As First Nations communities mourn the death of another Indigenous person to COVID-19, Labor’s shadow minister for Indigenous Australians has slammed the government’s failure to protect vulnerable Aboriginal populations.
The federal government’s COVID-19 taskforce will roll-out a vaccination effort to 30 Aboriginal communities around the nation – a month after the virus hit western NSW.
Wilcannia, in the state’s far west, have now received emergency accommodation in the form of 30 mobile homes, to help vulnerable people in overcrowded housing isolate safely – a month after the community went into lockdown.
Wiradjuri woman Linda Burney says the vaccine blitz is an admission that the Morrison government “has completely stuffed up the First Nations vaccine rollout, a group they said would be a priority.”
“The Morrison Joyce Government’s First Nations vaccination drive has left more questions than answers,” Minister Burney told reporters.
“There are more than 30 communities in Australia”
“We still don’t know which communities will be part of this drive, and we don’t know when. Why wasn’t this done earlier as part of the prioritisation of First Nations communities? Is this a real solution or just another political response?”
The shadow minister pointed to the 30 motorhomes rushed to Wilcannia to alleviate overcrowded housing as a prime example of the government’s failure to protect vulnerable communities.
“If there is an outbreak in another community, do we see the same scramble?” the minister said.
“There cannot be a mad scramble every time there’s an outbreak in regional Australia, if that’s the approach, then we’re going to see more tragedy.”
The Maari Ma Aboriginal Health Corporation warned the federal government 18 months ago of the impending disaster COVID-19 would bring to Wilcannia and surrounds if they waited for a positive case to show up in the community, calling for “urgent and drastic action”.
According to the Guardian, Maari Ma penned another letter to the prime minister recently confirming their worst fears.
“Disappointingly, no tangible plan was in place prior to this outbreak that could have been easily implemented. As a result, we’ve been playing catch up from day one,” it said.
“We are urging the federal and state government to work cooperatively together to salvage what they can from the situation in Wilcannia. The fact of the matter is, the horse has already bolted in Wilcannia, so priority issues there today are humanitarian and acute medical care.”
Labor’s Linda Burney would like to see more transparency from the federal government and called for national plan to deal with the spread of COVID in First Nations communities.
She said vaccine hesitancy among First Nations people is not an excuse for the federal government’s botched vaccination rollout.
The shadow minister also called for more engagement with respected community leaders to counteract false information spreading throughout the communities.
“The Morrison Joyce Government’s lack of communication with First Nations communities has left a vacuum that has been filled with misinformation,” she said.
“We’ve said from the very beginning that the Government needs to engage with local trusted First Nations community leaders and organisations.”
“They have the capacity and they’re doing a wonderful job, they just need the Federal Government to back them in.”