“The right information isn’t getting out to community to protect our mob.” 

These were the words of Yamatji Noongar woman and Greens Senator for WA, Dorinda Cox in light of the revelation the Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA had been wrongly advising its members that Traditional Owners carrying out work on site were not subject to the State Government’s vaccine mandate and therefore did not have to be vaccinated.

The National Indigenous Times last week confirmed with the WA Health Department that Traditional Owners employed to carry out heritage work on mine sites do fall under the mandate.

Senator Cox said communities need to be properly informed about rules around vaccines, testing and quarantining.

“The correct information is vital in these uncertain times and those in Government need to do better to keep First Nations people safe.”

A WA Health Department spokesman told the National Indigenous Times while Traditional Owners visiting or travelling across Country were not subject to the mandate, those being paid to carry out heritage work are subject to it.

It is understood while many arrangements for Traditional Owners to carry out such work is done by employing them through a third party, some mining companies pay Traditional Owners in cash and may not technically fulfil the definition of a ‘worker.’

Those covered by the mandate were required to have had their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccination by December 1.

Senator Cox said the low vaccination rates in WA’s remote regions leave First Nations people “extremely vulnerable when the borders open when this unforgiving virus enters our State”.

“The risk for communities is too great without proper infrastructure for quarantining in regional towns and communities and the state of the public health system prevention must be the best priority,” she said.

“Given the new approach to ‘living with Covid’ means that we all must be clear of the rules including vaccines, testing and quarantining. These need to be translatable for TOs into language and plain English.”

It is understood WA Police are not yet investigating any breaches of the public health directions that call for all workers on WA mine sites to be vaccinated, despite a likelihood that some mining companies may have been allowing unvaccinated Traditional Owners onto their sites since the start of December. 

The National Indigenous Times contacted the WA Vaccine Commander’s office about the matter and instead of receiving a response from WA Police, received a response on behalf of a Government spokesperson.

They did not say if any breaches of the directions were being investigated instead that, “WA Police will investigate alleged breaches of these directions at the request of WA Health.”

The spokesperson reiterated that those conducting heritage surveys at these sites in a paid capacity had to adhere to the mandate but also pointed out that the Health Department was taking a closer look at the Directions in regard to Traditional Owners.

“WA Health is working to clarify the intent of directions for workers on remote resources sites, including Traditional Owners undertaking these surveys,” the spokesperson said.

They said the department would liaise further with stakeholders about the matter.

This comes as the WA Government yesterday announced a third booster shot would now also be required as part of its vaccine mandates that cover a number of industries.

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy WA has not responded to questions previously posed by the National Indigenous Times about the matter.

By Aleisha Orr