With the news cycle churning out story after story on the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s been difficult to decipher which restrictions are being implemented to protect Indigenous Australians.

For the past month, Australians have been bombarded with mixed messages and spontaneous press conferences from the country’s leaders concerning this serious pandemic.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced more severe restrictions on Sunday night, including:

  • Closing non-essential services such as gyms, pubs, cinemas and restaurants
  • Avoiding non-essential travel
  • Increasing Centrelink payments, including doubling Newstart.

For Indigenous communities, on Friday Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, said the National Cabinet had agreed to restrict travel into all remote Indigenous communities to prevent spreading COVID-19.

Minister Wyatt said the decision came after the WA Government implemented similar measures as well as the NT Government looking to do the same.

In WA, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ben Wyatt, said Remote Community Pandemic Plans will be developed in partnership with community leaders to “empower Aboriginal people to regulate visitors” to their communities.

“The State Government will continue to work closely with our Aboriginal communities to ensure the provision of health and emergency services, and food and other supplies,” Minister Ben Wyatt said.

Fines of up to $50,000 will apply should the new measures be breached.

Announcing the National Cabinet’s move in line with WA, Minister Ken Wyatt said remoteness and isolation “offer opportunities for delaying or potentially preventing an outbreak” of the virus.

“However, high mobility of community members and a reliance on visiting and outreach activities and services increase the risk of COVID-19 occurring in these communities,” Minister Ken Wyatt said.

The new emergency requirement will allow each State and Territory to nominate a decision maker to permit people to come and go from communities, but only in specific circumstances such as:

  • To obtain medical care or medical supplies
  • In the event of an emergency
  • To obtain critical services such as mental health or domestic violence support, emergency services, food, maintenance and repairs of essential services, education
  • In accordance with the relevant remote community pandemic plan.

It remains to be seen how these discretionary powers given to “decision makers” will impact communities during this time.

While the National Cabinet seems to have coordinated a response to stopping the spread to remote Indigenous communities, there remains to be a timeline to implement these measures, with Minister Wyatt saying they will be “implemented as soon as possible”.


Work for the dole changes

The Community Development Programme (CDP) is also changing, with face-to-face service requirements being removed to limit travel needs between remote communities.

CDP providers have also been instructed to reassess risks for activities such as work experience placements, with each activity being assessed on a case-by-case basis.

The National Indigenous Australians Agency has told providers to refrain from job seeker compliance actions like financial penalties while new measures are being put in place.

“I have also put in place arrangements to lift any existing suspensions and penalties for CDP job seekers,” Minister Wyatt said.

By Hannah Cross