Tuesday, 31 August 2021
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: First Nations
[by video link] My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Senator Colbeck. I refer to reports a First Nations woman with COVID-19 and breathing difficulties was turned away from the Wilcannia medical service last week. Barkindji woman Monica Kerwin has described the woman as being 'left outside like a dog' and has pleaded:
Somebody, anybody, get this out there. This is what's going on in Wilcannia. And I'm crying, I'm tired, and nobody's helping us.
Minister, why has the Morrison government abandoned First Nations people in Wilcannia?
I would be very concerned if any Australian was turned away from a health service when they were in need. That should not be occurring. It simply should not happen.
I don't accept Senator McCarthy's characterisation that we have in any way abandoned Indigenous Australians. We established very early on in the pandemic—in fact, at the beginning of March last year—a national strategy and an advisory group on COVID-19. That was back on 5 March 2020. There was a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander management plan for novel coronavirus approved on 26 March last year. The implementation of the plan for the vaccine program and for Torres Strait Islander people was finalised on 9 March this year. So we have prioritised Indigenous Australians as part of the program. We have supplied vaccines, as I have already indicated to the chamber today.
The circumstances of the Indigenous woman that have been described by Senator McCarthy should not have happened. Australians should be able to access health services when they need them. We will continue the work that we are doing with the RFDS, the Defence Force, the ACCHOs and all the Indigenous health services that are supporting their own people in managing the pandemic. Whether it be through providing vaccines, as many of them are doing, or providing health services, we will continue to support them in doing that.
The targets suggested of 70 or 80% vaccination are totally fraudulent if applied to remote Australia … they would totally fail our people.
Minister, how many First Nations Australians will be fully vaccinated when Australia reaches the 70 and 80 per cent targets for Australians aged over 16?
I would hope that the Indigenous vaccination rate is lifted to at least match, if not better, the vaccination rate of the rest of the population. That's what we would like to see. I have already acknowledged in the chamber today that the vaccination numbers are not high enough. We need to continue to work to lift those numbers, working with the Indigenous communities, with the First Nations people and with influencers of those First Nations people to encourage Indigenous Australians to take up the vaccine.
It is a point of order on relevance. It was a very tightly worded question: how many First Nations Australian will be fully vaccinated when we hit the target of 70 to 80 per cent? The minister should either answer it or take it on notice.
Senator Keneally, you are going beyond the issue of direct relevance and asking me to instruct a minister how to answer a question. When he's talking about the subject material, he is being directly relevant to a very specific question.
I have actually addressed specifically the matter of the question. Senator Keneally might like to interrupt question time as many times as she possibly can, but our objective is to have vaccination rates equally high across the country, across all communities, because it's important and it's our path through the pandemic.
Ms Kerwin also warned:
… they don't have a Covid plan here, they don't have ventilators. They don't have anything. I think they've just got body bags.
Minister, given Mr Morrison has failed to deliver on his promise to vaccinate 1b priority groups by winter, does the Morrison-Joyce government regret Mr Morrison declaring the vaccine rollout is not a race?
I think the statement made by that community representative is a very unfortunate one, because very early in the pandemic the thing that this government did and the work we did particularly with states and territories—and can I say I commend the work of the Northern Territory government, and the relationship that we have with Northern Territory government in relation to providing health services out to communities and across the country is extremely important. We have provided significant assets and resources, including ventilators, to ensure that they were available in the circumstance that they were needed. In fact, we're been able to gather so many ventilators that we've actually been able to provide them to some of our regional neighbours who didn't have them. So I reject the premise that we haven't worked to put the systems in place and the relationships in place to support Australians through the health system.