Wednesday, 1 September 2021
Questions without Notice
COVID-19: Indigenous Health
[by video link] My question is to Senator Colbeck, the minister representing the Minister for Health. Does the national plan require First Nations vaccination rates to match those in the rest of the Australian population before we reopen?
The national plan, which has been publicly released, for everybody to see, contemplates a number of thresholds—70 per cent and 80 per cent vaccination rates across the country—to facilitate a staged process to safely open up the Australian community again, to facilitate movement and to reactivate our economy, in support of all Australians. It doesn't discriminate against Indigenous communities or any other community, to be frank. We want to see vaccination rates in every single community as high as possible. We urge that. With respect to Indigenous Australians and their vaccination, that's why we prioritised them, understanding the sensitivities that exist with respect to Indigenous communities. That's why we opened vaccination to Indigenous Australians in phase 1b on 22 March last year. We made vaccines available to Indigenous Australians very early in the piece.
It's on relevance. This was deliberately a very tight question about whether the plan requires First Nations vaccination rates, and we haven't had an answer to that yet.
With respect, I was listening very carefully; I appreciate it was a very short, sharp question. Senator Colbeck, I believe, addressed that by saying that the plan did not discriminate. I believe that was the phrase he used. I believe to go any further would be requiring me to instruct the minister how to answer a question, but I believe he is being directly relevant through his answer thus far. A question can be debated after question time. Senator Colbeck.
The plan seeks to see all Australians vaccinated as soon as possible. I join Senator Dodson in his condemnation, over the last 24 hours or so, in an article that I have seen today, of those who are peddling antivaccine messages into Indigenous communities. I agree with Senator Dodson fundamentally, and the government will continue to work with Indigenous communities, state governments and the ACCHOs in the interests of getting as many Australians—including Indigenous people—vaccinated as possible. (Time expired)
The whole concept of the plan is to ensure that we can safely open the Australian community for all Australians, including Indigenous Australians. That's very important. We understood right from the outset the importance and the vulnerability of Indigenous Australians. That's why we set up a specific task force to work with the Indigenous Australians, to support them through the pandemic. That's why we prioritised Indigenous Australians in category 1b of access to the vaccine. That access was made available immediately when 1b opened on 22 March this year. So Indigenous Australians have had and continue to have priority access—
It's on relevance, again. These have been deliberately tight questions, and this one is about whether the government will guarantee First Nations vaccination rates. I won't read the entire question out—
I appreciate that, Senator Watt. I have been listening carefully. This would not be an appropriate question on which to talk about the general national plan for vaccination but, while the minister is very specifically addressing Indigenous Australians' rates of vaccination and programs, I think that is directly relevant. There is an opportunity to debate the question after question time. I can't instruct him on a particular word in the question, but by remaining tightly relevant to the terms of the question and the subject matter I believe it qualifies as directly relevant.
We will continue to work with Indigenous communities to ensure that their vaccination rates are as high as possible. We have provided specific resources, developed and tailored specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander audiences, to educate them and to mitigate the negative messages— (Time expired)
The Prime Minister has failed to deliver on his promise to vaccinate 1b priority groups by winter. Today, on the first day of spring, less than 20 per cent of First Nations Australians have been fully vaccinated. How many First Nations Australians will be unvaccinated and at risk of COVID-19 when the targets of 70 and 80 per cent are reached?
As I've said, our objective is to ensure that all Australians have access to the vaccine, including Indigenous Australians. That's why specific measures have been put in place by the government to ensure that they can. We continue to work closely with the ACCHOs, which I have to say are doing a really good job, in working with Indigenous communities.
I again condemn the negative messages being spread in some Indigenous communities—and I'm sure Senator McCarthy will join me in doing that—that are frightening Australian Indigenous people off being vaccinated. We are working with those communities. We are adapting programs that have been run for the broader community specifically to Indigenous communities so that they can understand the importance of vaccination and then participate in the vaccination process. We will continue to do that, understanding how important vaccination is to Indigenous Australians. (Time expired)