Vonda Malone: pandemic policy advisor making a difference

By The Mandarin

Friday July 17, 2020

Vonda Malone


Name: Vonda Malone

Title: Mayor, Torres Shire Council

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Role in responding to COVID-19

  • Developing and implementing pandemic responses for communities across the Torres Strait Islands and the Cape region of Far North Queensland.
  • Co-chair of the Torres Strait Local Disaster Management Group, which was at the forefront of driving an early response to the pandemic.
  • Chair of Torres Cape Indigenous Council Alliance (TCICA), advocating to the Queensland government and the federal government for 14 local councils stretching north from the Cook Shire, including 11 Indigenous communities.
  • Chair of Torres Health Indigenous Corporation, an Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (ACCHO), working with other ACCHOs on the pandemic response in Far North Queensland, and communicating with communities about preventative health measures and pandemic education.
  • Chair of Community Enterprise Queensland, working to secure a reliable food supply for Torres Strait Island communities and Aboriginal communities from Palm Island to Cape York and the Torres Strait.
  • Working with communities and families to ensure culturally sensitive practices around funerals and other important cultural ceremonies.

Notable previous policy experience

  • Mayor Malone is in her second term and fifth year as mayor.
  • She was previously executive director of Primary Health Care with the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Services, working across the Cape York and Torres Strait to improve primary health care delivery.
  • She was senior manager, Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Area with the Far North Qld Medicare Local.
  • She has 22 years’ experience with the Australian government, including with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade working in the Torres Strait, Canberra and New Zealand, where she initiated and delivered Closing the Gap initiatives on health and other areas.
  • Mayor Malone is a fellow of the Australian Rural Leadership Program and the United Nations Human Rights Commission’s Indigenous Fellowship Program. In 2018 she was presented with the inaugural McKinnon Prize for Emerging Political Leader of the Year, and is also a recipient of the Centenary Medal.

Notable achievements/contributions during this crisis

  • No COVID-19 cases have been reported in the Torres Strait or Cape.
  • A deep understanding of the health issues for Torres Strait Island people and their vulnerability in a pandemic galvanised Mayor Malone to introduce lockdown and other pandemic responses much sooner than elsewhere in Queensland.
  • She also advocated to the Queensland government to ensure community members, including children returning home from boarding school, could quarantine on Thursday Island and Cairns before returning to the islands.
  • Communicating with communities to ensure they had buy-in to the local decision making with appropriate health messaging and COVID response advice.
  • Encouraging government agencies and other employers to employ local community members rather than FIFO arrangements as part of the pandemic response.
  • Ensuring a secure food supply through the pandemic was a major achievement — some people in the Torres Strait were sending toilet paper and essential foods to family members in Cairns and on the mainland.
  • Working to ensure community safety during the local government elections, which presented major challenges for the local council and community members. These went ahead against the advice of Mayor Malone and other Indigenous Council leaders.
  • Working closely with many agencies, including Queensland Health, the Queensland Police Service, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Australian Border Force.
  • Advocating to the Australian government to ensure the international border was policed and staffed with ABF and QPS officers, to reduce the risk of cases being imported from PNG and West Papua.


‘The challenge throughout the pandemic has been the Queensland government’s resistance to our local leadership. They talk about thriving communities and building local capacity, but they consistently resisted the leadership of the state’s Indigenous mayors. We asked them on a number of occasions to postpone the local government elections, which they refused to do. We are relieved to have avoided cases so far, but are anxiously watching the situation in PNG and West Papua, where there are many cases. We are pleased to be getting back some normality now, but we are prepared and ready to act if there is another wave of COVID.’

This article is part of the Team COVID-19 series, available here.

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Managing Editor

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

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