Wilcannia – humanitarian crisis in our backyard, yet no substantive action being taken

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Wilcannia: humanitarian crisis in our backyard, yet no substantive action being taken

The escalating situation in Wilcannia requires both the NSW and Federal Governments’ urgent attention, action and delivery of resources to support the Aboriginal community in the area and beyond.

Today, COVID-19 cases in Wilcannia have reached 58, with an infection rate of more than 4.94%, comparably higher than the Greater Sydney area.

The Australian Association of Social Workers was appalled to learn of a young Barkindji mother of three small children, asthmatic and infected with COVID-19, recently barred from entering her local hospital at night. The failure to treat this woman has spotlighted the emerging crisis in this area.

AASW Board member Professor Sue Green said, “Wilcannia demonstrates how ongoing discrimination and entrenched neglect of First Nations peoples, when combined with a national and global crisis creates a perfect storm that has the most shocking impacts and outcomes for Australia’s most marginalised.

“The treatment of Barkindji (Aboriginal people of Wilcannia) and other Aboriginal peoples who have made it their home is appalling by anyone’s standards and should be unacceptable to every Australian. The stories that are flooding out of Wilcannia of mistreatment of Aboriginal people should make everyone stand up and demand action immediately. “People in Sydney are told to ring an ambulance if their health deteriorates, but in Wilcannia, Aboriginal people are refused treatment,” Professor Green made clear. “This is simply not good enough.”

The crisis has resulted in people being left in substandard living conditions. Resources, including food, are scarce. This has a resounding impact on the health and wellbeing of the Aboriginal community, who already experience poverty and increased risks to their health.

“We are hearing stories of Aboriginal people isolating in tents in backyards during the cold desert nights; people who are unable to access food because the supermarket is closed for deep cleaning; or, being fined for leaving isolation to get food, because they have nothing to eat. They are crying out, ‘Why are we being left to die?’” said Professor Green.

The federal and state governments are responsible for this wilful neglect; these failures did not happen overnight.

“All Australians knew that if COVID-19 reached Aboriginal communities, we would be looking at a national disaster. The federal and state governments’ unwillingness to provide appropriate services for Aboriginal peoples has led us to this point.

“And here we are, but there is simply a lack of urgent response,” a despairing Professor Green said.

The AASW is calling on immediate and urgent action to address this emerging humanitarian crisis impacting the people of Wilcannia and other Aboriginal communities in Western NSW. The people and community need their fundamental human rights to be fulfilled, protected, and safeguarded during this critical period by providing appropriate medical care and treatment, culturally appropriate services and programs on the ground to deal with the impact of COVID-19 to minimise the transmission and proper housing and food.

Professor Susan Green is a Galari woman of the Wiradjuri nation and the Association’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Director. Sue holds the role of Professor in Indigenous Australian Studies and GCWLCH Co-ordinator at Charles Sturt University. Sue has had an extensive history spanning 20 years in Indigenous Higher Education across several roles such as student support and teaching. Her research interest includes Welfare History, Indigenising Social Work education and practice, Cultural Responsiveness and Cultural Support, Colonial History and Decolonisation. Her main interest is ensuring that Wiradjuri Language and Culture underpins all aspects of her personal and professional life. Susan is Chair of the Association’s Reconciliation Action Plan Working Group and a Member of the National Ethics Committee.

Vittorio Cintio is the National President of AASW, elected in September 2020. Vittorio is based in the Blue Mountains in New South Wales and has over 40 years’ experience in the health sector and private practice, counselling individuals and families. Vittorio is currently a social work leader in NSW Health, with management, teaching and research responsibilities. Vittorio was the Association’s National Vice President (from 2018 to 2020) and served as a Director between 2010 and 2012.

To interview AASW Board Director Professor Sue Green or AASW National President Vittorio Cintio, please contact Angela Yin on 03 9320 1005 or Cindy Smith on 0400 549 432.