After PHAA released the following media statement on 12 June, many of our members used social media to express their support for its sentiment so we are re-posting it on the Intouch blog for a wider readership.
If you would like to support this statement please use the comments section at the bottom of the page.
Two hugely important public health objectives – Black Lives Matter and COVID-19 have been framed as competing imperatives. They are not.
The Black Lives Matter movement in Australia seeks to highlight the deplorable circumstances of disadvantage and discrimination experienced by Australia’s First people.
It is an important vehicle to seek changes that will help ‘close the gap’, and address generations of inequality and injustice which continue to this day. Addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health is one of the highest order public health issues in Australia today.
The fact that over 430 Indigenous deaths in custody have been recorded since the 1991 Royal Commission is a stark illustration of this emergency. It is indisputable that racism is a real and ever-present public health issue. Racism in Australia obviously precedes COVID-19 and has a massive continuing impact on the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Australia has managed the COVID-19 pandemic very successfully.
PHAA has recognised this through our special PHAA President’s Award for Members of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) on 12 May.
We have enormous regard for the work of the public health officials and governments around Australia who have taken the hard decisions based on evidence to minimise the impact of COVID-19 on the health of Australians.
With low levels of community transmission, effective contact tracing and quarantine, Australia is well placed to control the virus. But those challenges are ongoing and continued vigilance is essential.
We also respect all who support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to make the case for reforms to policies that will improve the circumstances of Indigenous Australians.
We call on governments and police to lend every support to the BLM protestors in exercising their democratic right to peaceful protest, to forego any legal action to hinder protests, and to support protests in ways that mitigate any risk of COVID-19, for example by providing masks to protesters.
We call on protest organisers to take every possible measure to avoid virus transmission. We recommend that all who choose to be involved in protests wear masks, maintain physical distancing and download the CovidSafe app.
Maintaining physical distancing might be more easily achieved by protestors organising themselves into a number of small groups of no more than 20 people.
People at higher risk should also avoid unnecessary exposures.
We urge all involved – protestors, police, and anyone in the vicinity – to be respectful, peaceful and non-violent.
If the same commitment made by Australians and their governments to control COVID-19 was applied to eradicating racism and improving the circumstances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Australia would be an enormously advanced nation.