Please note: This story contains reference to someone who has died.

 

New South Wales Deputy Premier John Barilaro has compared Wilcannia community members who attended a funeral to “dickhead” partygoers who broke public health orders in Sydney’s east.

Addressing regional media via conference call on Tuesday, the Deputy Premier compared the 300 community members who came together to mourn at a funeral in Wilcannia in the State’s far west, to the 16 people who were fined for attending an illegal party in Sydney’s coastal suburb of Maroubra.

“Three hundred-plus people attended a funeral in Wilcannia, illegally you could argue. Illegally,” Barilaro said.

“And we’re now paying the price of that outbreak, and whatever resources you could’ve prepared for I don’t think you could’ve ever prepared for such an outcome.

“[It’s] no different to the 16 dickheads in Maroubra that decided to have a party last week that have now infected about 50 people.”

The Deputy Premier said public health orders are in place to “protect people” despite people who seem to “want to breach the rules”.

“With the restrictions we’ve put in place and the inability of people doing the QR codes, not socially distancing, has caused an outbreak,” he said.

“It’s a seeding event. That’s the truth. That’s the truth of the matter.”

Mr Barilaro’s comments followed comments from his colleague NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard at a COVID-19 media conference on Saturday.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard. Photo via Facebook.

During the conference, he said there were people in the State who “don’t seem to give a damn”.

“Each and every one of your doctors, the nurses, your administration people … the cleaners, are all having their lives in a very precarious position as a result of a number of people who are deliberately, deliberately, not complying with what they’ve been asked to do,” he said.

“In the case of the funeral that occurred in western New South Wales, many of those people are now returned to the far-flung parts of our State.”

The Health Minister also alleged there were up to 500 people at the funeral.

The Minister has since expressed “regret” for his comments.

Whilst both politicians had accused funeral attendees of breaching COVID-19 public health orders, NSW Police has confirmed the event was completely legal.

The funeral complied with public health orders at the time and NSW Police were aware of its happening.

Wilcannia man and brother of the deceased person, Daryl Bugmy, told ABC News he would like an apology.

“Police were there and knew the gathering was happening. Why didn’t the police intervene or stop it from happening [if it was illegal]?” he said.

“I would like an apology, and the community would like an apology, for saying that we were illegally gathering.”

“Yes, there are restrictions in Sydney, people weren’t allowed to illegally gather. There were no restrictions out here at the time of my little brother’s funeral.”

Bugmy said if the State Government had installed restrictions previous to Wilcannia’s COVID-19 outbreak, “the outbreak wouldn’t have occurred, and we wouldn’t have such a crisis on our hands in the little, small community of Wilcannia and surrounding areas”.

Both Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney and Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe have backed Bugmy’s calls for an apology.

“The comparison made by Mr Barilaro are false and undermine public health efforts, and he should clarify his remarks and apologise,” said Ms Burney.

Senator Thorpe described the Deputy Premier’s comments as “overwhelmingly disrespectful”.

“If the NSW Deputy Premier knew what his government’s public health orders were, he would know that the funeral in Wilcannia was legal and compliant with public health orders,” she said.

“It’s overwhelmingly disrespectful for the Deputy Premier to point the finger at people in mourning, when his government have only vaccinated 14.8 per cent of First Nations people in NSW despite our people being a priority group since December 2020.

“He needs to do the right thing and apologise to the people who he has caused harm to.”

Mr Barilaro told NIT his comments were “taken out of context”.

“I was advised of a funeral in Wilcannia where between 100 and 350 people attended, some of which travelled from locked down areas, therefore breaking stay-at-home orders,” he said.

The Deputy Premier said his intention was “never to place blame” and that he apologises for “any confusion or offence caused”.

“I was referring specifically to an illegal event in Maroubra and I was not drawing a comparison to the event at Wilcannia.”

By Rachael Knowles