklian has so thoroughly dropped the ball on the outbreak, and states are now at each other’s throats, what we need is some federal leadership.

But that would be up to Scott Morrison, prime minister for Sydney.

  • Tom Plevey is a Tamworth-based journalist and writer.

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