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Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Information for individuals

Protecting yourself and others

To help slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect those who are most at risk, you need to take the recommended steps to protect yourself and others:

  • Practise good hygiene—wash your hands frequently, cover your coughs, put tissues straight into a bin, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, sanitise regularly used objects and surfaces and ventilate your home or workspace
  • Ensure you follow social distancing rules—stay at home, keep 1.5 metres away from others and avoid physical contact. The more space between you and others, the harder it is for the virus to spread.
  • Follow the rules for self-isolation—stay at home or in your hotel room for 14 days if you have COVID-19, you have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 or you arrived in Australia after midnight on 15 March 2020. This is to prevent the possible spread of the virus to other people.

Indoor and outdoor gatherings

Indoor and outdoor gatherings are limited to two persons only. Individual states and territories may choose to mandate and/or enforce this requirement. Exceptions to this limit include:

  • Members of the same household.
  • Funerals - a maximum of 10 people
  • Weddings - a maximum of 5 people

All Australians are required to stay in their homes, unless for:

  • shopping for what you need - food and necessary supplies
  • medical or health care needs, including compassionate requirements
  • exercise in compliance with the public gathering requirements
  • work and study if you can’t work or learn remotely.

Public playgrounds, skate parks and outside gyms in public places have been closed to further limit the risk of people coming into contact with each other.

Senior Australians and those with existing health conditions

Coronavirus has more serious impacts on Australians over 70 years of age and those with existing or multiple health conditions.

Strong advice is that these members of the community should now self-isolate at home as much as possible and limit contact with others as much as possible when they travel outside:

  • over 70 years of age
  • over 60 years of age who have existing health conditions or comorbidities
  • Indigenous Australians over the age of 50 who have existing health conditions or comorbidities.

More Health information is available on the Department of Health’s website.

Health support

The Australian Government is boosting Australia-wide mental health services, domestic violence support, Medicare assistance for people at home and emergency food relief.

Australians will be able to access health support in their own home using their telephone, or video conferencing features like FaceTime to connect with telehealth services, including:

  • GP services
  • mental health treatment
  • chronic disease management
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health assessments
  • services to people with eating disorders
  • pregnancy support counselling
  • services to patients in aged care facilities
  • children with autism
  • after-hours consultations
  • nurse practitioners

A bulk billing incentive will be doubled for GPs and an incentive payment will be established to ensure medical practices stay open to provide face to face services where essential.

Rapid testing

Rapid testing for Coronavirus (COVID-19) is being set up to protect remote and rural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders communities. The Remote Point of Care Testing Program will cut testing times, in some cases from up to 10 days, to around 45 minutes.

The program will roll out to 83 testing sites in remote communities most at risk, and in most need. It will help local health services to respond more quickly and be able to take immediate action if a COVID-19 case is identified.

Having the capacity to act quickly in remote communities is vital. Indigenous Australians have a higher rate of other health issues so are more likely to suffer from a serious illness if they contract COVID-19, so an outbreak in a community could be very serious.

The program has been developed in close consultation with Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services and states and territories, which are involved in selecting sites to ensure no community is more than two to three hours’ drive from a testing facility.

In addition, there are more than 260 respiratory clinics across the country and access to telehealth is quickly increasing. Infection control eLearning is being delivered around the country and 110 communities have received support to ensure all Aboriginal community clinics are ready to respond if needed.

Mental health

Additional services will be provided to support the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians:

  • The Government’s digital mental health portal, Head to Health (www.headtohealth.gov.au), will provide information and guidance during this time, with information on how to support children and loved ones, and how to access further mental health services and care.
  • Beyond Blue will deliver a dedicated coronavirus wellbeing support line to help people experiencing concern due to a coronavirus diagnosis, or experiencing stress or anxiety due to employment changes, business closure, financial difficulties, family pressures or other challenges.
  • Mental health support providers who have experienced an unprecedented surge in call volumes will also get funding to increasing their capacity, including $5 million for Lifeline and $2 million for Kids Helpline.

Domestic violence services

Programs under the National Plan to reduce Violence against Women and their Children are being boosted, including:

  • Counselling support for families affected by, or at risk of experiencing, domestic and family violence including men’s behaviour change programs which will provide a short, medium and longer term response to support men.
  • 1800RESPECT, the national domestic, family and sexual violence counselling service, which already answers around 160,000 calls a year.
  • Mensline Australia, the national counselling service for men that provides support for emotional health and relationship concerns for men affected by or considering using violence.
  • Trafficked People Program to support particularly vulnerable cohorts such as victims of human trafficking, forced marriage, slavery and slavery-like practices.
  • Support programs for women and children experiencing violence to protect themselves to stay in their homes, or a home of their choice, when it is safe to do so.

Pharmaceuticals

Governments are working hard to ensure other essential services and supplies are continued and maintained in remote communities. Essential items, including pharmaceuticals, will continue to be available in remote communities.

The Government has also announced quantity limits on some medicine purchases to ensure pharmacies can restock to meet demand so people can get the medicines they need.

Community support

A Community Support Package will provide flexible funding to boost support to services where demand is quickly increasing, including:

  • Emergency Relief which will help vulnerable Australians who need assistance with bills, food, clothing or petrol and increase and retain workforce capacity including volunteers.
  • Assistance for food relief organisations to source additional food and transport for emergency relief service providers, and rebuild workforce capacity.
  • Immediately scale-up services through the National Debt Helpline, 1800 007 007 — which is often the first point of contact for people experiencing financial difficulties, and to support one-on-one tele-financial counselling.
  • Creating a short-form Financial Counselling course through Financial Counselling Australia to train new financial counsellors to boost the workforce, potentially providing hundreds of new jobs.
  • Expanding access to safe, affordable financial products through the No Interest Loan Scheme which provides an immediate financial relief alternative to other high-risk, high-interest products such as credit cards and payday loans.

Food security

Ensuring a reliable supply of essential goods, groceries, pharmaceuticals and other critical supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic is one of the Government’s highest priorities.

The Australian Government is working in close collaboration with states and territories under the National Coordination mechanism to coordinate responses in a range of sectors. Groceries and food security is one of the priority groups under this mechanism.

To support this priority, the government has established a dedicated Food Security Working Group that is closely monitoring and working to identify solutions to specific issues particular to regional and remote Australia. The working group includes community store managers, wholesalers and suppliers, transport services, and senior representatives from state and territory governments and other crucial private and public sector organisations supporting supply chains to continue to meet the food security needs of remote communities.

Delivery of food and essential supplies is an exempt category from the travel restrictions to remote areas and so will continue as normal.

Stores, suppliers and the Government are working closely together to ensure goods get to where they are needed most and that travel outside of the biosecurity areas for the purpose of purchasing goods is not required.

This is facilitated through:

  • Regularly meetings with state and territory governments to discuss food security.
  • Ongoing round table discussions to address supply issues.
  • Weekly meetings of the Food Security Working Group

The NIAA is also working closely with the managers of stores servicing Aboriginal communities across Australia to understand local supply status and where support needs to be directed.  More than 2000 residents across the NT are benefiting from grocery relief as part of a major delivery of 50 tonnes of food.

Australia has extensive stocks and supply chains of food. Some food stores have chosen to limit purchases of certain products to ensure restocking can meet demand.

Communities can help by not panic buying groceries more than usual.

School nutrition projects

An additional $5 million of funding from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy will also expand the delivery of existing School Nutrition Projects (SNP), to enable existing projects to be continued through pupil-free periods and school holidays, and to accommodate the higher costs of delivering the program in a way that manages the risks of COVID-19.

The program will also be expanded to other vulnerable members of the remote Indigenous communities in which SNP operates, and potentially other remote Indigenous communities outside of the existing SNP areas, where there is identified need.

Ensuring the continuity and availability of nutritious meals will ensure there is no need to risk unnecessary travel for food supplies.

Essential social services

We are working with service providers to continue to deliver critical social programs to support community resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Australian Government has announced $23 million from the Indigenous Advancement Strategy (IAS) will be used to enhance the delivery of social programs so these services can continue in safe, different, and innovative ways.

COVID-19 remote travel and physical distancing protocols may lead to isolation and reduced service delivery capacity. This may impact the physical, mental and economic health of people living in remote communities. Ensuring the continuity and availability of essential social services will give residents a sense of assurance and comfort that they can get the help they need where they live and not risk unnecessary travel.

Critical services include:

  • alcohol and other drug services
  • social and emotional wellbeing projects
  • safe houses
  • family support
  • youth engagement and diversion activities.

IAS support is supplementary to other major COVID-19 investments in health, early childhood education and care, safety and employment.

Financial support

There are a range of supports that the Australian Government has put in place to help people financially during COVID-19. The Government is addressing cost pressures with the extensive economic support packages announced in March.

The Coronavirus supplement is being paid for 6 months at a rate of $550 per fortnight to both existing and new recipients of the JobSeeker Payment, Youth Allowance jobseeker, Parenting Payment, Farm Household Allowance and Special Benefit. The $550 per fortnight is on top of existing payments.

A $750 stimulus payment for Australians on income support has been provided in April, and for those on income support and eligible concession card holders that do not receive the Coronavirus supplement, a second $750 stimulus payment will be made automatically in July.

Full details of the supports available, including information on eligibility, is available from Services Australia.

Tenants

There will be a moratorium on evictions over the next six months for commercial and residential tenancies in financial distress who are unable to meet their commitments due to the impact of coronavirus.

Commercial tenants, landlords and financial institutions are encouraged to sit down together to find a way through to ensure that businesses can survive and be there on the other side.

Indigenous Business Australia customers

If you are a client of Indigenous Business Australia (IBA), they have a range of COVID-19 related support for businesses. This includes potential deferral of business loan and lease payments for an initial four-month period, waiver of interest on business loans and leases for an initial four-month period and special assistance for customers experiencing hardship.

Students

Many students from remote areas around the country have already returned to their home locations. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who study away from home are generally in receipt of ABSTUDY, which provides support for travel, accommodation and tuition. ABSTUDY is administered by Services Australia.

Under ABSTUDY travel requirements, boarding schools and residential facilities are required to develop a ‘safe travel plan’ for each student returning from the boarding facility to their home community. Boarding providers are required to work with the student, their family, the community and health authorities to ensure the safe return of the student.

Students returning home to remote communities with restrictions in place are required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Where communities have put isolation measures in place that limit or prevent students’ return to the community, schools will have worked with the student, family and local community to determine the safest and most appropriate option for self-isolation.

Students who receive ABSTUDY and have any questions about this process, can contact the ABSTUDY students line on 1800 132 317.