” While COVID-19 restrictions are easing in some states and territories, remote Aboriginal communities in lockdown will remain off-limits to outsiders.
The Northern Territory, where almost 30% of the population is Indigenous, has begun a “roadmap to the new normal”, re-opening pools and parks and giving the green light to fishing with a mate.
As other states consider their own watered-down measures, there has been confusion around what this means for vulnerable Indigenous populations.”
Pat Turner has been interviewed for NITV-The Point and the story will go on-air tonight, Wednesday 5 May at 8.30pm
In March, the federal government announced internal border controls that could restrict access to areas that include Indigenous communities under the Commonwealth Biosecurity Act.
The measures were an effort to protect vulnerable populations, with many Aboriginal communities opting to close their own borders, and were put in place until at least June 18.
While the enforcement of those restrictions are the responsibility of each jurisdiction, the lifting of the restrictions will be subject to a decision through the national cabinet.
Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, confirmed to ABC radio on Tuesday that the lockdowns remain in place, including all 76 remote communities in the Northern Territory.
“You’re better off being patient than to end up with COVID-19 and possible death,” Minister Wyatt said.
“We only have to look at the aged care facility in New South Wales where the virus was brought into the facility and they’ve lost 15 people now, senior Australians, and we would run a similar risk in a community if somebody brought the virus in inadvertently and we end up losing, and when I say us, I mean our people, will lose Elders and senior people.”
The most at-risk areas to be placed in lockdown was identified by state and territory governments, with anyone entering those biosecurity boundaries needing to self-isolate for 14 days.
In Western Australia, there are fines up to $50,000 for entering a remote Aboriginal community without an appropriate reason.
While remote Aboriginal communities can remain isolated to minimise the risks of catching COVID-19, the same options don’t exist for urban areas.
The federal government has partnered with the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) to combat potential outbreaks and ease socio-economic impacts.
“The lifting of the restrictions remains a very grave concern in terms of what conditions need to be in place for us to lift the bio-security restrictions, particularly in the remote areas,” Ms Turner said.
“But I feel that the greatest risk for our people remains in the cities, where everyone is champing at the bit to have the restrictions lifted.”
According to the ABS, almost 80% of the Aboriginal population are living in urban areas, with a proportion of 35% living in capital cities.
Ms Turner said there are barriers for Indigenous people living in urban areas in accessing proper treatment or being able to properly self-isolate.
“State and territory governments have to assist with those processes, because of over-crowded housing, we just do not have the capacity within our communities to self isolate as many other Australians can do in their own homes,” she said.
“If we still have community transmission then our people – and there are many, many, many, First Nations people who live in Australian cities – I am extremely concerned.”