26 June 2017


ROHAN BARWICK, ABC ALICE SPRINGS DRIVE PRESENTER: Are changes to the Native Title Act that made it through the Senate today necessary and desirable or do changes erode the legacy of Eddie Mabo and put the interests of miners ahead of Traditional Owners land rights. There has been, I am sure you have caught up with a bit of it, a debate going on for a while now prompted by the Adani mining project in Queensland about how Native Title claims work and the Federal Government introduced a bill to make some changes recently. Labor initially was against the bill but ended up voting for it after a number of amendments.

The changes are bound to be controversial for many I would say so are they needed and are the critics right to say that this is about appeasing a mining company and what effect will these Native title Changes have here in the Territory?

Malarndirri McCarthy is the Labor Senator for the Northern Territory and she is with us this afternoon. Senator thank for your time and good afternoon.


BARWICK: Can you just explain what are these changes actually mean, are they needed?

MCCARTHY: This about more than 120 Indigenous Land Use agreements which had been found to experience great uncertainty due to a court case in WA. After that was a process, which has been a very very difficult process to look at how an amendment or amendments could go through the Senate to obviously protect those Indigenous land Use Agreements but also give certainty back to the areas.

BARWICK: This seems to be about how many Traditional Owners needed to be on board for agreements to take place, is that right?

MCCARTHY: Yes that is right. There are many technicalities to this but basically it is about who can say yes, who cannot, and what their process is in doing that. So we have had to really go through and unpack the pieces of legislation.

But what is thrown in the mix here is the concerns of those who found that the court case in WA could have possibly benefited them. So we found that we were receiving phone calls from across the country from all sorts of organisation, but in particular First Nations groups across the country, many absolutely for this change, many who were strong about being against it.

BARWICK: Thats right it has been very controversial piece. A statement from Labor today says Labor recognises that the Indigenous community is not united in its support for this bill. So how divided do you believe are communities on this? There has been some discussion today that a lot of people dont know what is going on.

MCCARTHY: It has been an incredibly difficult process, I have been through many difficult processes but I have to say this is up there. What we have had to do is isolate this into a couple of levels; one is dealing with the Government and recognising that the Government was not handling this important Act of the Eddie Mabo legacy in the right and proper way. The other area we had to deal with was what was actually impacting and who was it impacting on. That meant conversations with land councils, with native title groups right across the country and ideally it needed a much more thorough process which is what Labor was always pushing for, because the Government wanted to pass this in a day.

BARWICK: I know you essentially have to vote with the party, but do you personally support these changes and do you think these are the right changes.

MCCARTHY: Someone else asked me today how do I feel and I said I feel totally exhausted really. This is not just about standing for hours and debating but it also gets to the heart as a Yanyuwa Garawa woman for my people in the Gulf Country Native Title is significant. I am a Native Title claimant so I understand the complexities of this process so am I satisfied? I feel that the amendment that I pushed though, I got support from everyone in the chamber and that is unheard of. I am deeply satisfied that in this bill it will be recognised about the condemnation about the way this occurred.

BARWICK: You are saying that you are happy with the amendment you go through but the bill as a whole do you think it was needed.

MCCARTHY: There had to be certainly in this instance, there certainly has to be more. We have to look at other things that the government hasnt talked about there are certainly other sections like s31 that was not included in these amendments that are going to have a significant impact I am sure. This needed a comprehensive review of the Native Title Act.

BARWICK: The Greens opposed the changes saying that they were being rushed through to appease Adani you dont think that was the case?

MCCARTHY: This was being rushed through, this was going to be rushed in a day or two and its because of Senator Pat Dodson, myself and Labor that we were able to insist that the government were able to do many other things. It is not entirely the position that you always want to be in when you are in opposition. But I look at it and I think we got it as far as we could in the best way that we could.

BARWICK: So you are happy with the fact that it has passed through the senate today?

MCCARTHY: Look I am relieved that we were able to make the amendments that we needed to ensure that this was a much better piece of legislation

BARWICK: Is this going to have any impact on Native Title agreements in central Australia and the Barkly and indeed across the NT?

MCCARTHY: That was important to me to find out. Naturally the CLC and NLC were pivotal to this and it was through discussion with them and we found out that in regards to the NT there was little if any impact, so it was important to be able to understand what the position is for the Traditional Owners.

BARWICK: Just finally, along with Native Title you have also been making some comments about education funding in the NT. You say that Labor believes under the new Federal education model that the Federal government is pushing that all 151 Government schools in the Northern Territory will lose out on some funding now positive that the government would refute this what is that based on, you believe those figures are accurate?

MCCARTHY: There are media reports around that today Rohan. Through my office and the office of the Education minister in the Northern Territory have been working closely with them. There are significant attacks financially to the education system to us in the Northern Territory.

We will certainly see more of the detail in the coming days.

But I think what is important to remember here is that attacking education in this way is about shattering the hopes and dreams of the education of our young people and it is actually eroding our future.

BARWICK: Do you think there are any cases of schools being over funded in the Northern Territory?

MCCARTHY: I certainly think that we have to look at Closing the Gap Rohan, we recognise there are many issues around that, we are not reaching the targets and I would be incredibly surprised if there are schools punching way above their weight, that they are now being cut like this.

BARWICK: I appreciate your time this afternoon, thanks for talking to us.

MCCARTHY: Thanks Rohan.