The Australian Government has ensured that states and territories can adopt a consistent approach to protecting Indigenous Australians by restricting travel into remote Indigenous communities to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The National Cabinet provided in-principle agreement to the Commonwealth Minister for Health taking action under the Commonwealth Biosecurity Act 2015.
This follows the decisions of a number of Indigenous communities and the Western Australian Government to implement similar measures, and considerations by the Northern Territory Government to phase up their response by restricting access to remote communities.
Isolation and remoteness offer opportunities for delaying or potentially preventing an outbreak of COVID-19 in remote Indigenous communities. 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.
Under this proposal an emergency requirement determined under the Biosecurity Act 2015 will restrict persons from entering or leaving areas as nominated by states and territories.
The emergency requirement will also allow jurisdictions to nominate a decision maker who will be empowered to permit additional classes of people to enter or leave the community in certain circumstances such as:
- For the purposes of obtaining medical care or medical supplies
- In the event of emergency, including the purposes of providing medical care
- For the purposes of supplying or undertaking critical services such as medical (including mental health and domestic violence support), police and emergency services, food and medical supplies, educational, and maintenance and repairs of essential services, or
- In accordance with the remote community pandemic plan applicable to the particular remote aboriginal community that the person wishes to enter.
Consistent with Australian Health Protection Principal Committee guidance, individuals will be required to undergo a minimum period of isolation (currently 14 days) before entry or re-entry into the area will be allowed.
These rules are aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 in remote communities and to rapidly address outbreaks. Enforcement of the restrictions will be the responsibility of each jurisdiction.
The National Cabinet agreed that these measures would be implemented as soon as possible.
I would like to thank the State and Territory Ministers who have worked to support these measures, and the co-ordination work undertaken by the Department of Health and the National Indigenous Australians Agency.