Thursday, 14 May 2020
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Indigenous Australians
I thank the member for Sturt for his question and his ongoing interest in this issue. As all of us in this chamber know, the most vulnerable section of our community are Indigenous Australians. So, right from the beginning, we worked with elders, leaders and peak organisations. Working with my colleague Greg Hunt, we used the Biosecurity Act to define secure areas for remote communities in order to isolate them from people bringing COVID-19 in. One of the best expressions I heard was from an elder who said, 'This thing has no songline, and we don't want to create a songline that brings death.' The Indigenous leadership, at every level, stood up. When I look at the figures, there are only 59 known COVID cases in a population of 800,000. That represents less than one per cent of the total number of COVID cases in Australia. With the interventions that we put into place, the biosecurity measure in terms of COVID-19 testing, Minister Hunt provided $3.3 million, in conjunction with his Indigenous advisory body, to key sites around Australia where point-of-care testing would be immediate, and then we could take the relevant steps to isolate those communities at high risk.
The other intervention that was important was ensuring food security. The National Indigenous Australians Agency worked very closely with food supply chains in order to make sure that we had guaranteed food supplies, even in the most remote communities' stores. I want to acknowledge Metcash, Woolworths and Coles for joining with all of our stores in providing that continuous supply. With the first tranche of funding, we saw a 350 per cent increase by Indigenous communities in purchasing food, hygiene and cleaning products, so that measure was an important measure, and stores were able to cope with that. In addition, we provided funding for people to return to outstations in the Northern Territory, because a lot of people said they were more secure by going to their communities. The combined efforts over a number of initiatives have resulted in that low figure. I also want to acknowledge my colleague Peter Dutton, the Minister for Home Affairs, because we jointly signed a letter to guarantee food supplies from the food suppliers at the point of delivery, and that made a difference.
I want to, on behalf of this parliament, thank all Indigenous leaders at every level for showing the leadership to make a difference at the community level and to have an impact that saw an incredibly low level of impact. But we cannot take our eyes off the ball, because there is still a possibility.