30 November 2017


KATE OTOOLE, JOURNALIST: Those are the sounds in Federal Senate today as the same sex marriage bill passed Senator for the Northern Territory Malarndirri McCarthy was of course there in the chamber and voted in favour of the bill. What was that moment like Malarndirri?

SENATOR MALARNDIRRRI MCCARTHY, SENATOR FOR THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: Incredibly historic Kate. Hello to you and to all your listeners across the Territory. Today has been a day long awaited for so many Australians, and I think for the Senate in particular just in these past forty-eight hours or more, and we have been debating quite at length so at 1:30 today the division was called, and the vote took place on the floor, and as you heard there and as your listeners heard, it was euphoric.

OTOOLE: Of course it now goes to the Lower House to be debated again. This bill passed without the Religious protection amendments that had been suggested, what do you think will happen when it goes to the lower house?

MCCARTHY: Look no doubt the disunity we have seen take place within the Turnbull cabinet and the coalition will no doubt mean there is going to be some incredible challenges in the Lower House, Federal Labor in both the Senate and the lower house will be making sure in the Lower House again that will Bill goes through.

OTOOLE: How much of a risk is that to your own representatives in the Lower House in particular. I mean that this same-sex marriage postal survey showed that there were plenty of electorates in Western Sydney that were the highest no voters in the country and made a pretty clear as to perhaps why Labor didn't try to tackle this any earlier.

MCCARTHY: Well I think we've got to remember a few things Kate and firstly Labor was never comfortable with the postal survey we never agreed that this was the way to do this. The postal survey was a second-best chance. I had to call on the Australian Bureau of Statistics along with Warren Snowdon just to make sure the people in regions of the Northern Territory could even receive a postal survey. There were flaws from the beginning that we were very concerned. Now the outcome in terms of the statistics of each of the electorates I'm sure every Member of Parliament will read those assess it on their own individual areas. But I think overall federal Labor has been adamant that equality is equality, love is love, this was important from the get-go for us and continues to be so until its law.

OTOOLE: Well from the get-go this time around but of course there was plenty of opportunities for Labor to settle this issue when it was in power, and it didn't take that opportunity?

MCCARTHY: I'm sure we can reflect on so many decisions in the past I can only speak for the time that I have been in there Kate, and thats been in the last 18 months, and I can tell you for the fact that there is incredible unity around the fact that this needed to happen.

OTOOLE: You gave a Senate statement today on PFAS contamination of Katharine's aquifer water in particular and asked for blood tests of residents to be done immediately do you think that request will get any traction?

MCCARTHY: We have to keep pushing. It is absolutely important that the Prime Minister and his cabinet hear the calls of the people of Katherine. This isnt new, and the fact that it's happening in other jurisdictions that are affected by PFAS And it happened quite quickly in terms of the blood testing. It is actually again about justice and fairness and what's happening in Katherine at the moment at the inability of there to be a blood testing is quite unfair.

O'TOOLE: Well People could pay for their own, or in fact, the Northern Territory Government could potentially pay for it have you lobbied them to consider it.

MCCARTHY: This comes under the federal governments purview, and it's important that this responsibility stays where it belongs.

OTOOLE: you've called for a single point of contact to be established in Katherine why is that important?

MCCARTHY: Largely because there are so many agencies involved Kate, and one of the things that I certainly heard when I was in Katherine recently, and again even when the ABC did its own broadcast down there, and listeners rang in that people didn't know where they could go to, they were going to different agencies and it's important that there is one stop shop for the communication to be clear, for it to be in the language so that First Nations People can at least have access to the information as well and at the stage that is not happening.

O'TOOLE: Just a question a the previous topic we were discussing the same-sex marriage Bill, one person texting in to and saying it's a shame that there are inadequate religious protections. Are you convinced that the bill you voted in favour for is protection enough for people who really disagree with same-sex marriage for all this is religious reasons?

MCCARTHY: Federal Labor have always said that these are very difficult issues, and different issues that our priority was to ensure that marriage equality is reality by December seven Kate, and we didn't want any more delays, and we are quite confident that the bill that's gone through by senator dean smith is a bill that we can stand by and no doubt that there may be issues further down the track of variations, but really at the end of the day we knew that what we had in front of us was the bill that had to through.

OTOOLE: So if you're saying that it could be varied later on you don't mind if this is a flawed bill?

MCCARTHY: If the government wants to look at religious freedoms down the track we can have that discussion then and this would be a separate policy process that would need to go through and I have to be really clear here Australians voted for marriage equality and not to wind back anti-discrimination laws, and we weren't going to remove one form of discrimination and replace it with another and that's not what the people were asked to vote on.

OTOOLE: Just moving on to regional flights, you sit on a Senate committee that's looking into the price of regional flights, airline flights in Australia; you were urging the Committee to hold hearings in Alice Springs have you been successful?

MCCARTHY: Still doing it in fact the committee received the request to this morning so what we're going to do now is obviously we've got another week of sittings, and I'm really hopeful that the Northern Territory will be very represented.

O'TOOLE: because we've heard from Alice Springs some people drive as far as Yulara to catch a flight because the flights are cheaper out of there - a four and a half hour drive.

MCCARTHY: I know Kate and I know that even for the people in Alice Springs just trying to get to a footy game or just to get away with the family the prices are just getting crazy, absolutely crazy, and I am so passionate about making sure that we can do something that is much better for the people of Central Australia and in particular the people of the Northern Territory, in particular.

O'TOOLE: Can you like, is there enough room in a system where you know they're not government airline companies, what can you do to change the system so that it's cheaper for people?

MCCARTHY: That's an important question I mean when I was Tourism Minister in the Northern Territory, and one of the strong areas I had to advocate in was for flights. I certainly was very conscious of that with central Australia and also within international flights to get them into Darwin, so Im very cognisant of the fact that there are other competing issues. But at the end of the day, the government can make policies which allow for our regions across Australia to be places where people have better access in and out then lets see what we can do, and that's what this Senate committee is about.

O'TOOLE: You are hearing from Senator for the Northern Territory Malarndirri McCarthy this afternoon. The Productivity Commission is in Darwin at the moment and has been in Darwin for a couple of days hearing about whether there should be changes to the G.S.T. how that's being distributed to states and Territories and yesterday the Yothu Yindi Foundation told the commission that the GST allocation should be reformed:

Commonwealth Grants that are applied and the formula applied to the Northern Territory means that Indigenous people, disadvantaged and those living in very very remote parts of the Northern Territory arent actually seeing commonwealth government grants hit the ground. Our concern is that we live in a dire need region and currently the formula that is applied isnt working, and we need to fundamentally reform how that operates. Commonwealth Government and the Northern Territory Government are going to have to find a better way as to how that is going to happen. That is Denise Bowden CEO of the Yothu Yindi Foundation.

Do you agree Senator McCarthy?

MCCARTHY: Well firstly I think it incredibly important that the Productivity Commission is there. I commend my colleague here Luke Gosling for his efforts in making sure that they appeared along with many other members, so I think that's a really important point to point out, and in terms of any evidence that the Productivity Commission is taking on board clearly there are real concerns across the regions but let's remember what the really about Kate, and the fact that nearly two billion dollars is being removed from the Northern Territory is a cause of great concern not only to regional and Aboriginal communities but to all Territorians.

O'TOOLE: Youre listening to ABC Radio Darwin in the Northern Territory and its seventeen minutes past five. Wrapping up a big day in the Senate and elsewhere with Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy. Just turning to Victoria, where euthanasia laws passed there. Im wondering Senator McCarthy whether you think that will be enough will in the opposition and the crossbench in the Federal Senate to support either Senator Leyonhjelms or the Greens bill to overturn the laws which essentially block the ACT or the Northern Territory from being able to make similar laws?

MCCARTHY: Well this will certainly be the next issue that I and Warren and Luke will certainly be looking at Kate. Clearly, the Northern Territory always wants to be able to determine its own laws, and that was a real concern when the euthanasia laws were overturned from a constitutional law or from a self-governing perspective of the Northern Territory, and these are questions that we need to really to start to tackle again. But there is another aspect to euthanasia, which I will raise from a cultural perspective, Kate, and that is for First Nations people going to hospital is the greatest fear, and I do have concerns which I had back then and I do now, where I need to listen to all people of the Territory and one of the concerns of First Nations People right is the fear that too many of them go to hospital and I think that even the discussion around euthanasia must be done in the most important ways, especially with language translation and proper community consultation.

OTOOLE: What's your fear there?

MCCARTHY: Well a lot of people have raised with me anecdotally, and in general conversation, you know what does euthanasia mean I think we have to really make sure that if it becomes a topic of the Northern Territory that it is a topic that's really discussed properly the fear I have had told to me he said people don't want to go to hospital to die.

O'TOOLE: Thank you so much for speaking with us today on a very busy day, I appreciate it.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.