Tuesday, 24 August 2021
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Senator Colbeck. Following a visit to the Dubbo Aboriginal Medical Service in April this year, I wrote to the minister for health, alerting him to the chronic understaffing of GPs at the Dubbo Aboriginal Medical Service and the excessive delays that would mean for the vaccine rollout to the Dubbo Indigenous community. Why did the minister for health do nothing to address the issues raised and potentially avert the current outbreak in Dubbo's Indigenous community?
I thank the senator for her question. Throughout the course of the pandemic, ensuring that Indigenous Australians have access to vaccine has been one of the important elements of the way that we've managed the program. They were in the early stages of having availability of vaccine. Like Senator O'Neill, the government is concerned about the vaccination rates in some parts of Australia. With the arising of the outbreak particularly in the region of Dubbo, a number of specific measures have been undertaken to support Australians, particularly in that area, to get vaccinated. There have been five teams of ADF vaccination force go out there to work their way through the community, to make sure that there was availability of vaccination for people in those communities. We're working our way methodically through those communities to ensure that we can get vaccination rates up to support and protect those communities, and we'll continue to do that.
It is indeed a point of order with regard to relevance. I appreciate that the minister is speaking about the general scheme that has been advanced in the region, but my question was specifically for the AMS in Dubbo. It was a very specific question. There was a letter sent. This requires a specific answer. I think the people of Dubbo deserve that.
Senator O'Neill, I ask people to make their point without commentary. I take your point of order. It was a specific question, but, as the minister was talking about programs that related to that region—and there is an opportunity after question time to debate the merit of answers—he was being directly relevant, even if not answering in the form that the asker would prefer. I call the minister to continue.
And we continue to support Indigenous communities around Australia with respect to vaccination. As at 23 August, 193,348 people who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander had had at least one dose of vaccine—approximately 33 per cent of the eligible population—and over 103,000 had received a second dose. The largest gap in coverage is seen in the 40-to-59 age group. Approximately 75 per cent of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are aged 12 years and over and are eligible for COVID vaccines. We will continue to work cooperatively with New South Wales and the ACCHOs— (Time expired)
Can the minister confirm that, as at 17 August, the Morrison-Joyce government had vaccinated just eight per cent of First Nations Australians in western New South Wales? Why are First Nations Australians being left unprotected by the Morrison-Joyce government?
I can't confirm the number quoted by the senator. I don't have that granular level of detail here with me in my information. As I've indicated, in response to the outbreak in western New South Wales the government have taken some very specific actions to ensure that vaccination capacity was increased in those regions as it needed to be and as we've done across other parts of the country. We supported Victoria in their surge when they had an outbreak and we supported New South Wales more broadly when they had an outbreak. There is a specific incident management team to coordinate the Commonwealth response and that includes representatives from the National Indigenous Australians Agency. Actions include vaccine allocation, support from the ACCHOs, support from the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the Australian Defence Force vaccination teams and, of course, PPE. (Time expired)
Perhaps the minister can take that on notice and confirm the eight per cent number. The Morrison-Joyce government promised First Nations Australians that they were a priority in the vaccine rollout and would be fully vaccinated by winter. We're now eight days away from spring and COVID-19 is ripping through First Nations communities. Why should Australians believe Mr Morrison will deliver on his new promises when he has failed to deliver on his old promises, leaving First Nations Australians unprotected and at risk?
I thank Senator O'Neill for the question. I completely reject the premise of the question. In fact, Senator O'Neill quite dishonestly didn't declare that Minister Hunt had actually responded to her letter on 27 July to answer the questions—
Thank you, Mr President. As so often happens in this chamber, the opposition come in here to misrepresent quotes that have been made by members of parliament and don't fully declare the full circumstances that sit behind the questions.
My point of order goes to relevance. Senator O'Neill did not say that Minister Hunt didn't respond; she said that the minister did 'nothing to address the issues raised'.
Senator Keneally! I'm going to insist that, while the leaders are given a lot more room to move, they do abide by the chair when I call them to order. That wasn't even a remote attempt at a point of order, Senator Keneally; that was debating a matter of fact. There's a time for that after question time.
I reject the premise of Senator O'Neill's question. We have continued and we will continue to support all communities in Australia—as the response from Minister Hunt to Senator O'Neill clearly indicates—with a whole range of incentives and programs that are designed to support Indigenous communities: workforce incentives, rural bulk-billing incentives, a distribution priority system to identify distribution of GPs. There is a range of things in place to support Australians, particularly in Indigenous communities.