COVID-19 Across NSW Western Communities A Wake-Up Call for Government

1 September 2021

COVID-19 Across NSW Western Communities A Wake-Up Call for Government

NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) Councillors for the Western, North Western and Central Regions say the tragic spread of COVID-19 across Western NSW is an indictment of government failure to protect its citizens.
 
Councillors Ross Hampton (Western Region), Anne Dennis (North Western Region) and Grace Toomey (Central Region) say systemic inaction regarding dozens of communities across a major portion of NSW, is a big wake up call to successive State and Commonwealth governments on the health and social issues they’ve neglected for decades.
 
Cr Ross Hampton said Aboriginal people represent a high population percentage of most of these communities and were identified as a high priority population that needed to be protected against contracting this virus.
 
“The Commonwealth Government clearly identified Aboriginal people over the age of 55 as a Phase 1B Priority Group and ALL Aboriginal people 18-54 in Phase 2A in its National Vaccine Rollout Strategy. This means our people should have already been protected many months ago.
 
Thousands of people moving through our communities has also now resulted in the disgraceful circumstances we see today in Dubbo, Broken Hill, Wilcannia, Walgett, Brewarrina, Goodooga and many others,” he said.
 
Cr Grace Toomey said that the COVID-19 spread has placed enormous pressure on the relevant Western and Far Western Local District Health Services as well as Local Aboriginal Medical Services.
 
“The NSW Government’s initial soft lockdown during this current outbreak did nothing to support or protect our communities west of the Blue Mountains.
 
The NSW Government should use relationships established with the Aboriginal Community Controlled Sector via Closing the Gap for advice on action needed to protect Aboriginal communities.
 
Health services staff are community members too, and they’ve been expected to put their lives on the line without adequate supplies and support,” she said.
 
Chairperson Anne Dennis said she is extremely concerned over continuing high traffic though communities.
 
“Continual movement is not only increasing the frustrations of our mob, but is contributing to community unrest, as they see more members of their families and loved ones being diagnosed with the virus.
 
More pressure’s being placed on communities and health services, when they should be seeing the government’s ability to meet their needs and combat the increasing COVID-19 numbers,” she said.
 
The Councillors said that by allowing this virus to enter Aboriginal communities, a number of issues have become very evident that both the Commonwealth and NSW Governments have ignored for many years.
 
Lack of Housing

  • There is an under supply of housing by government which has led to a high level of overcrowding across most communities, with Local Aboriginal Housing Providers such as Local Aboriginal Land Councils being the main providers.
  • Government have not invested in working with these providers to increase appropriately designed and constructed supply to overcome this serious issue, nor invested in new supply through their own agencies and housing programs. 
  • This is clearly a significant issue with the virus outbreak in our communities, where isolation accommodation has been found seriously wanting.

Food Security

  • This is, and will continue to be, a serious ongoing issue for remote communities until governments work with local organisations such as Local Aboriginal Land Councils and other community organisations, to ensure there is provision of readily available and healthy food sources through community owned and controlled stores.

Community Capacity Building

  • The COVID-19 spread has clearly identified the NSW and Commonwealth Government’s shortcomings directly resourcing Aboriginal Community Controlled organisations to build service delivery capacity within communities.
  • It has been too easy for Governments to support the much larger mainstream NGO sector to deliver programs and services remotely into these communities, often less effectively
  • As Aboriginal people we know that to achieve better outcomes, Aboriginal service providers are the best to design and deliver programs and services at a local level.

 

The days of Government, Agencies and Advisors knowing what is best for our mob are well and truly over.
 
The NSWALC Councillors acknowledge that the COVID-19 virus will be with us for the future and unfortunately this includes our communities and our mob.
 
We also know that in following the Public Health orders, whilst they go against our culture, we will continue to do our best to protect not only ourselves, but our families, loved ones and communities.
 
Aboriginal people are very resilient, have been for the past 250 years, and will continue to be for many generations to come.
 
The NSW and Commonwealth Governments must use this opportunity to urgently reassess the way they work with our people, organisations, and communities in delivering programs, services, and critical resources to improve the outcomes for our mob once we are back to what can be considered a COVID-normal way of life.
 
Media enquiries: NSWALC Media Unit at media@alc.org.au or 0409 323 670.