Calls for civil society COVID Rapid Response Group
13 January 2022 at 4:05 pm
The group would be made up of ACOSS, unions, business peaks and public health experts
Community leaders are calling for the creation of civil society COVID Rapid Response Group to work closely with National Cabinet during the next phase of the pandemic.
After consulting with sector leaders, the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS) sent a letter to National Cabinet yesterday, seeking an urgent meeting with the prime minister, premiers and chief ministers amid the nation’s surge in Omicron COVID cases.
The letter said Australia needs to be better prepared for 2022, as the pandemic continued to hit low-income people, those from diverse backgrounds and people with pre-existing vulnerabilities the hardest.
“Given the circumstances, we strongly advise the creation of a civil society COVID Rapid Response Group consisting of ACOSS, unions, business peaks and public health experts to work closely with you over the next period in devising and implementing policy responses,” the letter said.
“We do not support re-establishing the previous COVID Commission which excluded civil society peak bodies. We need a high-trust collaborative process with key civil society and business groups.”
The Rapid Response Group would work openly with National Cabinet and draw on the insights and expertise of its networks and communities to provide advice to government.
Advocates believe that collaboration across sectors will help deliver better health, economic and social outcomes for Australia as the pandemic rages on.
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said people have been struggling to protect themselves because of issues accessing COVID tests, vaccinations, medical supplies and essential goods and services.
She said it was “time for government to step into the breach and act swiftly”.
“Australia requires clear and cohesive government planning and a strengthened level of coordination via the National Cabinet,” Goldie said.
“It is vital that governments across the country learn the lessons from the first two years of managing the pandemic, heed the updated advice and warnings of health experts and policy advocates, and adopt best practice strategies to mitigate the health risk, economic chaos and social disruption [of COVID].”
ACOSS has put forward urgent policy recommendations related to protecting vulnerable groups during the pandemic.
These recommendations include:
- Ensuring an equitable and reliable community supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N95 and P2 standard masks and necessary medical equipment such as oximeters.
- Increasing investment in community-led health initiatives to deal with surging infections and its impact on people experiencing poverty and disadvantage.
- Consulting with local community leaders to designate culturally appropriate and safe spaces for First Nations people to isolate if they test positive for COVID, especially in regional and remote communities.
- Immediately suspending mutual obligations to protect people on JobSeeker and other payments, as well as job service providers, until the end of February.
Earlier this week, ACOSS also called for rapid antigen tests (RATs) to be made free for everyone, and said frontline community service providers must be included in the distribution plan to ensure at-risk groups can access them.
You can see the full letter to National Cabinet here.