ABC NEWS BREAKFAST: I urge political leaders to engage with the black community on the BLM protests

12 June 2020


SUBJECT: Black Lives Matter rallies; PMs slavery comments; Black Deaths in Custody

MICHAEL ROWLAND, ABC NEWS BREAKFAST: Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy joins us now from Parliament House. Senator, great to see you. Good morning.


ROWLAND: I want to get to the slavery comments in just a moment. But as somebody who attended one of the Black Lives Matter rallies last weekend and given the very strong warning we got on 730 last night from Brendan Murphy, the chief medical officer, that attending rallies this weekend would be ill advised and could spread community transmission, would you attend another Black Lives Matter rally this weekend?

MCCARTHY: Well, look, certainly if I was back in Darwin, I would certainly attend the rally to just to be there. We had certainly, well we have different circumstances, obviously, in the Northern Territory where our restrictions have reduced quite dramatically over the past month. And we can have crowds of up to 500, if not more now. We've got sporting fixtures where spectators are at the events. So this has been occurring since last week. And the rally that took place in Darwin and in Alice Springs occurred within that environment. And in terms of those health advice, it was perfectly okay to be there.

ROWLAND: And so what advice would you give, therefore, to people in cities where it's a bit more dicey, like Melbourne?

MCCARTHY: Well, look, every state and territory jurisdiction has to look at their own situation. And certainly those individuals and families need to consider what's important for themselves and the families and the people around them. So I would certainly say have a good look at that. I notice that New South Wales is going down the path of a legal structure. I know that there's conversations in Queensland and Victoria. But I would also urge political leaders to engage with the black community. What's missing here, I think, Michael, is the ability for leaders to actually engage with these leaders of the First Nations groups who are trying to reach out with a message that's significant. And I'd certainly urge the prime minister to do the same. You know, talk to First Nations media, start engaging with people instead of always being combative with First Nations people.

ROWLAND: Okay. Anthony Albanese, your leader, says people should listen to the health advice. The health advice, clearly, Senator, is do not go. So therefore, should people listen to the health advice in those other cities and not go to these rallies?

MCCARTHY: Well, I think I've just answered that. I think that each state and territory area has to be responsible. The families and individuals have to do that. And it will come down to individual people and their own views and rights and how they feel.

ROWLAND: Okay. Let's go to those comments from the Prime Minister where he proclaimed there was no slavery in Australia's past. When you first heard those comments, what was your reaction?

MCCARTHY: It was quite disappointing. I just, you know, I thought, you know, we have the Cocos-Keeling Islands in the electorate of Lingiari in the Northern Territory. And we know that from experience speaking to constituents there that they are descendants of people who've come from the Malays and the Dutch East Indies. So that was a clear case of, well, that's not quite correct, Prime Minister. But then if we also look at the South Sea Islanders who were kidnapped and relocated to Queensland, far north Queensland, to work in the sugar canes and then also First Nations people certainly felt that way, and there's also stolen wages. There are cases underway. So I just think the Prime Minister just needs to get out a bit more and realise that this is a big country and there are so many things that need to be understood. And truth telling begins with telling all those stories.

ROWLAND: Okay. And finally, with the issue in sharp relief yet again, sadly, it keeps having to be raised because of inaction: Aboriginal deaths in custody. We did get a commitment of sorts from Ken Wyatt, the minister for Indigenous Australians, earlier this week of fast tracking a target to reduce the number of Indigenous Australians in jail. Is that a welcome move from your perspective?

MCCARTHY: Well, it has to be more, Michael. You see, people are impatient with it. That's why people are taking to the streets and why they're pushing so hard. This has gone on way too long. And I do commend the Prime Minister with what he's doing in the National Cabinet. And I've said very publicly that they should be discussing it at the highest of levels and then acting immediately. We've seen the good work that's rolled out with the engagement of these leaders across the country with COVID-19. Well, do the same with First Nations peoples' incarcerations and the rates that are way too high.

ROWLAND: Malarndirri McCarthy, always great to speak to you. Thanks for joining us on this breakfast.