ABC ALICE SPRINGS: 23 AUGUST 2021, Government is failing COVID messaging for First Nations communities

23 August 2021


SUBJECT/S: Government failing in COVID messaging for First Nations communities while cashless debit card messaging has been translated into 13 languages; Western NSW COVID cases; importance of community controlled Aboriginal health sector in covid vaccine roll out

STEWART BRASH, HOST: Labor Senator for the NT spoke to our very own Justin Fenwick.

SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: The Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT shares the same concern that I have. I note also the Northern Land Council tweeted the same thing, that the concern here, Justin, is really around the fact that the Morrison Government is focussing so much on rolling out the cashless debit card that it's being quite irresponsible in not focussing on the covid pandemic in terms of translation. So we've seen 13 languages that have translated the cashless debit card and six in terms of the vaccination info. And that's just an indication of where this government's priorities are at.

JUSTIN FENWICK, PRODUCER: Why do you think they've only, you know, done done six and not 13? Should it not be standard to do 13 if you've done it for one government project and not another?

MCCARTHY: Well, that's a question you'd have to put to to the minister responsible or ministers responsible in terms of Ken Wyatt and Anne Ruston in this case, I think that all this does is send a really despairing message that the Morrison government is so focussed on other priorities, especially ones that people don't really want them to focus on, which is the cashless debit card. And they focus so much on that when we're in the midst of a major pandemic. And still the messaging has not got out in all of the languages that it could. And this is just quite disheartening, really.

FENWICK: Do you think it would have if the federal government had a had all languages across the NT and across the country, do you think that would particularly here because we're based in the NT, do you think that would help us with our vaccination rates on remote communities?

MCCARTHY: One of the biggest issues that's coming through with what we're seeing with First Nations people across the country is still not enough communication. So when you see a focus on communication of other policies that people don't welcome, you do have to ask where is this government's head at? Because they're clearly not focussed on the pandemic in front of us. And I think that's of serious concern. Now, in terms of messaging, though, Justin, with regards to covid, we have First Nations media organisations across the country who should be well resourced to deal with this pandemic and get those messages out. But unfortunately, that's not the case.

FENWICK: And we just have to look to New South Wales as an example, Dubbo and Walgett and the the kind of figures that I've been told from residents there, particularly who work in the Aboriginal medical sector, less than eight per cent fully vaccinated. Do you think we can use situations like what's happening in is it just down to the messaging, I guess is essentially what I'm asking. Or do you think we can use situations to educate people about, you know, how quickly this can actually spread? We've been very lucky here in the NT.

MCCARTHY: It is absolutely disheartening to see the fear and the pain and suffering of so many families with COVID. But what's worse here, Justin, is knowing that a lot of those families, a lot of those children who are First Nations children who are suffering from this were in the vulnerable category. The prime minister said in December that First Nations people would be treated as priority vaccination cases. Clearly, that has not been the case. And that is what is so deeply disheartening about what we're seeing across the country at this time.

FENWICK: How important, then, are the Aboriginal medical organisations, the community controlled organisations like you've got Congress here and Danila Dilba up in the Top End, how important are those in kind of, I guess, picking up and we shouldn't have to, but how important are they in picking up the slack from the federal government

MCCARTHY: In the Northern Territory, we have wonderful Aboriginal community health organisations like Congress and others under AMSANT who have fought determinedly to make sure the vaccine rolls out here in the Northern Territory. As chair of the First Nations Caucus, I was briefed by the peak body in New South Wales at the Aboriginal Medical Services. I sadly can say it's not the same there in New South Wales. That peak body is responsible for 47 Aboriginal medical services. And the coordination that we see here in the Northern Territory is clearly not the same down there. And the Commonwealth Government is responsible for Aboriginal people and Aboriginal health, and they have failed in this instance.

FENWICK: What conversations have you had with the health minister and the minister for Indigenous Australians about this messaging that just doesn't seem to be getting out there in all the languages? What conversations have you had with the federal government?

MCCARTHY: We had a First Nations caucus meeting earlier this week. Linda Burney is our shadow Indigenous Affairs Minister, and she has certainly been reaching out to the Aboriginal Affairs Minister as well as the Government in terms of the concerns of our First Nations Caucus. And clearly those issues that we're raising are just not being listened to.

FENWICK: Do you think the Doherty Institute modelling needs to be re-looked at like the Chief Minister? He said he wants to see better modelling for remote Territorians. Do you think we need to relook at the Dohertyy modelling for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, aside from the the the mainstream plan?

MCCARTHY: Well, I certainly commend the Northern Territory Chief Minister and his government on the handling of the pandemic here. But I also recognise that it's because of our strong Aboriginal community health sector in the Northern Territory who have largely influenced a lot of the planning that's taking place right here. So, of course, if there's collaboration between the Aboriginal community health sector and the government of whatever jurisdiction there is, no doubt they can reach those outcomes and those decisions in terms of the Doherty report.

BRASH: That is Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy speaking there to Justin Fenwick.