26 August 2021: Concerns for Western NSW community

26 August 2021

Senator McCARTHY (Northern Territory—Deputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (13:36): [by video link] As the chair of the First Nations caucus committee, I'd like to bring to the Senate our concerns for the First Nations communities in western New South Wales, who are facing a COVID nightmare. This morning, Deputy Premier John Barilaro said that regional New South Wales is 'sitting on a knife's edge. He said, 'It is a tinderbox waiting to explode.' In December, Scott Morrison stood up and said that First Nations people were 'a clearly defined vulnerable community'. The Prime Minister went on to say, 'This is a key issue to be addressed in the strategy and in the rollout plans.' Well, what empty rhetoric that's turned out to be, unsurprisingly.

As of Wednesday, there have been 448 confirmed COVID-19 infections in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in New South Wales since mid-June. Just 6.3 per cent of the Aboriginal population in western New South Wales is fully vaccinated, compared to 26 per cent of the non-Indigenous population in the region. There is fear, anger and confusion.

In Wilcannia, where, as of yesterday, 44 people had tested positive, community members are now facing a food crisis. The snap closure of the town's only grocery store due to COVID deep cleaning is seeing people go hungry. They're 200 kilometres away from the nearest big community, Broken Hill, and are relying on food donations to get fed.

I'd certainly like to acknowledge the work of First Nations journalists, particularly NITV, for keeping us and the whole of the country informed about the people in western New South Wales. Labor's First Nations caucus committee has been trying to get answers from the Morrison-Joyce government on this crisis for months. The Commonwealth and New South Wales governments are not managing the challenges of rising infections and hospitalisations. This needs to change urgently. Last week Labor outlined the need for a nationally consistent plan to address the unfolding First Nations COVID crisis.