Premier Mark McGowan says United States-based white supremacist groups are spreading misinformation online to cause fear about COVID-19 vaccinations in remote Aboriginal communities in Western Australia.
Mr McGowan made the comments during a press conference in Kalgoorlie on Thursday and again warned that travel to regional communities could be restricted after WA’s border reopens if they do not reach vaccination targets.
“There’s been some misinformation provided to Aboriginal people from people who do not have their best interests at heart,” he said.
“Just now we heard from one Aboriginal person who said white supremacist groups are sending information to Aboriginal people that they shouldn’t get vaccinated.
“Now, the suspicion is these white supremacist groups out of America wouldn’t be unhappy if bad outcomes occurred to the health of Aboriginal people in Australia.
“That’s the problem we face.”
Low rates, ill intent
Mr McGowan said the Goldfields, Pilbara and Kimberley remained particular areas of concern because of their low vaccination rates.
With only 13 per cent of its Aboriginal population fully vaccinated, the northern Goldfields town of Leonora has one of the lowest rates in the state.
The Premier said the government must “combat” misinformation and would continue its regional vaccination blitz in the push to reach the reopening target of 90 per cent fully vaccinated.
“Some of these groups, like white supremacist groups, are doing it because they want to harm Aboriginal people,” Mr McGowan said.
“I just urge Aboriginal people to listen to the experts, who say the vaccine is safe and effective and it will save their lives.”
The Aboriginal strategic advisor to the Vaccine Commander, Wanita Bartholomeusz, said the misinformation being spread online was “extremely dangerous” and “very concerning”.
She said Facebook groups, such as Freedom Keepers, which has a cover photograph of Donald Trump holding a machine gun in front of an American flag, had been active on social media in remote WA communities.
“This is not a militia for right wing people with boom sticks,” the cover page of the private page reads, accompanied by a winking face emoji.
“This group is for people willing to put their lives on hold to handle business and protect our freedom and constitutional rights as American people.”
Ms Bartholomeusz said the spread of misinformation online had presented a constant challenge for health authorities during the pandemic.
“We’ve found individuals up in Queensland with faith-based views and they’ve been putting their information through to Aboriginal networks,” she said.
“Through a number of different sources we’ve been able to see that they link back to faith-based organisations in the US.
“As we know, some of them have that white superiority, KKK background and influence.
“The concern is that Aboriginal people are being targeted and, we believe, other persons of colour around the world, using their mission and Christian ideology to perpetuate false information about the COVID vaccine.”