$27 million could be ripped out of the NT economy each and every fortnight if the Morrison government withdraws JobKeeper support too early

13 July 2020


TOPICS: JobKeeper; NT seat loss; Death of John Ah Kit

STEWART BRASH, ABC ALICE SPRINGS: Malarndirri McCarthy is Senator for the Northern Territory. Malarndirri McCarthy, good morning.

MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: Good morning, Stewart. Good morning to your listeners.

BRASH: Why can't we just wait till July 23 when we'll probably get an idea from the Prime Minister that there will be more support coming?

MCCARTHY: We've been actually asking for quite some time, Stewart. And it is a concern that there does keep being a delay in terms of responding to the question. Businesses here in the Northern Territory and we're talking about, you know, over 4,777 businesses, according to the data. If we don't have that certainty right now, it just adds incredible pressure.

BRASH: But these are incredibly difficult times and we all know that. And for anyone who's on JobKeeper, I think they'll be manifestly greater that sense of unease, the sense of what is to come next. But the Prime Minister still needs a plan. And if we know on July 23 what the plan is, surely that's good enough.

MCCARTHY: Well, what we're trying to do, Stewart, is to identify, certainly as far as the Northern Territory is concerned, just how important it is here. We look at, you know, our figures and the figures show that $27 million could be ripped out of the NT economy each and every fortnight if the Morrison government withdraws JobKeeper support too early. So it's critical that we are voicing our concerns immediately so if those deliberations are occurring in Government and in Cabinet, they need to really understand, specially as far as the Northern Territory is concerned, what it would mean to us.

BRASH: What does the Prime Minister need? He surely needs to balance, obviously supporting people now, but also the long term debt burden, which the whole community, which actually have to deal with, if we keep the level of support as it is now. I mean, would you like JobKeeper to be kept the same levels after September?

MCCARTHY: Well, we need to keep it. We really do, Stewart. We need to keep it because, as I said, $27 million dollars ripped out of the NT economy each and every fortnight should that occur. And we just can't, we can't let that happen. I mean, we've just been hearing the concerns around our national parks and tourism, all of these things that are impacted greatly as it is. So it's quite critical that the JobKeeper stays.

BRASH: Could it not be tapered, in the sense that, we know as we slowly open up the economies in our states and territories and we've seen July 17, this Friday, we'll be opening up our economy and our borders to people from everywhere except Victoria. Surely then we need to have a plan which will see a tapering of things like JobKeeper, because otherwise, as I said, the debt burden and the numbers are, as you know, eye watering when it comes to the levels of debt.

MCCARTHY: Well, absolutely. But we are in circumstances that are unprecedented. And I think it's really important that the economy keeps turning if it has the support, as it currently does with JobKeeper. We don't know how long this is going to go for. And I think it's too soon. We're not really off our knees yet. It's too soon to remove it. I do understand that there has to be some exit strategy, but we're just not there yet.

BRASH: Can I ask the question? And people listening will say, well, Brash, it's okay for you, you're a feather bedded public service broadcaster. So I'll say this advisedly. But is it possible that we just have to acknowledge that some businesses will not make it through this period of the pandemic into the next few months, that we need to be aware that we are going to lose some people, some positions in some businesses? Or do we need to save every job? We need to save every job in every business.

MCCARTHY: I think we understand that that is occurring across Australia more broadly, Stewart, that people are going out of business. I don't think we're immune to the fact that that's actually occurring. I think what we have to decide here is that we either hold the line and stay the line and stay the course to get as many Australians through this as we can. And I believe that's what we should be doing.

BRASH: What will be the measure? What will be the indicator which suggests we can start tapering off things like JobKeeper?

MCCARTHY: Well, clearly I think one of the most obvious ones is if we look at our tourism and our airlines. Just look at the flights, the fact that we just don't have the choices yet. The fact that there is not that confidence. And it's always about confidence in the business community and the economic sort of sector. That confidence is not there. People are nervous. People are obviously still watching what's going on in Victoria and parts of New South Wales. Here in the Northern Territory, we've been incredibly blessed to get through COVID to where we have at the moment in terms of health. But we do have to keep the confidence building in terms of the economy.

BRASH: Can I ask, just on the July 17 opening date, we've seen this spike in Victoria. There are now growing concerns in parts of Sydney as well. Are we opening up too early?

MCCARTHY: Look, the Chief Minister's made it very clear that those hot spots will not be welcome in terms of people coming from those places. It will be a real test of our vigilance on the borders. But I know that the Chief Minister and all those departments who are working towards the re-entry of people to the Northern Territory have to keep a really tight hold on just who does come in.

BRASH: Now, another issue which has been running. I've been away for two weeks now, Malarndirri McCarthy. So forgive my ignorance of --.

MCCARTHY: Hope you had a great holiday!

BRASH: It's ok I'm having a staycation. It was staycation, it was fantastic. But I did note that the decision to amend had come forth, that we lose our, one of our seats in the Northern Territory. We'll be down, automatically, we're down to one, one federal seat. You've been campaigning against this. And there is also your bill in the Senate which would reverse that and give us as a basis, two seats. I think we've been in this situation before, I think back in 2008. Now, where are we at now? You've got a, there was being public submissions which closed, I think, on this on Friday or Saturday. By the same token, also, you've been running a petition on this issue. Is that petition garnering much interest?

MCCARTHY: It's been terrific, the petition, Stewart, nearly 2000 people have signed up. And so many people from the Northern Territory, which has really been heartening for me, as I've read through the comments. The people are really concerned. It's certainly galvanised a great deal of interest. And this thing of not wanting to lose our voice, you know, or have our voice silenced. That's been a really common theme coming through from the commentary on the petition.

BRASH: Can I ask the question now, it's apparently an automatic process, the sums are crunched, it comes out that we don't meet quota for two seats. Therefore, we get one seat. At the end of the day, isn't that just the way it is? The hard reality the statistics show that we don't deserve any more than one seat?

MCCARTHY: Yes. But the reverse to that, Stewart, is if you do the predictions, the parliamentary library has done the predictions in terms of this year in terms of population, but then it says in 2022 we will again be over the population data. So that's the year we go to an election. So it makes no real sense as to why we would lose this seat now, if we're only projected to go over the population data in two years' time.

BRASH: Can I ask in this process which has been done and these projections which are being done? We are living in the most strange of times. Populations are not moving or people are fleeing back to where they their home states or otherwise. Has any part of the COVID-19 equation being factored into this decision?

MCCARTHY: I don't believe it has. I believe it's been a fair, fairly straightforward process for the AEC. When we return to the Senate in August and hopefully debate the Private Senators' Bill to introduce legislation, or to amend the legislation, to make sure we have the two seats, I certainly would like to raise that as part of the debate, that it's been difficult as well for anyone to move around, to actually count people or get people in on the enrolment forms. All of those things, because we've had to stay the one place so I think it's a fair question you ask and I'll certainly be putting that into the parliament in August.

BRASH: Do you have a sense in the Senate how the votes will go?

MCCARTHY: Look, I am reasonably pleased that we've, along with CLP Senator Sam McMahon, we do have the Nationals on board. We've got Labor on board. I'm trying to work with the crossbenchers to see if we can have them support us. Jacqui Lambie has given her support to this Private Senators' Bill, so that's a great, a great vote. And naturally, we would like some of the Liberal Senators to come on board. So I'm going to be lobbying quite strongly. And I do ask Territorians who are listening, if you can help as well, that would be awesome. Because we just need to really lobby all of the other senators to support this Private Senators Bill through when we debate it.

BRASH: And if it is passed, it still has to go to the lower house, what might its fate be there?

MCCARTHY: Well, again, that will be quite tricky. The lower house. You know, the government can choose to not bring the bill on. It will need people in the lower house other than Labor. So I'd be calling on the Nationals in particular to bring the bill on in the House if we're successful in getting it through the Senate so that it can be debated. Otherwise, with private senators or members bills sometimes they just sit on the shelf. So we actually need the numbers in the House just to bring the bill on in the lower house.

BRASH: Yep, see what happens. Malarndirri, thank you so much. But also a very sad day with the news yesterday of the death of John Ah Kit, who of course, we get a ground-breaking parliamentarian, a Minister in the Northern Territory.

MCCARTHY: I'd like to just pay tribute to JAK. He was certainly a mentor to me in coming into the political system and the Labor Party when I succeeded him in Arnhem in 2005. I certainly send my condolences to his children, Ngaree and Jonathan in particular, and to Gail, his wife. And I think that we are really going through a quite a deep reflection of what an outstanding character and wonderful human being JAK was.

BRASH: Because I thought, and we discussed this a little bit beforehand, but that he had been ill, but he was getting through that. So this was a double shock in the sense that the people thought he was on the way up.

MCCARTHY: Yes look he certainly had some challenges over the last few years with his health. And you're right, Brashie, we thought we were going to lose him there a few times. And then he just, you know, the good ole, the Buffalo Warrior, I sort of think, you know, he loves his Darwin Buffaloes, and I think that he still came out and fought it and surprised everyone happily and was just getting on with life, as far as many people knew. I guess his family might have known differently. But to the rest of us, it was just wonderful to always see him around Darwin. And so it was a really sad moment last night to receive the news.

BRASH: Yeah, a lot of people reflecting on that today, I'd imagine. Malarndirri McCarthy, thanks for your time this morning and we'll speak soon.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.