Decisive action in the NT has saved lives in fight against coronavirus

May 14, 2020

I'd like to put on the Senate record that the Northern Territory government certainly took decisive action at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. That has undoubtedly saved lives and will hopefully allow for sustained economic repair. So far, in the Northern Territory we have had only 30 cases of the virus and, thankfully, no deaths. But, as we keep saying, we must remain vigilant. It is certainly an important position for the Northern Territory, in particular, as we're concerned about our vulnerable population, in terms of First Nations people and our elderly. In the Northern Territory, Aboriginal people are often overrepresented in the health system, but it's a different story for COVID-19, with official data indicating that, to date, no First Nations people in the Northern Territory have been affected by coronavirus. Naturally, like everyone, we certainly want to make sure it stays that way.

At the very beginning of the response to the pandemic, back in March the Northern Territory government put in place a funded return to country program that saw more than 1,400 people go back to country and stay on their homelands across the Northern Territory. Tangentyere Council, in Alice Springs, and the Larrakia Nation, in Darwin, put in an incredible effort over a very short space of time to get everyone back to country before community lockdowns were in place, on 26 March. It certainly hasn't been easy and there have been some bumps on the road, but the proof of the success is that we have not had one case of the virus in our communities. This is certainly down to the hard work of many, many organisations and government agencies, working together. The Northern Territory government has worked side-by-side with the federal coalition government to get this work done. Very early on in the piece, a regional and remote task force was established in the Northern Territory so that key stakeholders, including land councils, NTCOSS, NAAJA, LGANT and AMSANT, had the opportunity to directly inform policy decisions.

Our state and territory borders have also been locked down, with 13 biosecurity checkpoints across the Northern Territory. People coming into the Territory, whether by road or air, are required to undertake compulsory quarantine for two weeks in Northern Territory government nominated accommodation. It was certainly tough action, drastic action, but it is paying off. Nearly two weeks ago, on 1 May, we Territorians were able to enjoy our playgrounds, pools and parks and even go fishing and enjoy non-contact sports again. Outdoor religious gatherings were also permitted. All of these, of course, had strict hygiene measures and physical distancing in place. From Friday, 15 May, two days away, Territorians can once again return to restaurants and cafes, with a two-hour time limit, and they will be able to go back to the gyms. Our public libraries will be open and, yes, we will even be able to get our nails done—very important! On 5 June, all going well, all sports and competitions will return and there will be no time limits on bars or restaurants. Cinemas will reopen and most businesses that are able to will be operating again. If Minister Hunt and health advice concur, the biosecurity zones will be lifted internally. Remote community residents will be able to travel to the larger towns for shopping, family visits and appointments. Within Territory borders, we will be looking at certainly a different way of life.

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a range of challenges for the Northern Territory government, and they are certainly to be congratulated for their efforts to minimise the impact on Territorians. Vulnerable people have been kept safe and this terrible virus has hopefully been kept at bay. Once our borders open up again, we certainly welcome each and every one of you back to our wonderful part of the country. Certainly come and visit us once we do that.

What I'd like to say to the Senate, as we do on every occasion, is, whilst we put all these things on the record now, it is something that we have to remain strong about every day in terms of keeping this virus at bay, certainly not just in the Northern Territory but right across Australia. Indeed, our thoughts also go to those people around the world who are suffering terribly from this virus. I want to put on the record a very big thanks to all of those involved with keeping our country as safe as we possibly can.