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Byron Shire
September 29, 2021

The failure of government and its messaging

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Bob Morgan

The alleged illegal arrival of the COVID-19 infected real estate mogul from Rose Bay in the Byron and other Northern Rivers shires, as well as the recent outbreak of COVID-19 in my birth town of Walgett, serves to expose the ongoing failure of the NSW and Federal governments to effectively deal with the COVID-19 pandemic generally, and the Delta variant of the virus in particular.

The failure to lockdown hard and early is a decision that I can’t fully understand, but the more I learn about the politics of inactions and distraction, the more I realise that the decision was largely influenced by economic considerations rather than good public health and epidemiological advice.

Professor Bob Morgan is a Gumilaroi man from Walgett in western NSW. Photo supplied.

The mixed and confusing messaging is reflected in the following advice from Deputy Premier John Barilaro (Nationals), who is reported to have advised: ‘Make sure that you get tested at your first sign of any symptoms, and at the same time, of course, consider vaccination’.

In other statements from government leaders, they make the point that only 70 per cent to 80 per cent vaccinations will help bring an end to the lockdown, so asking people to consider vaccination is so confusing.

The Federal Treasury has issued an ‘economic modelling’ statement that sits alongside the epidemiological modelling of the Doherty Institute’s, and advised that: ‘Continuing to minimise the number of COVID-19 cases, by taking early and strong action in response to outbreaks of the Delta variant, is consistently more [economically] cost-effective than allowing higher levels of community transmission, which ultimately requires longer and more costly lockdowns’.

Like many NSW people, I tune into the daily COVID-19 updates from NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, and NSW Chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant, but what I hear only serves to contribute to a heightened sense of spiritual and COVID-19 fatigue.

There are no messages of hope coming from these briefings, no mea culpa, just political spin and a litany of data pointing to ongoing uncertainty and despair.

There is no question in my mind that we should have gone a lot harder and a lot sooner. We deserve so much better.

One of the earliest pronouncements of the National Cabinet that was established to oversee the response to the pandemic, was that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would be given high priority, especially in light of the prevalence of immunologically compromised conditions within the Indigenous community.

Compounding this is that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are culturally a social and group-orientated people whose living conditions, arising from generations of poverty, often include inadequate and over-crowded housing, poor diet, and debilitating untreated health conditions – all of which are likely to increase the spread of chronic and infectious diseases within our community.

The health and other inequalities that exist, not just for Aboriginal people, but other marginalised peoples as well, is a terrible indictment on 21st century modernity.

There is no humanity in this equation, just unmerited greed, privilege and entitlement.

The current messaging and strategies for Aboriginal people are akin to the ‘smooth the dying pillow’ era, when it was assumed, perhaps hoped, that if Aboriginal people were left to our own devices then we would soon die out.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the First Australians, have held tenaciously to our rights and freedoms and these will never be surrendered.

Australia is currently being hit by a massive viral tsunami, but the best our leaders can do is to spend their time describing the nature of the encroaching waters.

This approach conjures up images of Australians desperately fighting the destructive 2020 bushfires with domestic garden hose in hand while our political leaders played politics.

On a more positive note, I am so proud of the University of Newcastle, with whom I am affiliated, who took less than five minutes to respond to a request for support from the Walgett Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS), and sent four qualified nurses to work with the AMS to assist them to cope with what surely is a scary and challenging time for the community.

The Walgett AMS serves the whole of the community, not just Aboriginal clients.

I hope that the Walgett and other community outbreaks are contained sooner rather than later, but I must confess that I have little confidence in the government and its authorities to do what is required.

The logic of some of the decisions taken by government, or perhaps more correctly, indecisions, escapes me and would be laughable if it wasn’t so deadly.

‘Blues are the songs of despair, but gospel songs are the songs of hope’ – Mahalia Jackson.

*Prof Bob Morgan is a highly respected and acknowledged Aboriginal educator/researcher who has worked extensively throughout Australia and internationally in the field of Aboriginal knowledge and learning for over forty years.

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  1. If we had real law enforcement then the “Chief Medical Officers” would be tried in court for deliberate misinformation that is endangering and harmful to the population! Any impartial judge would find them guilty of abusing their office and instantly remove them,so they can’t do any more damage…you could add a few politicians to that as well,what a rort and abuse of power !

    • I disagree, Shane. First Nations people were put in a high priority group for vaccination but, true to form, the federal government thought the fanfare of announcements and charade of a program was enough.

      Announcements and policy alone don’t get vaccines, and services to administer them, to remote communities. They do not do the necessary ground work to bring local leaders and communities on board. An implementation plan and action was needed but we all know that Marketing man is not good on the details – whether it be a vaccination program or just about anything else.

      The prioritisation of First Nations people was justified by a greater vulnerability to the effects of Covid 19 due to years of inequality of health outcomes. Inequalities created by the shameful legacy of terra nullius.


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