Interview with Mark Patrick, Noongar Radio, Perth

Minister for Indigenous Australians

Mark Patrick: I’ve got Minister Ken Wyatt on the line ready to talk about COVID vaccinations. Welcome to Noongar radio.

Minister Wyatt: Good morning. It’s great to be on Noongar radio again with you Mark.

Mark Patrick: Since we spoke last time, has the vaccine rollout improved?

Minister Wyatt: It has. In the ACT, Julie Tongs from Winnunga has done a brilliant job with the health officials. They now have an 80 percent double vaccinated figure for all Indigenous people in the ACT. New South Wales is now 75 double dosed. WA is only 30 per cent double dosed. So we’re way down.

Mark Patrick: That’s a real concern because, we got this, and most people aren’t really aware, it’s called long COVID, do you want to talk a bit about that?

Minister Wyatt: Yes, Long COVID is something that Pat Turner and I, who’s chair, CEO of NACCO, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation, has read a couple of papers on this, and that was going to ask one of the authors to think about what that means for Indigenous Australians, given our co-morbidities and health status.

We do know that there is liver damage, kidney damage. Your diabetes becomes worse, but there is also damage to other organs. And some people lose their sense of smell. But there are some other complications too now that are starting to slowly show up as people have a longer time since catching COVID.

So scientists and researchers are now looking at the long term impact

Mark Patrick: There’s a lot of concern about the rates, I was talking before about the rates in remote areas, particularly in the Pilbara where there’s some of the lowest rates in the country, who’s responsible for this and what is the Federal Government doing to boost those numbers?

Minister Wyatt: Well, there’s a couple of things. Greg Hunt is responsible for Health, but work very closely with him and the National Indigenous Australians agency, and we’re working closely with Pat Turner and all the Aboriginal community controlled health services. But they only cover so many locations, we have a lot of communities where there’s no ACCHO, so we rely very heavily on States and territory governments. I had a Minister in one jurisdiction who made a comment that it was fundamentally a Commonwealth responsibility, it’s not. We are citizens of a state or territory and we’re entitled to programmes that are being provided by states and territories. So it’s a shared responsibility. But we also, as people, have to take responsibility and say, I want to protect myself, I want to have the vaccine.

Mark Patrick: When we’re talking about areas where it’s very remote, and travelling the areas is fairly difficult even at the best of times, is there any way the Federal Government could maybe help the State Government to get the facilities to move around the area and systemically vaccinate people?

Minister Wyatt: Well we have been using the Royal Fling Doctor Service and they have been working closely with the ACCHOs in the Kimberley and certainly in the Pilbara region. In New South Wales, where we have the outbreak, we had the ADF, the Australian Defence Force, and we also had AUSMAT out there. And so the combination of all of those, including the WA health offered people to do contact tracing. So we made a contribution to help with the New South Wales issue. We tend to combine all of our efforts to try and reduce the impact.

But the problem is we’ve got to get people to say I want to be immunised against COVID 19. It’s a vaccine. And let me say COVID vaccines have been around for a while because what researchers are trying to do in pharmaceuticals is find cures for the viruses. Now they’ve done that with Hep C, the Hep C virus. There’s a 95 per cent cure rate from hepatitis C, with the new medications that are in place.

So that they are working on the virus and understand how the virus works. That’s why we were able to have a vaccine fairly quickly to help us manage COVID, otherwise our hospitals would just be full of people.

Mark Patrick: The hospitals all over Australia are under strain at the moment and that’s pretty well known, the AMA has come out and said that. Is there any way that the Federal Government, could, I don’t know – since this financial situation with the Federal Government and the states is so complicated, how is it that the Federal Government would be able to actually assist State Governments around Australia to be able to increase the availability of health systems in each state?

Minister Wyatt: Well the Prime Minister has already announced states that open up will get additional funding to help with any increase on pressure on hospitals.

But there are other challenges having enough doctors and nurses because we do have shortages of doctors and nurses, but, those who work within those systems are doing an outstanding job, and I want to give a shout out to all doctors and nurses and Aboriginal health workers because they are working extremely hard to make sure people get vaccinated. And our mob in particular.

Don’t think that you can wait until you get COVID and then have the vaccine. (Inaudible) to work and then you are protected. And then the second one, just boosts that protection. It’s like putting warriors in your bloodstream, fighting the virus when it comes in.

Mark Patrick: Exactly okay I want to talk about something else before you go, homelessness. Homelessness is probably one of the key factors in morbidity of First Nations people around Australia. Homelessness is such a huge problem in our country and it really should be the case. This country is really very rich. We should be building more and better public housing, providing higher rent relief for those privately renting, emergency housing. What sort of country does this? That’s my question. It’s ridiculous. And remember back in the 60s and 70s when there was public housing available for people who wanted to get into public housing, there was a queue but it wasn’t years it was only months.

Minister Wyatt: You’re right on that. And I do remember Robert Isaacs when he was in charge of Aboriginal housing. There was a queue but it wasn’t long. Now what we’re seeing is more homeless people, and certainly when I’ve been out in the city and into places where they have the kitchens or meals for the evening, I’ve been yarning with some of our people who just can’t get housing. Now we, as a Federal Member, I have people in my electorate come and see me and we work to help them try and get housing. But I’m told that there is a two year waiting list for public housing in WA, and it’s that’s for emergency type situations, but it’s even longer. Now the Commonwealth…

Mark Patrick: About those emergency type things, is that the criteria is so strict.

Minister Wyatt: Look the states and territories really need to utilise the funding that the Commonwealth provides through national partnership agreements, social housing and homelessness, and we provide substantial funding.

Mark Patrick: But the situation doesn’t appear to be working

Minister Wyatt: Well part of the pressure has to be brought to bear on the relevant state ministers because if the Commonwealth provides funding for housing, and we would expect them and I would expect in terms of where there are Aboriginal people who meet the circumstances of social housing or homelessness, they should be given the opportunity of having shelter because I’m saying to many on the street and…

Mark Patrick: there’s far too many. I see them every morning I’m going to work at 4am and most of them are wandering the street because they’ve got nowhere to go.

Minister Wyatt: You only have to go out to Midland in the evening or early morning to see plenty of people who are homeless. And we’ve had a couple of homeless forums and the non-government organisations that help are frustrated at not being how to get accommodation for people, that’s why some of our mob end up in jail because they need a roof over their head.

Mark Patrick: Exactly. (Inaudible) because they want a roof over their head they go out and commit a crime simply because they want shelter.

Minister Wyatt: And I’ll have people say that to me as well. I’ve had a couple of family members who are relatives that have gone into that system, and they’ve gone in because they’ve not had accommodation and it easier to spend a little time in jail during the cold period.

Mark Patrick: Exactly.

Minister Wyatt: (inaudible) a lot more work together. And certainly I know that Minister Sukkar has been picking up the issues around Indigenous housing because of the Closing the Gap agreement has a target in there that is to do with housing and there is a need for everybody to come on board and make sure that the funding set aside for housing is used for housing.

Mark Patrick: … I’m very tired, and I know that a lot of other people are very tired because they’ve actually said it to me, places that are there that are meant to be providing housing, seem to just be providing administration. There are office blocks with people filling out paper and nothing actually gets done.

Minister Wyatt: And part of the frustration, too, is people are applying, they keep applying, and told “you’re on the waiting list, you’re on the waiting list,” – they’re not given any certainty. And I don’t know how they’ve survived so long on the streets. And there are some behaviour that is anti-social towards the homeless which also doesn’t also doesn’t augur well in a country like ours.

Mark Patrick: People see to look down on people that are homeless, and that’s just the way it is. Everyone’s been indoctrinated into the system, and anyone who doesn’t fit into the system is looked down upon.

Minister Wyatt: Well the issue is most people don’t understand the circumstances that people end up being homeless. So there’s a whole range of issues. It’s go nothing to do with colour of skin. It’s got to do with circumstances in life. And then all of a sudden you find yourself homeless. I know a businessman who ended up being homeless, because things went belly up for him.

Mark Patrick: The situation is insidious. It needs to be more transparent and state and Federal governments to be actually working together on it. I don’t see why that is a difficulty.

Minister Wyatt: It’s not, and we will continue to do that because I talk with state and territory ministers for Aboriginal affairs on these issues and in every state and territory now has signed up to the Closing the Gap targets. They’ll report in their own Parliaments. I’ll be interested to see what the parliament’s report on is on housing in WA when they tabled the Closing The Gap statement.

Mark Patrick: (inaudible) I really appreciate you coming on. Will you come on again?

Minister Wyatt: Yeah I will do. I’m in home isolation at the moment because I’ve been in Canberra and I’ve returned. But when I get out of home isolation I’d love to come to catch up with you face to face in the studio.

Mark Patrick: I’d love to have you here. Ok Minister Ken Wyatt, our Indigenous Minister in the Federal Government… Thank you for being with us Ken I really appreciate it.

Minister Wyatt: Mark, just before we go can I just remind people that Bunnings this weekend at Balcatta, Cannington, Ellenbrook, Harrisdale, Mindarie & Rockingham will have clinics set up and you can go and have your immunisation for COVID-19.

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