12 February 2018

ADAM STEER, ABC DARWIN MORNINGS: There is a scathing review out today that accuses the Federal Government of completely and utterly dropping the ball on its closing the Gap policy. Closing the gap of course is all about improving the lives of Indigenous people but a new report says that THE Government has effectively abandoned the policy. Its so damming that the Prime Minister walked out of the closing the gap review meeting this morning twenty minutes before the event was finished. Malarndirri McCarthy Senator for the Northern Territory was at the briefing. Why do you think the Prime Minister walked out Senator?

SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY, SENATOR FOR THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: Good morning Adam and Good morning to your listeners.

It is certainly indication of total disrespect in terms of advancing the cause for First Nations People in this Country. The Prime Ministers removal from the launch this morning of this report and the fact that with the discussion to the lead up to the report there has certainly been no consultation in relation to partys within the Parliament when Close the Gap is bipartisan.

STEER: The policy was created of course under the Rudd Government to reduce inequalities in health, education and employment. But this review says that there has been a revolving door of Prime Ministers and senior bureaucrats have all but halted progress. Would you say that is far assessment?

MCCARTHY: That is a fair assessment. The comments that we heard from the co-chairs this morning Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar and Congress Co-Chair Rod Little certainly expressed those views, but also Tom Calma in terms of the constant rotation of bureaucrats, the constant rotation of politicians or political leaders does impact quite profoundly on the advancement of First Nations People. I must say though that they did include, importantly, that unless First Nations People are included at every level, there will not be the change that is required.

STEER: The Government has made it public that they are looking at making changes after last years annual report which found six of the seven key measures were not on track. Do you see where the gap has been closed in any areas though? In health? Education? Employment?

MCCARTHY: Look I can see that there is a major trust issue Adam. Close to 100 Indigenous leaders were invited here to Canberra to meet together at a hotel in Canberra and the whole focus of that is for the Prime Minister and the Government to let them know what they are doing. Now, we were not invited as Indigenous members of Parliament or any other bipartisan group of the Close the Gap, and what we did hear from people this morning that attended that gathering, they said that there is a major trust issue. There was the Redfern Statement last year, the Uluru statement which was executed by the Prime Minister in terms of the voice. So people are really really quite anxious and think another review and consultation is this Government serious.

STEER: This morning about 60 Indigenous leaders are in Canberra meeting with the Government representatives to talk about those policies. What sort of meaningful impact do you see those talks having?

MCCARTHY: Look I dont think that those talks are going to be very meaningful in terms of the Governments approach to it. Certainly, the Indigenous members of organisations from across the country, who are attending, will always do so with the best intent because they always want to see things improve. What concerns me here Adam is the real politics that is going on with the Prime Minister in terms of his refusal to really listen to people. I think it was quite clear after hundreds and thousands of people met over the past 12 months to discuss a way forward in terms of the Uluru statement as that was so categorically executed by the Prime Minister.

STEER: So the Close the Gap review claims that the Feds have abandoned the policy after five years.

MCCARTHY: There is a real nervousness around where this is going and whether there is a genuine and sincere internet being it or integrity.

STEER: So your Senate colleague, Nigel Scullion has been in charge of Indigenous Affairs for a while, has he been doing a good job?

MCCARTHY: I certainly think you need to ask Senator Scullion how he is going. I accept that hes got an incredibly difficult job within a cabinet that really has no interest in Indigenous Affairs in this country and I accept that is an incredibly difficult position for him to take on and I think out of all of them he is certainly the better person to do it, with his experience in the Northern Territory. However that does not excuse that in this process, which is the only day of the year that is bipartisan of the Australian Parliament to talk about First Nations People issues, not one of the Indigenous members and I understand perhaps not even Ken Wyatt are really across this Closing the Gap refresh and I find that really concerning.

STEER: There is talk of shifting the administration of the policy from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to a new national Aboriginal body, would you support that?

MCCARTHY: Well again, there are no details Adam. This is the real concern, where are they going with this if they are not talking to people. Its all very well to put out money in front of you, or to put out a paper in front of you, but what has been the main theme all along is that First Nations People want to be part of the process. Not be told this is what is going to happen.

STEER: Next week is going to be the ten year anniversary of Kevin Rudds Sorry. Do you expect much to go on around Canberra for that?

MCCARTHY: There is certainly a lot of interest in terms of the Apology, the tenth anniversary is quite significant, each year it is significant, it is a reminder to the Australian Parliament of our past, and unfinished business in terms of the Northern Territory and the Stolen Generations and I know that opposition leader Bill Shorten will have some very important things to say in relation to the Northern Territorys Stolen Generations.

STEER: Senator back home here in the Territory, 30 per cent of the Territorys population in Indigenous, surely if anywhere the gap is an issue is here in the Territory, how do you think the pollies like yourself should be closing it?

MCCARTHY: Look again it has to be always with the organisations and communities on the ground. They must be empowered so that there is a vision that belongs to them, they are entitled to make their own mistakes and learn as they go, just as any other jurisdiction is able to do that, in relation to fixing up whatever issues they have to deal with. What we have found here is that in 2014/15 when the then Abbott Government removed half a billion dollars in funding, it has had a flow on effect which we are now seeing in these results that come through in the Closing the Gap.

STEER: Senator, good to talk to you today.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

STEER: Senator Malarndirri McCarthy there, we have invited Senator Nigel Scullion, however, he was not available to talk to us this morning.