26 November 2020


SUBJECTS: Cashless Debit card being rolled out to the Northern Territory; independent Senator Rex Patrick’s visit to the Northern Territory; McArthur River Mine Expansion; Brereton Report; Housing

SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: Well, firstly, if I could just acknowledge that we're on Larrakia Country and pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. It is absolutely wonderful to be hosting the Senator for South Australia, Rex Patrick. This is an opportunity for the people of the Northern Territory to speak to the senator, talk to him, probably about many issues, actually, but mostly in particular about the cashless debit card, which which is a real concern for the people here. And I'm certainly very conscious of that, given it's going to impact over 23,000 Territorians. And it is critical that when that piece of legislation comes to the Senate, that senators know what they're talking about, and that's really what I have asked our Independent Senators to do, is to come to the Northern Territory, get yourselves informed, so that when you do stand for that particular debate, you know what the people have told you from all sectors. So today, we're going to obviously be meeting with quite a number of groups and also we'll be traveling to north east Arnhem Land to listen to people who are on the Basics Card, who can talk about how they feel. And it's an opportunity for Senator Patrick to ask questions.

SENATOR REX PATRICK: Thank you. Look I'd really like to thank Malarndirri for inviting me here and hosting me for my stay. I'm up here to learn as much as I can about the CDC card and particularly interesting perspective that I'll get from the Northern Territory is the fact that you have a Basics Card which is set to be replaced by the CDC card under this legislation, if it were to pass. That's unique to the Northern Territory. And so it is important that I get that perspective. I always like to look after, look after Northern Territorians, they used to be part of South Australia.

MCCARTHY: And now you guys want to be a part of us I think.

PATRICK: Something like that. So, look, it is really important whenever charged with the responsibility of passing legislation, particularly legislation that that affects people who are perhaps not as well off as some, there is a responsibility to come out and listen to people, hear what they've got to say, and make sure that when you - when you either pass or reject legislation that you do so on an informed basis. I will, of course, also be travelling to Queensland, hopefully, if the borders are open to South Australians to allow me to see what's happening in Queensland as well at one of the CDC trial sites. That's also another part of my due diligence in respect to this legislation.

REPORTER: When you do speak to these community groups, what are you expecting to be hearing about the sort of concerns, or what sort of discussion do you think there will be?

PATRICK: Well, there has been a Senate inquiry into this. And so we have heard a number of perspectives. Often it's better to actually talk to people rather than, rather than just representatives of people, but to talk to real people, people who might be on the Basics Card, talk to them about what their concerns are, where they see shortfalls. You know, one of the options that we have in the Senate is potentially to, to amend the legislation. There might be a case that it might be acceptable in an amended form. And often those amendments come as a result of talking directly to people who would be affected by the card. I'd like to talk to to shop owners.  I'd like to talk to people that use the card, perhaps people who provide assistance on a social or a medical level to people here in the Northern Territory. I've even brought my own Indue card with me, and my intention is to try and spend this whole trip using the card and testing it to see where the flaws might be.

REPORTER: Would you say you are going in to this quite open minded?

PATRICK: Oh, absolutely. One of the things, I've only recently become independent and I never had the responsibility for this legislation in the past, and so everything's relatively new to me. I know that we have an impending date set in the Senate to vote on this legislation, it must be voted on prior to Christmas.  So, absolutely with an open mind, I haven't got a position on the card yet. I want to hear from everyone first before I make my decision.

REPORTER: Why do you have your own Indue Card.

PATRICK: Beg your pardon?

REPORTER: You said you have your own Indue card with you.

PATRICK: Yes, I have an Indue card. I requested one from Minister Ruston. There is a facility that enables people like myself to get access to a card so that we can experience what use of the card is like. I've actually already tried it down in South Australia at a number of places, restaurants. I've tried it at an alcohol shop just to see how I'm treated when, for example, I get to, or the terminal suggests that I'm not allowed to purchase a particular item. So it is important for me to understand, even personally, how how the card interacts or how people interact with you when you use the card.

REPORTER: In your opinion has the federal government done enough consultation for I suppose listening to their own reviews with an open ear?

PATRICK: Look, I think there is some difficulty in respect of consultation. One of the things that may have feted that is, of course, COVID. So it's, it's really hard for me to comment whether or not they've done enough or not, because there is this sort of cloud of COVID that has prevented people coming into the Territory. And particularly we have to be mindful of Indigenous people who may be quite susceptible to to things like COVID. I also note that the government has not released the Adelaide University report. I'm very keen for that to be released. With any decision, I think the community have the entitlement to weigh into the debate and they should do so on an informed basis. That report should be released and made available to both Senators who have to vote on the legislation, but also to the broader community so that they can comment on it as well.

REPORTER: Do you think that there should be a Royal Commission held in to veteran suicides?

PATRICK: So switching topics, is everyone finished on CDC card?

REPORTER: We might talk to you after this, Senator?

PATRICK: So do we…  

REPORTER: yeah, just.

PATRICK: Okay, I'm aware that there has been a call for a royal commission into veteran suicide, and in fact, I have supported such motions in the Senate. Indeed, just this morning, my office has been in contact with Jacqui Lambie's office, and we're in the process of. Well, I'm in the process of adding my name to a petition in relation to that.

REPORTER: And is that something that, I mean considering your background in the navy is that something that you feel strongly about?

PATRICK: It is. We've had a situation where we've had nine suicides in the last seven days of veterans, people returning from service, people who served this country deserve the best possible treatment and there are concerns as to the treatment of, of veterans. There's no question that poor handling by the government has caused stress for veterans. We need to look into this properly. I understand the concerns associated with the commission model. Some of those concerns have been raised also are of concern to me.

REPORTER: And a special task group meritorious citation, should that be revoked after alleged war crimes?

PATRICK: I think we need to work through this very, very carefully. I would hope that the War Memorial might take down any anything that glorifies persons that have been mentioned in the report. Of course, we always want to make sure that we treat people with the presumption of innocence. But Justice Brereton has done a very extensive examination into what happened in Afghanistan, and I think we must accept there is a prima facie case. In respect of anything that mentions the war crimes that have been alleged to have taken place in Afghanistan, I think it's really important that if we have a war memorial that is describing how Australians conducted war, that it is it, that it's warts and all it should include information in relation to (inaudible - loud plane).

PATRICK: It's clear Malarndirri doesn't have as much influence over the Air Force as I thought she had.

MCCARTHY: Maybe I do and it came while we are talking about defence.

PATRICK: Okay, fantastic. I'll start that again. It's really important that the War Memorial portray a war, any war, warts and all. So that means we honor those people that went and fought for Australia, fought for our freedom. But where there is misconduct, abhorrent conduct, as has been described in this report, that needs to be in the museum as well.

REPORTER: So you don't think that the Meritorious Unit Citation should be revoked?

PATRICK: Well, the difficulty with a unit citation is that it involves the conduct of perhaps a few. The misconduct of perhaps a few versus the very good conduct of many, and so that is a complex question. I haven't turned my mind to that fully, but we must recognise that many people that went to Afghanistan have done a superb job representing our country and we shouldn't let the actions of a few sully the reputation of the many.

REPORTER: Senator McCarthy, just on the possible, imminent or possible transition through to the cashless debit card, what are some of your largest concerns when it comes to the card, particularly in remote areas?

MCCARTHY: Sure, I just wait for the trolley to go past. There's probably quite a number of ways to answer that, and firstly, there is a legacy here of complete distrust. We only have to really look back to the 2007 intervention and the way that was conducted. I was the member for Arnhem at the time and the incredible sense of disempowerment that men and women felt. Of course, the reasons used for that particular intervention were complex, but there was no doubt that the hurt and the utter despair that people felt was contributed so much to what's happened since. So that's when the basics card came in and that was the environment in which it came. So going out now, especially with Senator Patrick, is an opportunity to enable those organisations, those families to talk not only about the cashless debit card, but to express directly and personally to him, what this means, this whole journey of the last 13 years really, has meant to them and their families. You know some of them may be success stories. I think on the whole, though, what you will hear is that sense of being forced to do something that people didn't want to do. And I think that's going to come as something that's critical to this whole debate. This is about compulsory forcing people to do something that they don't want to do and that's really important to me as a Senator for the Northern Territory that my colleagues in the Senate all hear what the people of the Northern Territory are saying and where they're coming from when they say that.

REPORTER: Do you think that measures like this which quarantine and control so much of someone's money are compatible with the right to self-determination?

MCCARTHY: Oh, look. OK, we look at our country in search in terms of the values and principles of what we stand for. We are a democratic society. We are about hopefully respecting one another from all walks of life. But for First Nations people, it seems to be that nearly every kind of piece of legislation that comes does not hold those values. And so the desire to be able to rise above that is critical in this conversation and it's important even for self-determination and the very principles of what that means is about respect and listening to one another, and that's the beginning of what this two days is about.

REPORTER:  n terms of the comparison between the current basics card and the cashless debit card where's the biggest concern there in terms of the change that we'd see with the transition to the other card?

MCCARTHY: Sure, look, there have been many concerns raised throughout the inquiries that we have had in the Senate, we've certainly finished one. We certainly had one previous to that. And a lot of it is based around process. There is a great deal of criticism that hits at the heart of how Centrelink deals with it, how income management is carried out across the Northern Territory. We're talking about people who are in some of the remotest places that don't have access to mobile phone coverage, that don't have access to the Internet. And so, for example, when I went in Central Australia, you have elders who sit on a phone for five hours. They have to be given food while they're sitting there waiting for Centrelink or someone from that to come and talk to them about what it is that's wrong with their card. So there are some really practical issues that impact directly. We only have to look at the blackout that occurred here last week and people in the northern suburbs raised the issues of what that meant, and that discomfort for two hours. You share that with those 25000 people who were out there who experienced that on a regular basis. So how are they going to use these sorts of cards?

REPORTER: On a slightly different note do you agree with the NT Government's decision to approve the mining management plan for the McArthur River Mine when the plan doesn't have a clearance from the Sacred Sights Authority?

MCCARTHY: I received a briefing this morning on the Northern Territory Government's decision to approve the mine management plan, and I've raised some critical questions over that. And I am actually waiting for a response to some of those questions. And I think as we do in the Senate and what we do on Senate committees is to actually scrutinise and ask about process. So I'm certainly waiting for the answers to some of those questions I've raised.

REPORTER: And what were those questions?

MCCARTHY: My questions are also around the independent monitor and the process in relation to how the independent monitor has been appointed. What happened to the previous independent monitor? What happened to the outcome of their decisions? Why is it that the bond has been reduced by two hundred and fifty million to where it is? These are very basic questions that need to be asked, and I'm certainly waiting for responses.

REPORTER: Are you disappointed that the NTG has gone ahead against advice considering what we saw with Rio Tinto in WA recently?

MCCARTHY: We've seen what happens with the Juukan Gorge and the absolute outrage not only among First Nations people, but by all good, decent Australians who know that this is part of our collective history, the protection and preservation of those sites. It is no different to the McArthur River mine. There are important critical sacred sites there. The fact that the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority was unaware that this decision was going to be made, is clearly disappointing. Certainly they can speak for themselves. But I was the previous Minister for Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority and would expect that there was some kind of cohesion in that process. So now we obviously have to wait to see what AAPA says in terms of the clearance for McArthur River mine.

REPORTER: Do you expect to be satisfied with the response from Minister Manison?

MCCARTHY: Sorry, just repeat that.

REPORTER: Do you expect to be satisfied with the response from Minister Madison after what we've seen?

MCCARTHY: Look, there is no doubt that Minister Manison is doing the best job that she can, given she's only recently moved to this portfolio, but this is more than about one particular minister. This is about the actual processes and confidence in the general community that those processes are being followed and I look forward to receiving the responses.

REPORTER: Just because back on the cashless debit card, part of the legislation includes - well the minister has said, you know, moving from the basic card to the cashless debit card, we aren't going to increase the amount of money that we quarantine on the card.  In, within the legislation she could but she's saying that that would involve, you know, community consultation and a lot of discussion before that were to happen. Do you have faith that that process would be followed. Or are there fears that because there is a line in the legislation that would allow her to do so, that she could go back in the word and just go yep 80 percent?

MCCARTHY: Do I trust that that process will be followed? No, I don't. And the reason why is because we've asked for particular pieces of information to come through at Senate estimates and the information that's come through in particular around the South Australian report, is that this evaluation of nearly $2.5 million that was called by the minister was supposed to guide her in this legislation. And I'm incredibly disappointed that we learnt through Senate estimates that neither the bureaucracy at nor the minister has seen the final complete report.  They've seen,  certainly the department has said it's seen sections of drafts, but it doesn't give confidence. So I don't have confidence. I think that is a is a real disgrace in terms of making a decision based around not even read reading this report and there are so many people in those trials across Australia, in those four trial areas, who at least require us as parliamentarians to do what we say we're going to do. And I think it's a real shame that that report has not even been looked at and has not guided this legislation.

REPORTER: How concerned are you that public housing in Gunbalanya is so dangerous that an 11 year old child was electrocuted?

MCCARTHY: Firstly, you know, it was absolutely tragic to hear of the death of the young boy in Gunbalanya, and my heart goes out to the families and to the community. That community's suffered incredibly in particular over so many deaths this year and more recently with young peope. So I think that firstly that's really where that, my response has to end. Clearly, there has to be an investigation into actually what took place, but my heart goes out to the families.

REPORTER: I mean would you like to see the NT Government sort of step into this space to do more of an investigation, maybe invest more into housing in some of these communities?

MCCARTHY:  I know where you're going, but these are very separate issues in the sense that there has been a death and there needs to be the appropriate investigation into that. If we're talking about houses more broadly across the Northern Territory, well, clearly no jurisdiction is moving fast enough to provide houses for people in Australia, least of which here in the Northern Territory. We need to obviously do more, we are trying to do more and I certainly commend those who are out there working on the ground and building those houses. I've certainly seen some terrific houses in Borroloola, but we still need more. So let's keep watching that space.