Vax Outback Press Conference with Ernie Dingo

Minister for Indigenous Australians

Minister Wyatt: West Australia is lagging behind the rest of the country. Only 48% of people have their first dose in the Aboriginal communities across the regions and within our urban centres. The Pilbara is only 36%, with 19% having double vaccination. Now if we’re headed towards an 80% mark for opening up WA somewhere between 80 and 90 and we open, that leaves our communities with low vaccination rates extremely vulnerable, and in the process, we’ve been looking at all of the Strategies, But The thing that works the most is when our communities have a trusted person they can hear the story from about what the virus is or vaccination does. Then that changes the way in which they engage. There has certainly been fear mongering through social media, and that is in papers. But by engaging someone like Ernie Dingo who is a well-known individual right across this country. But whose country is [inaudible] sending his family through the Pilbara region. He will make a difference. Having Ernie involved means that he’ll be able to sit with people tell the story, enjoy all those cups of tea that he’ll have, the damper. But it means that he will get a message that would encourage people to lift those vaccination rates from that low 36%. We can’t afford for any Aboriginal community to be infected by COVID-19. We already have two individuals in the Northern Territory from remote communities, one from a remote community, one from Katherine – have been identified as having COVID-19. So this is an important measure that the National Indigenous Australians Agency and the Australian Government are doing within the region. I’d like to invite Ernie to come forward and him to share with you what he intends doing, and I look forward to having a cup of tea with him if I get up to the Pilbara while he’s up there.

Ernie Dingo Thank you Minister. Yeah, I acknowledge the Whadjuk country that we’re standing and start this journey on. We’re going to some beautiful country up in the Pilbara region – [inaudible] starting in Hedland, yeah we got a good little team together in regards to going up there. It is very alarming in regards to the numbers, I think about 10 thousand black fellas aren’t vaccinated [inaudible] this state. We need to get these numbers up. Sadly, we’ve lost a few of our Elders and story tellers, and those important members of our families. Now it’s going to be a lot of fun, a lot of yarning. A lot of business going on at the moment that happens every year in the Pilbara region and we need to be aware of that, but it’s most important that we go to these communities, And so they’re not isolated, they feel isolated, and by not coming out they feel even more isolated. Going to these communities, yarning with them, seeing where they are at and see where the numbers are at, and hopefully finding solutions that through vaccination, can go back to community and then return to their home bases. In one way, it’s going to be a lot of fun. On the other side of it, there’s so many numbers, alarming numbers that we’re looking at. Hopefully with the crew that we have, sit down and yarn, spend a month up in the Pilbara for this first leg, and go back again in January to another place where you have a [inaudible] just to sit down and have a yarn, with selfies or whatever it is and talking about the importance of where we want to go in this state, In regards to our one community getting vaccinated for Future generations. It’s that vulnerability age that the younger generation and the Elder generation where we need to protect and look forward to having a longer life and a lot more about people being vaccinated so that there is a strength for down the line. Other than that, we take off tomorrow, I am going to try to get up there and get ready and the boys are coming in, the crew are coming in from Queensland, we’ll meet in Hedland this Friday. [Inaudible]. This is a lot of the mining companies, the health programs throughout the Midwest, and all the government agencies, they’re all through the Pilbara. They know we’re coming; radio, television. They know we’re coming. And so they’ve been working hard over the last couple of months. Not only doing what I’m doing, but then actually getting things done. I’m sorry I can’t have a cup of tea with you.

Journalist: Can you explain, with how worryingly low the rates are if an outbreak was to occur in those communities, how bad would it be?

Ernie Dingo: So, That’s the problem at the moment, we just had news about the Katherine, Northern Territory community members that have been infected. If that happens in our State, especially up where my family is, in my view you know, there’s a lot of families that are being impacted by this disease. We have community members up there at the moment that are going from home to the next community for business, and not knowing, and they have to duck into town to get supplies and get back to these meetings that they’re having at the moment, and that would be unfortunate if that situation had happened. With having the vaccination, you’re staying ahead of it, and I think there’s a booster coming up as well. But first dose and second dose – get those up to a respectable number, a good cricket score rather than keeping down [inaudible]. It was pretty tragic, in a lot of ways that we have all this stuff around us, there’s a lot of communities and businesses coming into places as well as medical services and Indigenous community organisations that are working hard, just need a little bit more of a highlight to get it looking like its capable.

Journalist: Is it mainly the remoteness that is making it hard? Or the element of mistrust, or not understanding, what is it?

Ernie Dingo: Combination of it all. Isolation, yes, mistrust, yes, there’s a lot of people speaking on behalf of the other people that, you know, positive and negative. And so it’s disregarding all the negatives you hear about stuff. People don’t sit down and talk with a lot of Elders, and that’s what the issue is. They’re going on what other people say. And it’s a slow pace, but you gotta be able to sit. You learn more by never asking the question, but in this case, we want to speed things up. So sitting down with the elders and yarning with them, from a family point of view. I have two of my family that’s coming with me, same surname, to me that’s a little bit of a barrier on my side of it, there’s more than one of me. The other crew, there’s a local, Curtis. He’s from the Pilbara region, got a couple boys coming in from South Australia, who work for me on the other side of the country. So yeah, the people that are chosen are laid back in a lot of ways, to get that message across, this fella behind me is another one of our supporters in the metropolitan area as well, he’s flat out at the moment, I was hoping that he could bring his guitar out there and just sit down around the fireplace, and do a concert every night and forget the reason why we’re there. It’s good to have all this back up around, but it’s also important that we have the security [inaudible] whether they do or not at least we’ll have an understanding.

Journalist: You mentioned before how long do you anticipate being out there [inaudible].

Ernie Dingo: At the moment we’ve got 6 crew, we’ve got our senior officer back in Queensland, doing all the paperwork and doing all the contacts to Minister’s office, not only through the Minister’s office, but all through the Pilbara where we’re going, there’s a lot of government agencies up there, can’t wait for us to get up there but also, to say hello and drop in for coffee and tea at the moment, and have that sort of relaxed atmosphere that we sit down and yarn with people. Go in there for a meeting and telling people, ‘this is what we’re gonna do’ not many people are gonna turn up, but if you go to their communities or their environments or their homes, or wherever they are, and talk to them, you’ve come a long way so it might take an hour before we get a first sentence or a first question, that’s why [inaudible]. Sit down and relax, and when they know that you’re quiet and ready they tell you things. [Inaudible].

Minister Wyatt: Thank you.

Journalist: Have you got targets in mind? Or is it just as many as you can possibly get?

Minister Wyatt: Well the target has to be comparable with the State targets. Because if you don’t then we’ll have pockets of vulnerability. Because it’s not only just the Pilbara, in the wheatbelt region of WA we have low vaccination rates in Indigenous families. And across the metropolitan area, the LGA the City of Swan is another key area. So we’re targeting by LGAs all of those areas where we have vulnerabilities, and it’s an important strategy. It is the point that Ernie made, about sitting down and then having a yarn, the vaccine is like a warrior in your body, it’ll fight COVID-19, and it will protect you, because the flip side of this is long COVID. And long COVID is the long term injury that happens to your body.

Journalist: There’s been reports of extreme Religious Groups flying in and spreading misinformation, and spreading the wrong message to these communities, how do you combat that?

Minister Wyatt: Well actually Pat Turner, who is the CEO of NACCHO and I have been working very closely with Indigenous pastors right across the nation. And having them counter that message. Ray Minniecon has done is a video clip that talks about the use of one of the scriptures which is about love and demonstrating love. So what he’s done is he’s said by doing and following my belief I am going to give love to my sister, to my brother, to my mother, father, family by having the vaccine. And that’s how you counter those extreme messages, a lot of them come out of America.

Journalist: Given WA has reopened [inaudible]

Minister Wyatt: Look, I think one of the strengths was that we closed the border, however that also creates the false sense that we are safe. And by having the borders closed the virus might try and come over the border. And we’ve seen it happen, we’ve just been extremely fortunate. Because we’ve not had COVID spread through the communities from drivers who’d come from interstate. The trouble is, it’s also created in the community’s minds that they’re going to be safe because they’re isolated. They won’t be. The two cases in the Northern Territory show that in Robinson River, it is an isolated community, and it is a positive case. And so the Northern Territory have taken steps to ensure that a rapid response team has been sent out to Robinson River to test people and to protect that community from the spread of COVID. We’re not isolated anywhere in this nation, doesn’t matter where you live, we have the possibility of coming in contact with the virus, so we have to use a whole raft of stuff, along with the ACCHOs and WA health. We’re working Commonwealth and State collectively together [inaudible]

Journalist: [inaudible]

Minister Wyatt: Look, I think we’ve got to be more than just closing the border. We have to look at all of the strategies that are preventable. Those measures that we can action, we’re going to also have individuals who will not vaccinate. And that’s their choice. But in the Aboriginal community, we’re the most vulnerable given their complex health issues. This is an important step in making sure we keep those protected. The rate of 48% 36% is too low. I mean it’s two thirds of the people there are highly vulnerable to potential death if they get the delta strain we’ve lost 16 nationally, and most instances they were unvaccinated, whereas those who have been vaccinated, who have come into contact with COVID have experienced the symptoms, but we haven’t lost another story teller. When we lose our people we lose our language.

Journalist: How concerned are you that we might have an outbreak?

Minister Wyatt: Look I’m concerned for any outbreak, because we saw in the top end of New South Wales, that outbreak spread rapidly. And whilst we had [inaudible] Wilcannia created major issues because of access to sites that could be used to isolate people. So WA faces the same challenge and our health system at the moment is challenged so if we have an increase of an outbreak in a community that’s going to put immense pressure on the health system

Journalist: [inaudible]

Minister Wyatt: We have, we’ve got a program in 15 languages, so First Nation’s media, the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services, we’ve also made some video clips, and the Aboriginal pastors are making video footage for us as well. And Commonwealth Health has made some key messaging that is also going through television. So we’re using all the avenues including media. We’re doing as many interviews as possible, on radio. So anticipating in the Pilbara, Ngaarda Radio will certainly interview Ernie, and have a yarn with him about what he’s doing. [inaudible] I think a young fellow I spoke to in the community said to me I want to get the vaccine, because I want warriors in my bloodstream to fight COVID, and that’s how he described the vaccine, he described it as a warrior to kill COVID. Which is a beautiful way of describing protecting yourself.

Journalist: [inaudible]

Minister Wyatt: Just on the stores, let me say that Outback Stores and Sue Gordan, who many of you know is the Chairman of Outback Stores and she’s encouraged with her directors for all the directors to be vaccinated but all of her staff, and where there were a couple that didn’t want vaccinations, they’ve moved them out of communities where if they have COVID they could spread the infection. And then some of the remote community stores are the same – all staff are vaccinated. There will be a [inaudible] and we’ll have to work that through. Food security is important, and we’ll continue to work on the raft of strategies across both commonwealth and state governments.

Journalist: And then what about overcrowding?

Minister Wyatt: Overcrowding is a major issue, certainly in the remote communities and there are housing programs that the Commonwealth has previously funded, that the state and territory has [inaudible] within Indigenous communities. The Territory is embarking on a housing program which will see a reduction in people living in crowded houses. But the other important part is washing your hands, because when we first had COVID every West Australian and the majority of Australians were washing our hands frequently, we were using sanitizer, and we didn’t see the influenza, we washed away the sickness, so hygiene is absolutely critical. And it’s the same in a crowded house, wash your hands. Can I thank you all for being here, because this is an important message we need to get out for aboriginal people, [inaudible] with Commissioner Dawson, who is now coordinating the COVID-19 response, and he is certainly visiting people within the regions and within the metropolitan area, let’s hope we don’t have an adverse reaction.

Journalist: Sorry just before you go, there are reports that Christian Porter maybe be considering leaving politics and pursuing law, do you know anything about that?

Minister Wyatt: No, only other than what I saw in the West Australian, at the moment that’s speculation. But let me say Christian Porter has made an incredible contribution to this State and at the National level, he’s been immersed in many of the reports, and to see the loss of that talent out of the political arena is sad, but there are choices that we all make as individuals, if he has made that decision than I will support him and his decision, but it happens to every Member at some stage, where we make the decision to step out of [inaudible] smell the roses, breathe the air and enjoy the time as your own.

/Public Release. View in full here.