NSW Deputy Police Commissioner blocked a plan to protect First Nations communities against the COVID-19 outbreak.
ABC News reported today that NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Gary Worboys swayed the state government to reject a plan to protect vulnerable Aboriginal communities against the COVID-19 outbreak.
An outbreak which saw the death of at least 15 First Nations peoples.
It’s alleged that in 2020, NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant approved a draft public health order, the Aboriginal Communities order, which would provide remote communities the power to decide when to enter lockdowns and restrict movement into and between towns.
The order mirrored federal emergency laws that saw the NSW Police and the Australian Defence Force deployed into western NSW and far west NSW communities.
According to leaked emails, obtained by ABC News, Deputy Commissioner Worboys opposed the plan reasoning that it was “impossible” for police to enforce.
The Deputy Commissioner emailed on April 9 that he was “not in favour” and did not support the measures.
“I would like to understand where does the ‘support’ for such an order rest with in (sic) communities,” he wrote.
In a later email, Deputy Commissioner Worboys said the order “would be impossible to ‘police’ 24/7”.
In late April, after being advised by the NSW Police, NSW Health and the Aboriginal Affairs Department, the NSW Government rejected Aboriginal Communities order.
In a statement, NSW Health said that “some remote Aboriginal communities initially requested additional local Public Health Orders” to restrict travel and “protect them from COVID-19”.
They said the request was “considered” by NSW Health in consultation with “various groups” which included the Centre for Aboriginal Health, Aboriginal Affairs NSW, and NSW Police.
“Following this consultation, it was agreed not to progress a specific order for Aboriginal communities after consideration of the social and economic impacts of such an order,” the spokesperson said.
“This included potential impacts on the provision of essential goods and services, the impact of restricting movement to and from specific communities, particularly in relation to cultural activities and the potential impacts of enforcement and penalties.
“The NSW Government was also advised by Aboriginal people and through local emergency management committees that restricting Aboriginal communities from moving across traditional lands would be an unreasonable restriction on cultural activities.”
These revelations contradict requests made by Walgett’s Dharriwaa Elders Group who called on government to “do all they can to help stop the spread of the virus in Walgett and surrounding communities” on August 12 of this year.
In March 2020, Maari Ma Aboriginal Health Corporation’s chief executive Bob Davis wrote to Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt warning him and the Morrison Government of the potential dangers of an outbreak.
Davis warned the Federal Government of the impact of inaction on the local Aboriginal community.
“The poverty and extreme vulnerability of Aboriginal people and communities in the Murdi Paaki region is a direct result of decades of failed government policies,” he wrote.
“I’m sure you can understand our anxiety that these failures not continue, or worsen, throughout the COVID-19 crisis.”
Currently, it’s reported that 15 Aboriginal people have died in NSW from COVID-19, with 6,000 Aboriginal people being infected with the virus since the start of the Delta outbreak.
By Rachael Knowles