The First Peoples Disability Network has told the Disability Royal Commission that COVID-19 exacerbated already existing issues of food insecurity, poverty and lack of access to services.
While the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated poverty, food insecurity, and a lack of support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, First Peoples Disability Network (FPDN) told the Royal Commission on Thursday, these issues are faced in Indigenous communities every day.
FPDN CEO Damian Griffis said COVID-19 escalated these issues but they existed long before the coronavirus crisis.
During the pandemic, FPDN distributed 1600 food packages to people in NSW and the ACT.
Mr Griffis said such a service is needed all the time, not just in times of crisis.
“Many Aboriginal people always experience risk around food security,” he told the Royal Commission.
“It’s not unique to the pandemic.
“We could provide care packs to our people across the country all of the time because one of the major challenges, particularly in regional and remote Australia is access to fresh produce and healthy food.”
Concerns about food insecurity were echoed by FPDN deputy CEO June Reimer.
Ms Reimer told the Royal Commission that people with disability in some remote communities ran out of food during the pandemic.
Others, she said, could drive hours to the nearest centre to find supermarket shelves empty, which was a particular concern for communities on state and territory borders.
“The impact of this can’t be underestimated as some people do not have the money to drive two to three hours to the nearest facilities within their state,” she said.
“These are often very remote communities with limited income and overcrowded housing.”
‘A reputation of discrimination’
Mr Griffis also raised concerns about access to health care during the coronavirus crisis, and for Indigenous people with disability in their every day lives.
He said there was concern that Indigenous people with disability would miss out on crucial health care, not just because of lack of access, but because institutionalised racism is a barrier in and out of times of crisis.
“It’s often the case that, in particular, regional-based hospitals, that there is a reputation, often, of Aboriginal people experiencing racial discrimination,” he said.
“Sometimes what can result is Aboriginal people with disability when they present to the hospital, they can be viewed or labelled as being drunk or we can have covert or casual forms of racism, which can result in a less urgent response.
“We know of instances where Aboriginal people with disability have been turned away so we were very concerned about that.”
Mr Griffis said the pandemic has shown that governments can mobilise quickly, asking why ‘that same energy’ could not be put to use in addressing poverty in Indigenous communities.
He said Indigenous people with disability face a ‘double-discrimination’ and their needs are not adequately represented in either ‘Aboriginal justice’ or disability spaces.
“This is an all too common problem when you’re dealing with intersectional discrimination,” he said.
“We don’t get a high enough profile in disability, we don’t get a high enough profile in ‘Aboriginal justice’, if you like, and we’re walking in both those worlds.
“So what happens is sometimes the needs of our people with disability get completely overlooked or only tokenistically mentioned.”