The Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison on behalf of its 32 Members seeking urgent funding for Victorian Aboriginal communities in their COVID-19 response.
While we have fortunately not seen any major outbreaks or clusters in Victorian Aboriginal communities, VACCHO says the risk factors for COVID-19 are disproportionately higher for Victorian Communities.
To date, we have seen a total of 68 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our communities with 61 people recovered and 7 cases still active. The low incidence of COVID-19 in Victorian Aboriginal communities is testament to Aboriginal community control, and what can happen when all parties work meaningfully together.
While the Commonwealth’s funding commitment of $123 million to the Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander sector to boost the response to COVID-19 is welcomed, VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher AO remains concerned that the funding provided is not enough and the distribution of funding has not been transparent and equitable.
“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,” she said.
“We support a sustained commitment and investment in remote Communities, and do not suggest that this funding for remote Communities is unwarranted. Rather, we wish to illustrate that additional funding is needed for urban and regional responses. We know that nearly 80 per cent of the country’s Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander population live in urban areas.”
Ms Gallagher said VACCHO was responding to several priorities raised by its Members such as spikes in Aboriginal COVID-19 cases and community transmission, sector fatigue, managing Aboriginal communities pre-existing health concerns, and pressing mental health and wellbeing issues such as disproportionately high numbers of Aboriginal suicides in Victoria and family violence issues.
In Victoria, as in many other jurisdictions including remote areas, Ms Gallagher said the risk of exposure to COVID-19 was increased by significant numbers of community transmission and Aboriginal people living in overcrowded or transient accommodation.
“An effective response to COVID-19 needs to be led by ACCOs, with support from the mainstream sector where appropriate,” she said.
“It is not just the primary health response, but the entire ACCO sector who face these challenges as they respond to the flow-on effects of COVID-19 on social and cultural disruption, isolation, and economic uncertainty.”
In the letter to Mr Morrison, VACCHO called for an additional state specific COVID-19 response package to be released to the Aboriginal community-controlled sector in Victoria in the following priority areas:
Ms Gallagher said all Australian Governments and the Coalition of Peaks last month came together to outline their commitment to Aboriginal and or Torres Strait Islander communities under the new Closing the Gap agreement to address underlying causes of disadvantage.
With Victoria still grappling to control a second wave of coronavirus, Ms Gallagher fears that the State will find itself behind other states and territories at the commencement of the 10-year national agreement.
“We know that because of these gaps in outcomes for our Communities, they are more vulnerable to both the direct and indirect consequences of COVID-19,” Ms Gallagher said.
“Coordination between Governments and our Community representatives will be fundamental in progressing better outcomes for our Community and we welcome this commitment.
“However, in the immediate term we must fund the sector to respond to this pandemic, so we do not allow the gap to widen before we have even begun to progress these important reforms.”
For media inquiries or interview requests please contact Andrew Jefferson on 0428 433 963.
VACCHO is the leading advocate for the health of Aboriginal peoples in Victoria and a peak organisation to its membership of 32 ACCOs. VACCHO also works closely with partner organisations, Government, non-Government community sector organisations across Victoria and nationally.