Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner says travel to the NT’s 76 remote Indigenous communities may be permitted as early as June 5, following discussions with NT land councils and peak Aboriginal health bodies this week.
- The Biosecurity Act, barring essential travel to remote NT communities, is scheduled to stay in place until June 18
- Mr Gunner said land councils asked him yesterday to lift restrictions on June 5
- But the Chief Minister confirmed easing border restrictions would be the last move by the Government
“The NT is the safest place in Australia,” Mr Gunner said.
Under the Biosecurity Act, all non-essential travel to remote Territory communities is currently banned and a 14-day isolation period applies for community residents wanting to return home from regional centres.
The restrictions are scheduled to stay in place until June 18 and align with a 90-day public health emergency declaration.
Mr Gunner said Land Councils asked him yesterday to lift restrictions on June 5 and he would now speak to the Commonwealth about the possibility.
Land councils back proposal
Central Land Council CEO Joe Martin-Jard said he wanted the Biosecurity Act to be lifted on June 5, a date that coincided with stage 3 of COVID-19 restrictions easing in the NT.
“We all went into this together, and we’ll get out of this together,” Mr Martin-Jard said.
At the moment, Mr Martin-Jard said people were locked in their own communities with only one shop to visit, and as the weather cooled in Central Australia, it was important residents could leave to buy warmer clothes and other items they needed — without being forced to quarantine for 14 days upon their return.
Northern Land Council CEO Marion Scrymgour agreed.
Ms Scrymgour said the act “adversely affected” the movement of Aboriginal people living on homelands and outstations in comparison to non-Aboriginal people.
“Despite the fact that the intent of the biosecurity measures was to protect Aboriginal people — and this was made clear by both the Prime Minister and the NT Chief Minister from the start — there were elements of the process that were unfair to some Aboriginal people, particularly those living on Community Living Areas — those small areas of land excised for the benefit of Aboriginal people from very large pastoral stations,” she said.
‘We should keep the borders to the NT closed’
Ms Scrymgour and Mr Martin-Jard both said they only supported lifting the Biosecurity Act on June 5 if the NT’s strict border restrictions remained in place.
Ms Scrymgour also reminded Territorians that — apart from two Australian Defence Force personnel who arrived in Darwin May 1 after testing positive to COVID-19 overseas — there had been no new cases of the virus in the NT for more than a month.
“That’s a really positive indication it’s pretty safe for our mob to travel in and out of remote communities without needing to quarantine upon return. But I agree with the Chief Minister that we should keep the borders to the NT closed for a while longer,” she said.
Mr Gunner yesterday confirmed easing the NT’s tough border restrictions would be the last move by the Government.
He also said it was unlikely the Territory would open borders with WA and SA before the eastern states.
Feds to rule on the Biosecurity Act
The decision about when to lift the Biosecurity Act is one for the Commonwealth, and Mr Gunner will need to write to Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt asking him to sign off on the proposal.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt said Mr Gunner was able to request changes to the NT’s Biosecurity Act at any time, and discussions between the Federal and NT governments were ongoing.
“Both Indigenous communities and the Government see this as critical. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have more complex health needs than other Australians and my primary concern is continuing to keep this virus out of our communities as much as possible.”