Ms SHEED (Shepparton) (14:56): My question is for the Minister for Health. I was shocked to hear today that our understanding of the vaccination rates of Victoria’s Indigenous population has been greatly inflated. We have seen the spread of COVID-19 across western New South Wales, and Victorians have been congratulating themselves on having such a high rate of vaccination among our Indigenous community. It has been reported that commonwealth government figures were grossly inflated. Their figures were revised yesterday to show less than half of what we believed was the case, with only 21 559 Indigenous people having received a first dose and only 12 209 being fully vaccinated. Minister, how is it that vaccination figures could be so wrong, and what level of oversight does the state government have to ensure their accuracy in the future?
Mr FOLEY (Albert Park—Minister for Health, Minister for Ambulance Services, Minister for Equality) (14:57): I thank the member for Shepparton for her question. It was a truly shocking revelation that was shared with the people, particularly Indigenous people, of Victoria by the commonwealth in regard to that issue. The Australian immunisation register is a commonwealth system in which this data is stored and shared. The Victorian government’s contribution is through its state vaccination centres—over 55 centres across the length and breadth of the state.
My advice, because I sought an explanation as well, goes to the fact that in a number of private GP clinics spread throughout Victoria the software system that had been employed by those practices and shared across a number of other forms of community engagement with the wider Victorian population,
where the particular question as to the status of someone being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin was left blank. On some occasions in the data–reading system that the service provider engaged by the commonwealth had, for that system, picked up not everyone but some of those people somehow or another as an Indigenous person, thereby grossly inflating the numbers for those practices that were picked up in the commonwealth figures. The commonwealth have apologised for that error, and we are working with them to very quickly seek to get an explanation as to making sure that that is the only error and that other parts of the system, whether it be the Aboriginal community–controlled health organisations themselves or indeed the Victorian government’s systems, which also speak to the commonwealth system, do not suffer that or any other such data error.
My advice is that it was a particular service provider that had contracted private GPs who are accredited vaccination providers for the commonwealth, and that is the source of this particular very unfortunate
and very poorly timed data error which has then of course set back a whole range of other good work that Aboriginal community–controlled health organisations, particularly in our regions but not exclusively in our regions, have been undertaking. I have asked as a result of that revelation in recent
times for further advice. I have to say that the commonwealth minister and all the state and territory ministers have as one of their number one priority the vaccination of our vulnerable Indigenous communities. Having accurate data to that is critical, and we need to make sure that is the case.
Ms SHEED (Shepparton) (15:00): Again to the Minister for Health: I spoke with Ms Jill Gallagher, the CEO of the peak body of Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations this morning. She told me that she is also very concerned about Shepparton and the Hume region and the
rates of vaccination among those Indigenous communities. Minister, what steps are the Victorian government going to take now to ensure a rapid increase in vaccination rates of First Nations people in the Shepparton district and Victoria more broadly, bearing in mind that these people were meant to be 1A? The Indigenous people of Victoria and the whole of Australia were meant to be the first people vaccinated, and here we are so much later finding that so many of them have not been vaccinated. We
need to do something in Victoria, and I ask you, Minister: what can the Victorian government do to remedy this situation?
Mr FOLEY (Albert Park—Minister for Health, Minister for Ambulance Services, Minister for Equality) (15:01): I share the honourable member’s concerns. Indeed you correctly identified that under the commonwealth’s program the specific group 1A, right at the front of the queue for the
commonwealth’s attention, are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Not being content to leave that to the commonwealth, the Victorian government uses this as an opportunity to recommit
to working with the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, such as the honourable member’s renowned Rumbalara organisation in the Goulburn Valley, to make sure that the model of community–determined efforts is at the front of the queue. I too have had, through my department and my office, some direct conversations with the ACCHOs, and the community–based, forward–looking programs that they have in place will now need to be substantially improved,
particularly including active outreach programs.