OPINION: For courageous leadership and foresight, again, Australia has been left wanting, writes Thomas Mayor.
By
Thomas Mayor

24 Mar 2020 - 1:12 PM  UPDATED 24 Mar 2020 - 6:05 PM

A golden opportunity has been squandered. The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has once again failed to douse the flames that endanger the Australian people before they have spread.

This time, from the Prime Minister's perch atop the nations political hierarchy, he has watched as the COVID-19 pandemic flared in China, burning its way through the peoples of the world. As the embers of disaster landed on our island continent months later, he delayed social distancing measures. "Next week...", he said.

Too little, too late now, for too many Australians.

It has been reported that under the best-case scenario of a 20 per cent infection rate, about 50,000 people out of 5 million infected with COVID-19 would die. In a worst-case scenario of a 60 per cent infection rate, 15 million people would get the coronavirus, and 150,000 would die. 

COVID-19 will not discriminate but in such a crisis, the effects of inequality will disproportionately impact the most disadvantaged. Especially First Nations people and our communities.

How could Scott Morrison live with himself if he knows this? Perhaps it is a matter of privilege. After all, he, his colleagues and his political donors can self-isolate, work from home and continue to be paid high salaries. If they get sick, they have access to the best medical professionals and facilities in the country. They live a world apart.

We should not underestimate the lethal nature of COVID-19 and the urgency we must have to minimise its spread. One of the worst aspects of the virus is the effect it has on breathing. It causes pneumonia, and a drowning-like feeling in the lungs.

These breathing support machines can be the difference between life and death. If we do not "flatten the curve", our Doctors may be forced to choose who lives with a respirator, and who dies without one, as in Italy. Indigenous people know too well that the unhealthy, already discriminated against Blackfella will be the latter.

The consequences of inaction are far direr for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We already have some of the highest rates of chronic disease in the world. Aboriginal communities suffer a long-existing epidemic of diabetes, heart, renal and lung disease, yet have inadequate access to medical facilities.

In Indigenous communities, residents cannot self-isolate in their over-crowded homes. There is no personal protective equipment. Because of low literacy, we cannot expect that people will comprehend advice to keep safe. There is hardly any medical staff who will be willing to work in a situation that may well be hopeless for their patients and themselves.

The Prime Minister knew all this as the first embers fell. Our nation has had the opportunity to learn from the successes and mistakes of other countries.

For weeks, the union movement has been demanding guaranteed sick leave for all workers. So that casual underemployed workers can self-isolate, rather than be forced to risk spreading the virus at work -- or lose their income and starve. For weeks, the leaders of Indigenous organisations have warned of the desperate urgency to implement drastic measures to support Indigenous communities in the impending crisis, such as suspending the Community Development Program (CDP) mutual obligation requirement. The Government initially refused to budge. Again, they have been too slow.

The Government must act quickly to deliver the needs of vulnerable Indigenous communities, or we will see genocide by way of inaction in a crisis — a generation of Elders and cultural knowledge holders could be lost to some First Nations.

Scott Morrison must listen to Indigenous community leaders and our community-controlled health organisations. He must heed their calls for facilities, medical staff, and all the resources required to keep our most vulnerable safe. Our communities need action now, or it will be too late.

This week, as the parliament meets to legislate measures for the pandemic, I reflect on the campaign to establish a First Nations Voice enshrined in the constitution. Or in other words, a constitutional right to a representative body, chosen by community, accountable to community, and protected from hostile governments.

Since the unprecedented 26 May 2017 national consensus imbued in the Uluru Statement from the heart, we have built a peoples movement for this Voice. We have been led by stoic and visionary women such as Aunty Pat Anderson, Professor Megan Davis and Teela Reid.

My reflection causes me to reaffirm that we need to continue to fight for the power and authority that comes with a Voice. Even in these hard times. Because if we had it, we'd be speaking to our needs in parliament, loud, strong, and united. We would have the power to hold a Prime Minister to account for all the lives that may be lost should one fail to listen again.

Chronically ill and keeping my head above water in the midst of COVID-19
OPINION: Everywhere we are being told not to panic, yet the government has failed to show strong leadership and reassurance to the public, and vulnerable mob are rightly panicked about what the future holds, writes Dr Tess Ryan.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor, don’t visit, or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
 
If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.
 
Coronavirus symptoms can range from mild illness to pneumonia, according to the Federal Government's website, and can include a fever, coughing, sore throat, fatigue and shortness of breath.