13 November 2020


SUBJECTS: National anthem change; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags denied display in Senate; 4 Corners program on inappropriate sexual behaviour

ADAM STEER, HOST: Malarndirri McCarthy is a Yanyuwa woman from the Gulf country and is also the Northern Territory's Labor Senator. Happy NAIDOC week, Senator. Should Judith Durham's national anthem be Australia's official anthem?

SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: Oh, absolutely, Adam. And good morning to you and your listeners. I think Judith Durham and Kutcha Edwards, who was the other partner of that that anthem, put this together quite some time ago, in fact. And when I first heard it, I just thought, you know, that was quite an incredible anthem with the lyrics that just meant so much, certainly to me as a Yanyuwa woman. And I think it would really mean a lot to most Australians.

STEER: It kicked out the words “girt by sea”, though. Come on, they're important, aren't they?

MCCARTHY: You know, does anyone really know what 'girt' means? Like, seriously, you know, everyone there's so many interpretations of that word, Adam. But look, you know, I don't want to obviously disrespect our current anthem. I know that it's important for every country to have a song, but a song that unites. And one of the things that I find with the current anthem is that perhaps it could be much, much better. And Judith Durham and Kutcha Edwards, put these lyrics together, I think it was back before one of the Indigenous All Stars games. And, you know, it's sort of there. And I'd just encourage your listeners to read the lyrics and listen to the song.

STEER: “Young and Free” is one of the lines in Advance Australia Fair, which garners a lot of criticism because the argument is Australia isn't either young or free. Are there other parts that don't sit well with you?

MCCARTHY: No, I think it's more about including First Nations people within the lyrics, like, for example, and if I refer to Judith Durham's and Kutcha Edwards' one, you know, they talk about the sacred land, cultures everywhere. You know, they talk about the Dreaming in Advance Australia Fair. And so when we think of advancing Australia fair, just even those three words, you know, we need to make it so much more inclusive for every single Australian, not just First Nations, but those people who have come from across the seas, you know, all of these things. But it really is, I think, the First Nations people who need to be incorporated more in these lyrics.

STEER: As we celebrate NAIDOC Week, is Judith Durham's version popular with other Indigenous people ---

MCCARTHY: That's a good question. And I think it'd be important to put that out. I mean, I heard this song back about five years ago, Adam, and even then it was still a little bit unknown. And I would just encourage more conversation and debate. And that's what I've said more publicly, really, that, you know, these issues of anthems, while people may think it's all about symbols, I mean, we've talked about that with the flag issue here in the Senate this week. You know, symbolism is important, you know. Sure, it's not going to make the practical change, but it is about systemic change of culture within institutions across Australia that govern us. And I think that, you know, the lyrics of this anthem, if there's an opportunity to debate and discuss it and have a bit of fun as well, you know. Yeah. Bring, bring our country together, unite us.

STEER: You're on ABC Radio Darwin. Adam Steer with you. Senator Malarndirri McCarthy is your guest this morning. Now, as I said, it is NAIDOC Week. I'm interested in your thoughts on this and the timing of it. The Federal Government this week has voted against a motion to display the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags alongside the Australian Flag in the Senate. What's your reaction?

MCCARTHY: Yes, look, I moved the motion in the Senate on it, so it was incredibly disheartening and disappointment, disappointing, Adam. You know we lost by one vote, so it was 29 to 28. And the deeply concerning thing here is that, you know, the government used the words it was not "appropriate". However, you know, the irony is, is that the flag is flying everywhere. And, you know, it it really did not make any sense. And it was quite mean spirited, in my view.

STEER: They're saying it is not appropriate to fly the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in the Australian Senate. Did they give any reasons why they think that?

MCCARTHY: No, that's part of the problem. There was really no further reason other than that. And, you know, we've just finished the flag enquiry into the Aboriginal Flag. And as most Australians perhaps now know that we have three national flags: the Australian Flag, the Aboriginal Flag and the Torres Strait Islander Flag. And even yesterday at the Australian War Memorial, you know, all three flags were flown at half mast. And we were deeply grateful for the respect that's being shown to black diggers who are part of every conflict abroad, but also the recognition of the conflict internally as well with the frontier wars. So I just find that the Senate in particular, we are, I believe, responsible for sending out what kind of example we are to the rest of the country. And it was incredibly disheartening. And I think and I urged certainly the Government to reconsider voting on the motion again, that it was important that this motion passed. So I'm going to keep trying, Adam. I do think it's an error in judgement on the part of the Government. And I'll keep trying.

STEER: Especially in NAIDOC Week.

MCCARTHY: Absolutely. Absolutely in NAIDOC Week. The other Parliaments of Australia, especially the Liberal parliaments of Australia, actually fly the Aboriginal Flag and the Australian Flag in the Parliament, in the, inside the parliament. And there is no response from this current Coalition Government other than: no.

STEER: Have you spoken to the Chief Minister, Michael Gunner, about that? Because I'm not sure that he flies the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander flags behind him when he's holding press conferences. Would you like to see that happen in the Northern Territory?

MCCARTHY: Yes, yes, I would. In fact, I think I saw it. I'm not sure if it was in the NT News or whether it was on the ABC, but there was certainly a questionnaire around it. And look, I fully support that inclusion. Again, they're small things but they actually do matter, it makes a big difference.

STEER: In other news, the Labor Party has introduced what has been called the Bonk Ban, that's following this week's Four Corners program. Is that a rule which is needed for Labor in opposition, that Shadow Ministers are not allowed to have sex with their staff?

MCCARTHY: Well, this was highlighted rather disgracefully on Monday night through Four Corners. And when I say disgracefully, I mean in terms of the horrible stories that we saw on Four Corners and I certainly commend those women who spoke so publicly and it was pretty courageous of them to do so. But for for those of us who are in positions of responsibility and power, Adam, and this is what struck me personally as I watched it, is that we have to be, we have to hold to the highest sort of calibre the responsibilities that we bear, now whether that is to the people that we serve and, you know, in terms of our electorates, but also to our staff who work with us. And I think it's a, it was a really strong reminder that things that happen here in the parliament, whether it's the Federal Parliament or any other parliament in the country, Australians do expect us to uphold higher values. And so I do think and certainly our caucus do agree that we must always be vigilant about those matters.

STEER: Have you witnessed yourself in Parliament what was described as a toxic male culture within that place, as they call it?

MCCARTHY: Oh, look, I, I've been in politics, you know, since about 15 years this year since I was elected as the member for Arnhem. So I've certainly seen lots of behaviour over the years. I guess, you know, what I've done here in Canberra is if there has ever been any circumstances and I did reflect on one in particular where if I did feel uncomfortable, I wanted to make sure there were other women around. You know, they're small things that I think you just, you just think about if you do feel---.

STEER: What do you mean by that? So you'll be having meetings with senior politicians and you want other women around to protect you.

MCCARTHY: Well, there's also a cultural aspect for me as well, Adam. Like just as a First Nations woman, you're just mindful of different things or whether it's different topics, different issues that we must deal with. So so I'm not talking from a harassment nature. I'm just talking from a comfort, discomfort and comfort sort of environment. So I just feel that we're always-- I'm always conscious of it. And I think it's important that everyone's conscious of it, but more so because of the power imbalance that is there between politicians and whether it's their staffers or people in the electorate.

STEER: Senator, good to talk to you this morning.