Statement: COVID-19 Emergency in Indigenous Communities

Co-Chair, National Apology Foundation



1 September 2021

From the very outset of this pandemic, our First Australians and their advocates have warned about the risk of COVID-19 carving a path of destruction through regional and remote communities.

The distance of these communities from suitably equipped medical facilities compounds the reality that Indigenous Australians are already more vulnerable to this virus than most, given the persistent gap in health outcomes.

On Monday, the Guardian published a letter sent from the Maari Ma Health Aboriginal Corporation to the Morrison Government some 18 months ago. The letter highlighted “grave fears” over inadequate protections against COVID-19 in communities like Wilcannia in NSW.

Now, more than 10 per cent of Wilcannia’s population has contracted COVID-19. Other communities across regional NSW are also reporting worrying outbreaks. The NSW Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council fears that Indigenous COVID cases could reach 1,000 this week.

Despite Indigenous Australians being a “priority group”, the Indigenous vaccination rate is more than 17 per cent lower than the non-Indigenous vaccination rate in Western and Far West NSW.

Health providers and community leaders have done extremely well to save lives throughout the pandemic, but they need more support.

First Australians and their advocates are calling for urgent action to address these outbreaks and protect their communities from future outbreaks. I stand with them.

The Prime Minister is fond of talking about reopening the economy when 80 per cent of Australians nationwide are vaccinated. I ask him: does that mean 80 per cent coverage in every regional and remote community as well?

The NSW and federal governments must as a matter of urgency take all necessary means to contain the risk of further spread in remote communities. If they fail, the consequences could be catastrophic.

These measures should include an immediate increase in vaccine supply, even if this is made more difficult by the federal government’s failure to obtain adequate supplies of vaccines nationally; mobile vaccination teams and more comprehensive public information campaigns, including in Indigenous languages.