West Australian Premier Mark McGowan says white supremacists based in the United States of America are targeting Aboriginal communities in Australia with misinformation about COVID-19 vaccinations.

He made the comments while visiting the WA Goldfields region as part of the state’s push to increase vaccination rates in the area.

“There’s been some misinformation provided to Aboriginal people from people who do not have their best interests at heart,” McGowan said.

“We heard from one Aboriginal person who said white supremacist groups are sending information to Aboriginal people that they shouldn’t get vaccinated.”

“Now, the suspicion is these white supremacist groups out of America wouldn’t be unhappy if bad outcomes occurred to the health of Aboriginal people in Australia, so that’s the problem we face.”

The Premier said those spreading such misinformation do not have Aboriginal people’s interests at heart.

“I urge people to listen to the experts, the experts say the vaccine is safe, it is effective and it will save people’s lives,” he said.

Wongatha pastor Geoffrey Stokes said the amount of information circulating in the community that was based on conspiracy theories was worrying.

Earlier in the year he received a number of emails targeting Aboriginal people with conspiracy theories about COVID-19 vaccines on behalf of a person claiming to be from a religious network in Australia.

Stokes said the sender stopped sending the emails after he publicly spoke out against the spread of misinformation.

Despite this he said the number of Aboriginal people getting vaccinated in Kalgoorlie-Boulder and surrounding areas was slowly rising because of the government mandate that covers 75 per cent of the state’s workforce.

“Most are getting the needle so they can keep their jobs,” he said.

Stokes said he was aware some of the information Aboriginal people in the Goldfields were basing their opinions about the vaccine on, had come via America.

“All of a sudden they are getting all this stuff from elsewhere telling us stuff,” he said.

According to Stokes, most people were receiving information via Facebook and emails and then sharing it through word of mouth.

He asked people not to take notice of such information, labelling the situation sad and disappointing.

“They’ll do anything to get rid of Aboriginal people, it doesn’t matter what country.”

While he said he was not overly confident that the Goldfields region would reach the state’s 90 per cent vaccination target to re-open, he was hopeful.

The WA Premier has stated if vaccination rates in certain pars of the state did not improve, highlighting the Goldfields, Pilbara and Kimberley regions in particular, those areas could face additional restrictions on their movements and access to those places when the state’s border restrictions ease next year.

McGowan’s comments are not the first to put international groups at the centre of  conversations around COVID-19 vaccinations in Australia.

Last month Northern Territory’s Chief Minister Michael Gunner hit back at false online claims about Aboriginal people from the remote Aboriginal communities of Binjari and Rockhole being forcibly detained and being held down and vaccinated.

The recent Northern Territory COVID-19 outbreak has seen those two communities locked down in an effort to reduce transmission of the virus.

The Territory last week recorded its first recorded death from COVID-19, a woman in her 70s from Binjari.

The Australian Defence Force also made a statement saying it was concerned about the disinformation regarding the ADF support to remote communities in the Northern Territory.

“Our people serve in a supporting role to the NT authorities. They do not conduct enforcement activities,” Commander of the Joint Task Group, Colonel Tim Rutherford.

He said the Australian Defence Force was providing welfare support including delivery of food, supplies and transportation of community members to medical appointments.

“We are happy to do whatever we can to support the NT Police in Binjari. The work being done, by all agencies on the ground, is preventing the spread of COVID-19 and will save lives.”

Last year University of Tasmania Humanities lecturer Kaz Ross noted that far-right groups were using the pandemic to expand their footprint in Australia in a piece published on The Conversation.

“Far-right extremism is not a new phenomenon in Australia, but it has certainly been on the rise in the past year in response to federal and state governments’ handling of the coronavirus pandemic,” she wrote.

By Aleisha Orr