A COVID Plan To Protect Indigenous Towns Was Rejected Because It Was “Impossible To Police”
Communities such as Wilcannia pleaded with the government for support.
The New South Wales Deputy Police Commissioner Gary Worboys urged the government to reject a COVID-19 action plan to protect vulnerable Indigenous communities, according to the ABC.
Back in 2020, NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant approved a draft public health order that would allow remote communities the ability to self lockdown at their own discretion, effectively preventing movement in or out of the towns amid outbreaks.
If approved, the order could have prevented communities such as Wilcannia — which was ravaged by the Delta outbreak earlier this year.
“NSW has dropped the ball in [protecting] communities across NSW. If communities had been able to close off earlier, then maybe things would be very different today,” leading Indigenous epidemiologist at the University of Queensland James Ward told the ABC of the decision to axe the plan.
But despite similar biosecurity measures being introduced in Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory as a failsafe to protect Australia’s most vulnerable communities, it was never instated in New South Wales.
According to leaked emails seen by the ABC, Worboys — the man in charge of the state’s COVID-19 police response — opposed the draft to bring the state’s plan in line with the national measures. Worboys argued that the measures were “impossible” to police, and questioned whether Indigenous communities supported the order — despite what we know now, that many community leaders had already been actively begging the government for more support.
“I am not in favour and do not support the measures,” Worboys wrote in an email. “I would like to understand where does the ‘support’ for such an order rest with in (sic) communities.”
But despite the fact that the Indigenous population in New South Wales ended up making up 22 percent of the active COVID tally, while only accounting for three percent of the total population, the emergency plans were never implemented.
In April of 2020, the draft plan for an “Aboriginal Communities order” was officially rejected on the advice of NSW Health, the Aboriginal Affairs Department and NSW Police. According to a NSW Health spokesperson, the police held the strongest reservations out of everyone who advised on the draft.
Just days after Worboys asserted he would seek “urgent advice” from senior police in the area, the plan was axed, with a NSW Health spokesperson asserting the government “agreed not to progress a specific order for Aboriginal communities after consideration of the social and economic impacts.”