Indigenous death puts heat on jab rollout

·2-min read

The Morrison government has defended its Indigenous coronavirus vaccine rollout which has been heavily criticised after the first Aboriginal death.

An unvaccinated man in his 50s who died at Dubbo hospital became Australia's first Indigenous victim of the disease with an outbreak spreading in western NSW.

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the federal government should have ensured Indigenous people were vaccinated months ago.

"We know earlier in the year the rollout wasn't anywhere where it needed to be," he told the ABC.

Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt said AstraZeneca was made available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in March.

Mr Wyatt said the government started an Indigenous vaccine co-ordination committee last year.

"The community is hesitant based on the information. I have listened to media interviews, hesitancy is an issue that we have to overcome," he told parliament.

"Our work on the number of vaccinations is increasing."

Nationally, 20.5 per cent of Indigenous people have been fully vaccinated while 37 per cent have received a single dose.

Across the broader over-16 population the double-dose figure is 35 per cent and more than 58 per cent for one shot.

Labor's Indigenous Australians spokeswoman Linda Burney said the federal government was squarely to blame for woeful Indigenous vaccination rates.

"This death and these infections could have been prevented. It is too little too late in western New South Wales," she said.

Ms Burney said the government was warned in March last year about the consequences of not protecting remote Indigenous communities.

Indigenous Greens senator Lidia Thorpe accused the government of completely failing Aboriginal people.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said an emergency AUSMAT team and Defence personnel had been deployed to the region, working with the state government to boost vaccination rates.

"In many remote communities, because they feel like they're a long way away from the cities where these things are happening, they can sometimes form a view they are protected," Mr Morrison told 5AA radio.

"That's not the case. The Delta variant can travel, as we know it does."

He said the response to the western NSW situation provided a model for other Indigenous communities across Australia.

"Not only is that helping us to directly influence that situation but we have developed a very good partnership model if that were to happen in South Australia, the Northern Territory or Western Australia."

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