The Northern Land Council is pleading with the Northern Territory government to protect Aboriginal communities by resisting a national plan to ease border and travel restrictions.
Vaccine uptake is lagging in 33 of the 51 Aboriginal communities that report to the government, and will be unlikely to have hit the 80 per cent target in November when stage three of the national COVID-19 plan is expected to be introduced.
“I urge Chief minister Gunner not to throw Aboriginal Territorians under the National Plan bus,” said Mayili man and NLC Chairman Samuel Bush-Blanasi.
“Do not abandon us or expose our communities to a very real threat that we know will literally tear our communities apart.”
In places like Alpurrurulam, 1206 km southeast of Darwin, less than 10 per cent of people have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Mr Bush-Blanasi said he knows vaccination rates in some remote communities are “unacceptably” low, but the government hasn’t discussed its new announcement with land councils or the Aboriginal health sector, who are working to fix it.
Chief minister Michael Gunner rejected the criticisms.
“It is wrong to assume we are only having issues with Aboriginal or remote communities. That is not what is happening. They are actually a big part of our success,” he said.
Mr Gunner also said that some Territorians had fallen victim to misinformation.
“We are not waiting around forever. COVID is not waiting around forever for you to never change your mind,” he said.
“COVID-19 will hit the Territory at some stage. It will spread here. We have held it off for more than 18 months but we cannot hold it on forever.”
The government should know how the state is tracking towards its 80 per cent vaccination target by early to mid-November, said Mr Gunner, and it will have a plan to drive up vaccination rates up in communities that have fallen behind.
“The Northern Territory will begin to gradually change its border protection and quarantine measures soon. We are going to do it in stages, carefully and in accordance with health advice.”
The announcement comes two days after NT health minister Natasha Fyles told the ABC the government might not be able to protect Aboriginal people unless they are vaccinated.
“The NLC considers that Minister Fyles’ statements represent a fundamental and unacceptable abandonment of the health and welfare of Aboriginal Territorians in the name of the National Plan,'' Mr Bush-Blanasi said.
“Only people with double doses of COVID-19 vaccine should be allowed to enter the NT.”