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FactCheck: No, the Australian Army didn't forcibly vaccinate Indigenous Australians

The claim caused a protest outside the Australian Embassy in Dublin

CLAIMS OF ABORIGINAL Australians being vaccinated against their will have spread across Irish social media, resulting in a protest outside the Australian Embassy in Dublin.

The demonstration was live-streamed on 26 November on Corruption Awareness Ireland, a Facebook page with over 85,000 followers. 

In the video, which has 12,000 views, a small group of people can be seen standing outside the Australian Embassy at St Stephen’s Green, with some holding Aboriginal flags and signs reading ‘We stand with Australia’ and ‘Respect Aboriginals, Respect All’. 

An unnamed protestor explains to the camera: “We are gathering to support the wisdom elders, the Aboriginals.”

She adds: “The military forces are helping the Aboriginals [sic] to get their medicine. And if you don’t get it, if you decide to run away, two things can happen – you can be penalised up to 5 thousand dollars and … it’s not like in Ireland for these Aboriginals [sic] if you don’t take the medicine your food access is removed.” 

(The terms ‘aborigines’ and ‘aboriginals’  – when used as nouns – are considered offensive by some First Nations peoples. They are generally not used, particularly in media, academic or government material. See this guide for more information.)

The woman goes on to explain that she’s never been to the communities in the Northern Territory allegedly facing forced vaccination “but we watched their videos, you might have seen it around on Facebook and Telegram.” 

In recent weeks Irish channels on messaging app Telegram were filled with claims such as ‘Australian Army has commenced forced kill shots upon Aboriginals’  and ‘Aboriginals HUNTED by MILITARY, Kids JABBED BY FORCE.’ 

Given the historic mistreatment of First Nations people in Australia, including the removal of children by law enforcement agencies, the claims provoked an emotional response.

But is there any basis to them?

The Evidence

The Australian Defence Forces are on the ground in the Northern Territory (NT) where Indigenous communities are located in order to transport people to Covid-19 testing centres. According to an ADF spokesperson they are not ‘empowered or authorised’ to carry out any law enforcement.  

This move followed an outbreak of Covid-19 in the northern NT town of Katherine and the detection of new cases in the remote communities of Binjari and Rockhole at the end of November. Defence forces were called in to transfer positive cases and close contacts during lockdown, some to Howard Springs, an open air facility used to quarantine overseas passengers. 

shutterstock_769716028 Map of Northern Territory Source: Shutterstock/JoaoCachapa

The chairwoman of the area’s Aboriginal health clinic, Lisa Mumbin, told the ABC she was worried overcrowding, lack of housing, poverty and underlying health issues made the community particularly vulnerable to Covid.

Some of the earliest forced vaccination claims appear in a video made by David Cole posted on 24 November. Cole is an award-winning charity worker living in the Northern Territories who self-identifies in the clip as a “descendant of the Luritja and Wambya peoples… and Scottish and Irish tribes of Europe”. 

“We have the Northern Territory force vaccinating out people… using military, foreign military to pressure our people to take this bio weapon,” he claimed, standing in front of the Aboriginal flag. 

He went on to claim that Indigenous people were being used as ‘guinea pigs’ and that they are being told they ‘can’t eat in the shops’. 

Cole’s claims match those made by a protester at the Australian Embassy in Dublin.  

The woman addressing the live stream protest is heard saying “you might have seen there is an address from six or seven Aboriginals [sic] where they’re asking local community to stand up.” 

There are seven people in Cole’s clip sitting and standing next to him. 

The same clip has been shared across Irish Facebook pages and Telegram channels. 

IMG_1530 Cole's video in an Irish Telegram channel Source: Telegram

By 30 November Cole had backtracked on some of his initial allegations.

“Just to clarify for everybody, we’ve had no confirmations of police or anybody chasing people down, dragging them out of the house and force injecting them. That has been clarified from the community,” he said in a video on his Instagram.

However he maintained: “That doesn’t mean people are being pressured, coerced or forced, or made to do this against their will.”

Earlier this year traditional landowners (Indigenous people who are from a particular region with generational links to the land as opposed to others who have moved there) confronted Cole over his anti-vaccine campaign. 

Greater Katherine’s Aboriginal healthcare provider and traditional landowners were quick to deny reports of military coercion. 

“People are very hurt by the untrue comments being made in the media and social media about their situation,”  said Wurli-Wurlinjang Aboriginal Health Service in a statement on behalf of the Binjari and Rockhole traditional owners dated 25 November. 

“We are in lockdown because we’re in the biggest fight of our lives… We don’t need people out there creating another flood for us.”

The organisation said the remote Indigenous community was being treated with “a lot of respect” by “support personnel people”.

“People on social media saying that our people are being mistreated need to realise their comments are hurting the very people they claim to care about,” it added, explaining the pandemic was stretching already limited health resources. 

The Australian Defence Force strongly denied any allegations of forced vaccinations while other remote Aboriginal communities and health care bodies have also denied the allegations.

Federal Senator for the Northern Territory and Yanyuwa woman Malarndirri McCarthy’s family were in the affected communities. She told The Journal the ADF “worked quickly to respond to the outbreak, sending in testing and vaccination teams, and providing support through the delivery of food, supplies and the transportation of residents”.

“Family and community members I spoke to at the time were grateful for this support.” 

Senator McCarthy called the forced vaccination claims ‘lies and misinformation’ explaining that they were harmful to Indigenous communities who are identified as ‘highly vulnerable’ to Covid. 

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She cited overcrowded housing, existing comorbidities, the slow rollout of the vaccine and a failure to communicate information to First Nations communities in their own language as reasons for the group’s vulnerability. 

“The misinformation we have seen is dangerous and creates fear at a time when we need to be working together,” she explained. 

The Northern Territory’s government leader Chief Minister Michael Gunner took aim at ‘conspiracy theorists overseas‘ spreading the claims in a press conference on 25 November according to the Guardian. 

“If anybody thinks that we are going to be distracted or intimidated by tinfoil hat wearing tossers, sitting in their parents’ basements in Florida, then you do not know us Territorians,” he said. 

The Australian Ambassador to Ireland, Gary Gray, said the protests outside the Australian Embassy in Dublin caused little disruption but stated the cause, claims of forced vaccination, didn’t have a factual basis. 

“We do not force vaccinate people in Australia, we especially do not force our Indigenous people to get vaccinated,’ he told the Journal.

“I am not personally aware of any Indigenous Australians living in Dublin who attended the protest or who have registered concerns about the vaccine claims with the Embassy.”

The Journal reached out to a group linked to the protest, Sovereignty.ie, to confirm if any Australian Aboriginals attended or were involved in the protest. They have yet to respond. 

There is no evidence the Australian military forcibly vaccinated Indigenous communities or denied them food if they did not get vaccinated. 

People have been fined $5000 AUD (3164 EU) each in The Northern Territory for breaching public health orders, including one woman who left a quarantine facility. However this applies to everyone in the state, not just Indigenous communities. There is no evidence of fines applied to people who ‘ran away’ from vaccinations. 

Other states have also implemented similar fines for failure to comply with Covid restrictions. While advocacy groups have argued minorities including Indigenous Australians were disproportionately affected by fines there was no suggestion of forced vaccinations. 

The army had previously been deployed to Aboriginal communities during the controversial 2007 Northern Territory Intervention. It was deemed an ‘emergency response’ to child sex abuse in the region and imposed restrictions on the sale of alcohol, compulsory medical checks for children, restricting how welfare payments could be spent and tying school attendance to welfare payments. Some have argued the intervention breached human rights and harmed Indigenous communities. 

However despite debates over the intervention’s impacts on First Nation peoples in the Northern Territory, the army was not accused of vaccinating anyone against their will. 

Verdict

We are rating this claim False. There is no evidence the Australian Defence Forces forcibly vaccinated anyone in these communities against Covid-19.

Indigenous Elders and healthcare workers from Binjari, Katherine and Rockhole refuted and criticised the claims for their potential harmful impacts on vulnerable communities, as have senior politicians. 

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here.

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