Tuesday, 31 August 2021
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Indigenous Health
[by video link] My question is for the Minister representing the Prime Minister. A First Nations man died because of COVID-19 this week. Our communities are not getting the help they so urgently need as COVID rips through our communities. The Wilcannia mob asked for urgent help over a year ago. Why did you neglect our people and our calls for support?
[by video link] I thank Senator Thorpe for her question and acknowledge that every loss of life through this pandemic is a tragic one. It's tragic around the world, where we've seen more than 4½ million deaths across the globe, and, of course, it's tragic in Australia, where some 1,006 deaths have occurred. Whilst the death rate in Australia has been far, far lower than around the world, we acknowledge the personal pain and anguish of those individuals.
If we compare the situation through Australia during this pandemic, in Victoria last year, when we didn't have targeted aspects of the vaccine rollout in place, there was a fatality rate of around 4.2 per cent. This year, during the outbreak that's occurring in New South Wales, that fatality rate has dropped by close to 90 per cent, down to 0.45 per cent. That's in large part due to the heavy focus on ensuring that older Australians are vaccinated first and foremost, in doing so helping to make sure that we reduce the fatality rate in those most vulnerable populations—all older Australians.
I acknowledge that we do have particular challenges in western New South Wales and around the Wilcannia region, as Senator Thorpe—
In relation to those around western New South Wales, in particular the Wilcannia region, we've been working closely with state and territory governments and Aboriginal controlled community health services to ensure the needs of Indigenous community planning and delivery, including through this outbreak of COVID and particularly as it relates to working through the vaccination program.
Indeed, we know that there are particular challenges there, and it is in response to those challenges that we have ensured additional resources have been provided to Wilcannia to help support that community and those across western New South Wales. The Commonwealth Department of Health has stood up an incident management team to coordinate the Commonwealth response, including representatives of the NIAA— (Time expired)
[by video link] I continue to urge and encourage all Australians—including Indigenous Australians, Torres Strait Islanders and, indeed, all parts of our population—to respond and to seize the earliest opportunities to be vaccinated. We're seeing amazing growth in Australia in the vaccine program. We have seen that growth from four weeks ago, when 42 per cent of the population had had a first dose, to now nearly 59 per cent of the Australian population having had a first dose. We are working—
We have more than 9,000 access points across Australia for people to get a vaccine now. That is only going to grow. We are working, particularly across western and far western New South Wales, with the Royal Flying Doctor Service, with other vaccine providers, with Primary Health Networks and with Aboriginal community controlled health services to make sure that we have even more points of access for individuals, as we're doing across Indigenous communities right around the country. The message must be clear: to take advantage of these opportunities to help drive vaccination rates even higher. (Time expired)
[by video link] Thank you for your non-answer, Minister. People are dying out there, and you did not answer my question. Our communities and our people warned you and warned this government about housing, safe incarceration and self-determined health services a year ago. How much blame do you accept for completely failing Aboriginal people in this country—without the excuses? Do your job.
[by video link] I don't accept the characterisation by Senator Thorpe in her question. This is a challenging global pandemic. As I said in response to the primary question, more than 4½ million people around the world have lost their lives. We've sought to provide the best protections possible for Australians from the outset, through the closure of Australia's international borders; through the scaling up of a range of different health responses across the country, working closely with those state and territory partners; and now, at this stage, through the vaccine rollout—
Senator Siewert, resume your seat. I have asserted repeatedly that I'm not going to allow points of order on direct relevance for people to simply stand up and ask the question again or, as in this case, part of the question again. There was not even an attempt to make a point of order about direct relevance, Senator Siewert. There was a lot in the question asked by Senator Thorpe, and the minister is entitled to respond to any or all parts of it in the time allotted.
Senator Siewert, I have said before that I can't instruct a minister which part of a question to answer, which assertion to address or how to answer a question. If there are long questions with a lot of content in them, the minister is entitled to address any or all parts of it in the minute he has allowed, in this case. I've ruled repeatedly that tight questions have a very tight test of direct relevance.
As I've said in the chamber many times, we accept responsibility for the challenges that the vaccine rollout's faced and for fixing it. We've accepted responsibility for dealing with all of the different challenges we've faced during COVID-19, because that's the job we have to get on and do. That's why we've put the RFDS in place, with additional vaccine capacity, while we're working with— (Time expired)