Territory COVID infections and misinformation rise 24 NOVEMBER 2021

24 November 2021


I'd like to update the Senate on the developing COVID outbreak here in the Northern Territory. While other parts of Australia, hopefully, start to come out at the other end of this pandemic, the Northern Territory is facing its biggest threat since the pandemic began.

We've just heard news of 11 new cases here in the Northern Territory, bringing the number of cases to over 50. On Saturday, the remote bush community of Binjari, with a population of around just 190 people, recorded nine new cases of the virus. We're now seeing the consequences of the Morrison government's failure to roll out the vaccine in the Territory and to provide appropriate information to vulnerable communities in the time that he had promised he would. As a result, misinformation is absolutely rampant on social media, and I condemn these dangerous, dangerous lies that are taking place across social media. The vaccine is safe, and no-one here in the Northern Territory has died from the vaccine. I need to reiterate that: no-one here in the Northern Territory has died from taking the vaccine, and it's important that our communities, in particular, are aware of that. In fact, the vaccine has saved many lives.

I'm frustrated also with the failure of the Morrison government to ensure that priority groups were sufficiently vaccinated here in the Northern Territory and elsewhere. More work needs to be done to combat the dangerous misinformation on vaccines. Indigenous people were meant to be a priority. We were supposed to be one of the first groups to be vaccinated, and here we are, near Christmas, with a major pandemic on our hands and, largely, First Nations people who are infected. The Morrison government failed in achieving its own target. It must be said—and it must be realised—that that failure leaves us where we are today. Yes, we should certainly celebrate achieving broad vaccination targets across Australia as a whole, but the Morrison government should be ashamed that some of our most vulnerable communities here in the Territory have double-dose vaccination rates as low as 20 per cent.

The government has dragged its heels on providing effective communication strategies to educate and encourage Indigenous people to protect themselves, their community and the wider Territory by getting the vaccine. The government took months to listen to community groups and provide funding to First Nations Media Australia, in particular, to produce and distribute culturally appropriate messaging in language. Unfortunately, for some it is too late, as this vacuum has been filled with dangerous misinformation on vaccines, which is reinforced by some of the Prime Minister's own backbenchers. It's embarrassing to see coalition members turn their backs on science, truth, and the life-saving work of our nurses and doctors. We're already at 41 degrees in the Northern Territory today, and we have health workers out there in heavy PPE gear trying to protect our most vulnerable. They are out there in the Top End humidity of the wet season and in 41 degree heat. These people need our support, not our condemnation.

I'm incredibly grateful for the tireless work of our Territory healthcare staff, who are bearing the brunt of this pandemic. Many nurses and doctors are working far away from their families. We've seen millions of people overseas die from COVID. We've seen hundreds of people die here in Australia—in Victoria and New South Wales. We do not want to see the same disaster unfold here in the Northern Territory.