The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling for further support for Aboriginal communities responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

VACCHO wrote on behalf of their 32 members, who have been working to ensure community safety. In Victoria, there were a total of 68 confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the Aboriginal community, with 61 recovered cases and 7 currently active.

VACCHO considers the low incident rate a testament to the Aboriginal community-controlled sector, however, they have noted that sustained and further support is necessary to continue this success.

The organisation welcomed the Federal Government’s funding commitment of $123 million to the Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander sector to increase COVID-19 responses, but is concerned about the distribution of funding.

“Our concerns are that the Commonwealth resources don’t get sprinkled down so our community, individual people, can access,” said VACCHO CEO, Jill Gallagher AO.

“Within the funding package, $25 million is specifically directed to remote communities to which Victoria has only one according to Commonwealth funding guidelines.

“And, $50 million is specifically for Indigenous businesses to which Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) only have partial access. This leaves $48 million for the ACCO sector across the nation inclusive of remote areas.”

Gallagher said whilst remote communities need funding, so do urban and regional areas.

“Government believes remote Aboriginal communities need more resources than Aboriginal people who live in urban and rural areas because we have major hospitals around the corner, so to speak.”

“Just because we have major facilities, that doesn’t mean access is easy for Aboriginal people,” she said.

“Coming out of COVID, one of the big issues for us is how do we bring people out of isolation? How do we bring people who need to go see a podiatrist but right now they’re too scared to? Or someone who needs to check their diabetes because at the moment they’re not maintaining their general health? That can be a big dilemma for us, bringing people out of isolation and getting them back into the system.”

On August 17, the Federal Government announced $31.9 million in funding for 15 mental health clinics across Victoria. With 24 Aboriginal Health Services across the state, Gallagher noted the alternative option of investing in these centres to deliver these services to community.

“We already have infrastructure on the ground in these places,” she said.

“Just because we are Aboriginal organisations, doesn’t mean we can’t provide services to mainstream.”

“For example, the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) in Fitzroy, they are the only Aboriginal organisation which is a respiratory clinic here in Melbourne. But they service all human beings.”

The letter to the Prime Minister called for:

  • An additional response package of at least $23 million to support urban and regional Victorian Aboriginal communities during COVID-19 to match the revenue and support provided by the Victorian Government, including targeted funding for Aboriginal controlled aged care and early learning centres
  • Further work be done on the long-term viability of Aboriginal early years services
  • Additional work to develop risk mitigation strategies to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in Aboriginal early years and aged care services
  • Automatic inclusion for Victorian ACCOs in accessing the JobKeeper program
  • A redirection of COVID-19 funding that is provided to Victorian Primary Health Networks (PHNs) to be funded directly to VACCHO to support ACCOs
  • The Commonwealth to match all future or projected Victorian state recovery and rebuilding funding
  • Medicare Benefits Scheme mapping to quantify the income loss sustained by ACCO primary health clinics, the support for this shortfall be included in a Victorian funding package, and that the outcome of this mapping be made public to ACCOs.

VACCHO sent the letter to the Prime Minister on July 29. They have received no formal response.

It’s understood Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, Ben Morton, is responding to VACCHO. NIT reached out to Minister Morton’s office for comment, however, no response was received by time of publication. The Office of the Prime Minister declined to comment.

By Rachael Knowles