By ERWIN CHLANDA
As the world contemplates with trepidation a second wave of COVID-19 Michael Gunner (pictured) had this message: “The beers are here and the jobs are back – a keg convoy is rolling up the Stuart Highway, 175,000 litres of the good stuff.”
Wearing a high-vis vest and standing in a Darwin alcohol depot the Chief Minister was giving his government’s daily COVID-19 update, with an opening fit for Donald Trump.
Mr Gunner referred to the role Aboriginal organisations have in the management of the pandemic but has not provided answers to questions put to him on this subject.
Communication clearly isn’t Labor’s strong point: Health Minister Natasha Fyles (below left) today wrote to all Members of Parliament that “the proper protocols in place when seeking information from the Health Department [is to] contact my office rather than directly contacting public servants.
“My office is turning queries and questions around as fast as possible.”
Independent Member for Stuart Scott McConnell has no doubt that will happen: Ms Fyles’s minders will quickly turn facts into political spin.
Mr McConnell says he will not be “stopped from doing my job” and he will continue to obtain information from whomever he pleases, as an MLA and a citizen.
Meanwhile the Member of the adjoining electorate, Chansey Paech, says the people of Namatjira have mixed views about the biosecurity regions: Some support them, some want them to continue past their current June 18 deadline, some say they should never have been introduced.
Mr Paech (at right) describes the state borders in his electorate – to the south and the west – as “very porous”.
The fact that the NT has only one Coronavirus case for every 7308 people, compared to the nation’s one for every 3600, may well be good luck but Mr Gunner’s passes it off as good management – mostly his, while the measures are pretty well what’s being done all around the nation.
The Territory would also no doubt benefit from its small sparsely spread population and the long distances separating it from the centres of the outbreak.
Mr McConnell says “to hell with keeping the public informed to keep the public goodwill” seems to be the government’s MO.
He claims that as the lifting of the biosecurity areas is approaching on June 18 there is a case for examining the rules in place, especially given the absence of community transmission.
His constituents are in favour of secure NT borders and put up with the biosecurity divisions but – given the figures – now questions why places such as St Teresa and Hermannsburg should remain isolated.
There has been “no practical reason” why the West MacDonnells national park should be off-limits – except that they are not in Mr Gunner’s back yard.
Mr Gunner fails to provide a “nuanced response” to The Centre’s problems, and provides no answer to concerns over the impact of the likely departure of 103 Federal police officers, says Mr McConnell.
Instead of measures affecting all of the population the NT should be made ready for any localised outbreaks.
During his media conference on May 7 Mr Gunner spoke about border security, asserting that the NT’s is strong.
He did not trust SA to guarantee its border security with Victoria, and neither Queensland with NSW.
All three state borders will be opened at the same time and the move will be last in the COVID measures to be lifted, said Mr Gunner: “Significant caution on that: We’ve got to make sure people in remote communities … the land councils, APONT and AMSANT and others are in the driver’s seat when it comes to this.
“There are parts of the Northern Territory, bits near the Kimberley … they might be a worry … because we’ve had that outbreak in the Kimberley … We’ve got to do this in the right way … be extremely careful how we manage this … the borders is what allows us to act fast on how we bring back to jobs in the NT.
“We’ve got to be extremely cautious with what we do around the borders.”
We asked what the land councils and the two organisations he mentioned, Aboriginal Peak Organisations Northern Territory and Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory, should be doing about border security while being “in the driver’s seat”.
How many “bush roads” are there leading into the southern half of the NT from SA, WA and Queensland?
How many police and army personnel, respectively, are deployed to control any movements on those bush roads, and on the Stuart Highway, Plenty Highway, Sandower Highway, Docker River Road, Kiwirrkurra Road and Tanami Highway?
Where are they deployed?
We will provide the answers when and if we receive them from Mr Gunner.
UPDATE MAY 12 AT 3:55pm
COVID Media provided the following information: Non-essential travel into the Northern Territory’s remote communities has been restricted in response to concerns about the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
The Commonwealth Biosecurity Determination under the Biosecurity Act 2015 (Cth) identifies Biosecurity Designated Areas, as well as the essential activities that can be conducted in the Designated Areas.
The Determination, including designated areas, is in place until 18 June in the NT, WA, QLD and SA.
Any decision to amend the Determination in the Northern Territory will be made by the Commonwealth Government, in partnership with Land Councils and the NT Government.
The Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics has identified 10 roads crossing into the Alice Springs region from South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia.
Your operational questions at three and four should be put to NT Police.
(We have directed questions three and four to the police.)
UPDATE MAY 13 at 3.10am
The police provided the following replies:
How any police and army personnel, respectively, are deployed to control any movements on those bush roads, and on the Stuart Highway, Plenty Highway, Sandover Highway, Docker River Road, Kiwirrkurra Road and Tanami Highway?
The numbers of NTPOL and AFP Officers and ADF personnel vary depending on the volume of traffic and location of the Border Check Point. These numbers can change depending on operational responses required.
Where are they deployed?
We have a number of staffed Border Check Points established as well as Remote sensor locations established. Some of these are in prominent locations across the Territory and others are in more remote localities. For operational and tactical reasons we do not wish to advertise all locations.
By ERWIN CHLANDA