Politics with Michelle Grattan: Pat Turner on COVID – and god botherers – stalking Indigenous communities

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COVID has been spreading quickly in western NSW Indigenous communities where low vaccination rates and poor conditions make for a toxic mix. The first Indigenous death occurred in Dubbo this week.

As efforts intensify to deal with the NSW outbreak Pat Turner, CEO of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (NACCHO) joins the podcast. As well as discussing the NSW situation, she warns of the vulnerability of communities in Western Australia, attacks religious figures promoting dangerous misinformation, and says Indigenous communities can’t safely open at 70% or 80% vaccination rates.

On western NSW, where there are hundreds of cases, Turner says crowded and bad housing make it “almost impossible to isolate and quarantine”. People in Wilcannia are “having to isolate in tents – in Australia in 2021”.

In WA First Nations communities, the low vaccine coverage “is a very significant concern to all of us”.

“It has by far the lowest uptake, with less than 10% of its population 12 years and over fully vaccinated”.

“I would think that the first death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people […] has been a wake up call for some, especially those who didn’t think that COVID would affect them. The reality is sinking in for many of those.”

One obstacle is the spread of false claims by god botherers.

“[Aboriginal] Pastor Geoffrey Stokes called out a circular that had been sent around by [a] so-called Indigenous prayer group in the goldfields of Western Australia. And it happened that it was a white bloke from Brisbane who had circulated the misinformation. So that was soon put to bed.

"But there are people and communities, Aboriginal communities that belong to groups like the Assemblies of God and, you know, other such religions that strongly believe that God will protect them.”

“God will not stop COVID killing our people. I’m sorry to the religious leaders who believe that, but I’m telling them that will not happen.”

While the national cabinet’s plan provides for easing restrictions for the general community at 70% and 80% vaccination levels of those 16 and over, Turner insists that can’t apply in Indigenous communities.

“No, no, no, 70 to 80% will not be good enough for our communities. We are aiming for 100% vaccination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people 12 years and over by the end of this year.”

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Additional audio

A List of Ways to Die, Lee Rosevere, from Free Music Archive.

The Conversation

Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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