• A family presenting to a mass COVID-19 vaccination hub in Dubbo. (Supplied: Department of Defence)Source: Supplied: Department of Defence
Linda Burney says the outbreak in the region, which has infected 275 First Nations people, is a failure of the federal vaccine rollout and an 'unmitigated disaster.'
Keira Jenkins, Jodan Perry

27 Aug 2021 - 10:21 PM  UPDATED 27 Aug 2021 - 10:54 PM

The Shadow Indigenous Australians Minister has slammed the federal government's "woeful" handling of the vaccination rollout in First Nations communities, saying there was "absolutely no plan" for our people.

There have been 536 Indigenous people infected with COVID-19 in the latest outbreak, with 275 of those in the west and far west of NSW. 

The largely Aboriginal town of Wilcannia is still an extreme concern with nine new cases of the virus recorded on Friday, bringing the total infections to 58 in the town of approximately 750.

The state and federal governments continue to point to the vaccine rollout when queried about the support available to western NSW.

But Labor's Linda Burney, a Wiradjuri woman from southwestern NSW, said the rollout is simply “woeful”.

“The vaccination rate in some communities is something like 2 per cent. In the Pilbara and in the Kimberley it’s about 8 per cent,” she said.

“In far western NSW it has increased, but it is still way below that of the vaccination rate of the general population.

“What that says to me is there was no plan, there was absolutely no plan at all in terms of vaccination rates for First Nations people.

Linda burney labor Indigenous voice

The Far West Health District said that more than 50 per cent of residents in the region have received their first vaccine dose. 

Nationally, the vaccination rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are behind in every state and territory except Victoria, despite being in category 1b for the rollout from March. 

Victoria's rates are credited by the collaborative approach between Aboriginal community-controlled health services and the state government.

While the vaccination figures are lagging, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt is claiming credit for keeping COVID-19 out of First Nations communities.

“Protection of Indigenous communities has been one of the most significant national achievements over the past 18 months," read a statement from his office.

Ms Burney said that statement was “patently wrong.”

“Go to Bourke, go to Wilcannia, go to Walgett and go to Dubbo and continue to say that, I challenge you.” 

“I find it astounding that the health minister can still claim that the achievements in Aboriginal communities when it comes to COVID has been one of the outstanding successes of the way in which Australia has managed this pandemic,”

“What we’re seeing now in western and far western NSW is a failure of that rollout.”

"It's an unmitigated disaster”. 

Wilcannia, has a population of around 745, mostly Barkandji people. John Janson-Moore

Wilcannia medical support concerns

Linda Burney is also worried about the medical resources available in Wilcannia.

“What is the capacity of Wilcannia Hospital, and what are the plans if people need to be evacuated,” she said. 

She said would like to see a field hospital in places like Dubbo, dedicated to treating the growing number of people with COVID-19.

“What we’re seeing at Dubbo Hospital is people presenting to the emergency ward and therefore, putting everyone in danger,” she said.

“There needs to be a dedicated COVID facility in Dubbo. The infection rates in Dubbo are in the 100s now and Dubbo is the logical place that people from the outlying communities can be taken to if they get too unwell.”

Western Health authorities are creating a 'hospital within a hospital' at Narromine, 40km to the west, to specifically deal with the virus.

Barkindji woman and Wilcannia resident Monica Kerwin-Whyman took to social media to express her concerns about a lack of resources to care for the number of people who have now tested positive.

“They don’t have a COVID plan here, they don’t have ventilators, they got nothing,” she said.

“I think they’ve just got body bags.”


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A spokesperson for the Far West Local Health District told NITV news that the Wilcannia Health Service has a transport ventilator available.

"The clinical staff have the capability to actively and safely support the patient with this ventilator or use a BiPap breathing support unit, whilst the patient is being transported to Broken Hill or a larger hospital for advanced medical care," they said.

"A medical officer is also currently on site at Wilcannia Health Service to assist staff in responding to the health care needs of the community, particularly anyone presenting with COVID-19  and related illnesses."

Meanwhile, The CEO of the Far West Health District has apologised to an Aboriginal woman who was forced to sit out in the freezing cold for an hour after presenting to the Wilcannia Hospital with breathing problems.

The Far West Local Health District said they are reviewing their processes in regards to patients who present to the emergency department.

CEO Umit Agis apologised and said the assessment could have been more timely, and that the hospital regretted any distress experienced.

Monica Kerwin Wilcannia Covid-19

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