Aboriginal Health #CoronaVirus News Alert No 61 : May 13 #KeepOurMobSafe #OurJobProtectOurMob : AMSANT Peak Health and NT land councils back proposal to lift coronavirus Bio-security travel restrictions for remote communities as early as June 5

“We would need to ensure that strong border controls are maintained and that fully resourced and detailed national, jurisdictional and local outbreak plans are in place that ensure integration and coordination between the NT and Commonwealth governments”.

CEO of Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance NT (AMSANT), John Paterson, expressed support for the relaxation of the Biosecurity measures but noted that to do so safely would require a number of safeguards in place. Quote added by NACCHO / AMSANT

Our mob living in remote communities want to come into major centres to get food, other essential items and medical treatment they cannot get out bush. We want to move about with our kids and family members without having to quarantine for 14 days,

Northern Land Council CEO Marion Scrymgour said the act “adversely affected” the movement of Aboriginal people living on homelands and outstations in comparison to non-Aboriginal people. See further quotes below

We all went into this together, and we’ll get out of this together.

We don’t want to see double standards emerging — where people could get a laksa at Parap Markets and a have bet at the pub from June 5, but the community mob are still locked in.

Central Land Council CEO Joe Martin-Jard said he wanted the Biosecurity Act to be lifted on June 5, a date that coincided with stage 3 of COVID-19 restrictions easing in the NT.

“It is important that we remain cautious in our approach, we don’t want to see COVID-19 entering one of our communities.

Both Indigenous communities and the Government see this as critical. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have more complex health needs than other Australians and my primary concern is continuing to keep this virus out of our communities as much as possible.”

Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt said Mr Gunner was able to request changes to the NT’s Biosecurity Act at any time, and discussions between the Federal and NT governments were ongoing.

Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner says travel to the NT’s 76 remote Indigenous communities may be permitted as early as June 5, following discussions with NT land councils and peak Aboriginal health bodies this week.

Originally published here

Key points:

  • The Biosecurity Act, barring essential travel to remote NT communities, is scheduled to stay in place until June 18
  • Mr Gunner said land councils asked him yesterday to lift restrictions on June 5
  • But the Chief Minister confirmed easing border restrictions would be the last move by the Government

“The NT is the safest place in Australia,” Mr Gunner said.

“Because we are safe, and because we have strict border controls for the NT, we can look at bringing forward the date for the Biosecurity Act restrictions.”

Under the Biosecurity Act, all non-essential travel to remote Territory communities is currently banned and a 14-day isolation period applies for community residents wanting to return home from regional centres.

The restrictions are scheduled to stay in place until June 18 and align with a 90-day public health emergency declaration.

Mr Gunner said Land Councils asked him yesterday to lift restrictions on June 5 and he would now speak to the Commonwealth about the possibility.

Land councils back proposal

Central Land Council CEO Joe Martin-Jard said he wanted the Biosecurity Act to be lifted on June 5, a date that coincided with stage 3 of COVID-19 restrictions easing in the NT.

“We all went into this together, and we’ll get out of this together,” Mr Martin-Jard said.

“We don’t want to see double standards emerging — where people could get a laksa at Parap Markets and a have bet at the pub from June 5, but the community mob are still locked in.”

At the moment, Mr Martin-Jard said people were locked in their own communities with only one shop to visit, and as the weather cooled in Central Australia, it was important residents could leave to buy warmer clothes and other items they needed — without being forced to quarantine for 14 days upon their return.

Northern Land Council CEO Marion Scrymgour agreed.

“Our mob living in remote communities want to come into major centres to get food, other essential items and medical treatment they cannot get out bush. We want to move about with our kids and family members without having to quarantine for 14 days,” she said.

Ms Scrymgour said the act “adversely affected” the movement of Aboriginal people living on homelands and outstations in comparison to non-Aboriginal people.

“Despite the fact that the intent of the biosecurity measures was to protect Aboriginal people — and this was made clear by both the Prime Minister and the NT Chief Minister from the start — there were elements of the process that were unfair to some Aboriginal people, particularly those living on Community Living Areas — those small areas of land excised for the benefit of Aboriginal people from very large pastoral stations,” she said.

‘We should keep the borders to the NT closed’

Ms Scrymgour and Mr Martin-Jard both said they only supported lifting the Biosecurity Act on June 5 if the NT’s strict border restrictions remained in place.

“We want to see some easing of restrictions in the NT, but only if it’s safe and only if they keep the strong Territory border restrictions,” Mr Martin-Jard said.

Ms Scrymgour also reminded Territorians that — apart from two Australian Defence Force personnel who arrived in Darwin May 1 after testing positive to COVID-19 overseas — there had been no new cases of the virus in the NT for more than a month.

“That’s a really positive indication it’s pretty safe for our mob to travel in and out of remote communities without needing to quarantine upon return. But I agree with the Chief Minister that we should keep the borders to the NT closed for a while longer,” she said.

Mr Gunner yesterday confirmed easing the NT’s tough border restrictions would be the last move by the Government.

He also said it was unlikely the Territory would open borders with WA and SA before the eastern states.

Feds to rule on the Biosecurity Act

The decision about when to lift the Biosecurity Act is one for the Commonwealth, and Mr Gunner will need to write to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt asking him to sign off on the proposal.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt said Mr Gunner was able to request changes to the NT’s Biosecurity Act at any time, and discussions between the Federal and NT governments were ongoing.

“It is important that we remain cautious in our approach, we don’t want to see COVID-19 entering one of our communities,” Mr Wyatt said.

“Both Indigenous communities and the Government see this as critical. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have more complex health needs than other Australians and my primary concern is continuing to keep this virus out of our communities as much as possible.”

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