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Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Protecting remote communities

Travel restrictions

Some people living in remote communities, such as the elderly and those with existing medical conditions, are particularly at risk of complications from COVID-19. Isolation and remoteness can help delay or potentially prevent an outbreak of COVID-19 in remote communities. However, high mobility of community members and a reliance on outreach activities and services increases the risk of COVID-19 occurring in these communities. Health authorities are ready to respond quickly if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs.

Governments are working together to protect remote communities from COVID-19 by restricting non-essential movement into remote communities. On 26 March 2020, the Minister for Health made a Determination under the Biosecurity Act 2015 to formalise these arrangements. This Determination is available on the Federal Register of Legislation.

The key elements are:

  • Anyone wishing to enter a designated area will need to self-isolate for 14 days before they can enter.
  • People should remain in their communities and limit unnecessary travel, unless it is essential for them to leave for medical treatment.
  • If you leave your community and travel outside the area where travel restrictions apply, you will not be able to return unless you self-isolate for 14 days.
  • Governments will support people who do not have appropriate alternate arrangements to self-isolate.
  • Essential service personnel can keep delivering important services and supplies in accordance with human biosecurity management plans or in urgent circumstances. 

Currently remote travel restrictions only apply in South Australia. The South Australian Government is responsible for implementing the arrangements for these restrictions. The designated areas in South Australia are indicated on the following maps:

More information is available from the South Australian Government:

The Department of Health has prepared a flow chart to provide guidance to service providers, government agencies and businesses on how to safely access designated areas.

Lifting the travel restrictions

Travel restrictions for designated remote communities will be in place until 17 September 2020 with some communities working with the Government on lifting restrictions earlier.
The Department of Health have prepared a framework to help Governments and communities decide when to lift restrictions in a safe way.

State and Territory Governments can request all or part of the remote travel restrictions to be lifted in their jurisdiction, in consultation with affected communities. The final decision to remove an area from the Determination is a matter for the Commonwealth Minister for Health. Jurisdictions will need to ensure they have arrangements in place to manage the risk of an outbreak in remote communities consistent with the Framework agreed by National Cabinet on 15 May 2020.

History of the travel restrictions

When the Minister for Health made the Determination on 26 March 2020, travel restrictions applied in designated areas of the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland and South Australia.

On 7 April 2020 the Minister Health amended the Determination to strengthen the arrangements for essential personnel, and made minor adjustments to designated areas in the Northern Territory.

On 24 April 2020, the Minister for Health made minor changes to designated areas in the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia and enabled maritime workers to enter designated areas under the strict requirements set out under the Determination.

On 21 May 2020, the Minister for Health made further changes to the Determination. These included immediate changes to designated areas in the Northern Territory and South Australia and enabled persons conducting work in connection with an election, and oil rig and platform workers transiting to or from rigs and platforms, to enter a designated area with a human biosecurity management plan.

The amendment also permitted officials performing functions relating to public health or biosecurity for requirements on the export of food or agricultural commodities to enter designated areas, and allowed vessels (excluding cruise ships) that carry crew that have been in a foreign country in the last 14 days to dock at a port in a designated area. Crew are required to stay on board the vessel.

The amendment also enabled the travel restrictions to be lifted in the Northern Territory from 5 June 2020. This was done at the request of the Northern Territory government, which consulted extensively with the Aboriginal controlled health sector and communities prior to making its request.

On 3 June 2020, the Minister for Health amended the Determination again to lift remote travel restrictions in Western Australia from 5 June. This was done at the request of the Western Australia government, which consulted extensively with the Aboriginal controlled health sector and communities prior to making its request.

On 10 June 2020, the Minister for Health amended the Determination for a fifth time to lift remote travel restrictions in Queensland from 12 June. This was done at the request of the Queensland government, which consulted extensively with the Aboriginal controlled health sector and communities prior to making its request.

On 17 June, the Minister for Health amended the Determination again to lift remote travel restrictions in some designated areas of South Australia from 19 June, including the Maralinga Tjarutja Lands, Nepabunna and Point Pearce. This was done at the request of the South Australian government, which consulted extensively with the Aboriginal controlled health sector and communities prior to making its request.

Essential goods and services exemptions

Travel to remote communities for emergencies and for continuation of essential services will continue to be exempt from any travel restrictions to ensure services can still be delivered to all communities.

Community Night Patrol funding

Continuing to ensure community members are safe with the information and support they need is important during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To support this, the Australian Government is contributing up to $10 million over two financial years (2019-2021) to boost Community Night Patrols to help maintain safety within communities, and ensure travel restrictions and physical distancing requirements are communicated and supported. The NIAA will be working with existing service providers to do this.

This includes support to providers to expand or alter current services to meet local needs and support local communication to assist with understanding and complying with travel and social distancing requirements.

The National Indigenous Australians Agency will be working with existing providers to:

  • respond to current and emerging safety needs of communities,
  • identify where the Community Night Patrol is best placed to support local action –such as supporting safe transport for return to country, expanding to day patrols and providing information relating to COVID-19, and
  • work with state and territory governments to support communities.

Additional funding for Northern Territory Land Councils

The four Land Councils in the Northern Territory are being supported to allow them to address immediate needs and expenses associated with people returning to homelands, people who may be required to self-isolate and to deal with the remote travel restrictions.

This may include temporary accommodation if needed to reduce over-crowding, travel assistance, small scale infrastructure and equipment such as generators, portable water tanks or other important items for living on country.

This funding is being made available from the Aboriginals Benefit Account. Funding will not be recurrent, cannot be used for cash payments and is not intended to substitute payment for goods or services provided by the Northern Territory Government.

The funding provides $4 million each for the Northern Land Council and Central Land Council and $1 million each for Tiwi Land Council and Anindilyakwa Land Council. Funding is paid from the Aboriginals Benefit Account.

Land councils will be required to record and report expenditure on a monthly basis, including through each land council annual report.

Further information on the remote travel restrictions in the Northern Territory is available from the remote travel hotline: 1800 518 189 and the NT designated area website.