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Speech: Covid-19 in First Nations communities

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 1 Sep 2021

I couldn't agree more that this is a matter of extreme urgency. It calls on the Morrison-Joyce government to take responsibility for the dangerous situation in western New South Wales. Why was this government sitting on its hands and sitting on data that clearly showed vaccination rates in First Nations communities in western New South Wales were desperately low? Why did you not do something sooner? Because you just don't care.

There's such a severe lack of adequate housing in Wilcannia that people are having to isolate themselves in tents because their homes are overcrowded. Locals have said that the food being delivered is sometimes out of date and nutritionally poor. These failures and the utter disregard for First Nations communities are not new. They have been targeted systematically since the start of colonisation, and the pandemic has changed nothing.

According to the government's own vaccination plan, First Nations individuals were either in phase 1a or 1b. They should have been vaccinated by now. The government has no-one to blame but themselves. Scott Morrison's government was told clearly that, were the virus to enter a First Nations community, there would be devastating results, given the abysmal rollout of vaccinations, the food insecurity, and the lack of adequate housing and appropriate health services. A loud and clear alarm was sounded at the very beginning of this pandemic. The Maari Ma Health Aboriginal Corporation wrote to Minister Wyatt 18 months ago. The letter outlined grave fears for Wilcannia if COVID was spread to the at-risk population there. It said

Warnings from around the world are clear: the earlier we prepare and act, the better the outcomes will be. We cannot wait until the first case turns up in the community …

And here we are now: not just the first case, but with a large percentage of people and children infected—and, sadly, a First Nations man has died of COVID-19.

The crisis unfolding in Wilcannia is not mere incompetence. It is a complete disgrace. The equally incompetent New South Wales health minister Brad Hazzard has bounced the responsibility off to the federal government. Mr Hazzard had the audacity to say that he had 'many friends who are Aboriginal in north-west and western NSW', and that he was 'quite frustrated'. Everyone knows Mr Hazzard can be very vocal about his frustrations when it suits him, so why was he so quiet about this one? Why didn't he turn his frustration into action? The federal and New South Wales governments have completely failed First Nations communities in western New South Wales. Wake up! First Nations people know what is best for their communities. Listen to them, and do what they are asking you to do.


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