17 November 2021

SUBJECT/S: COVID cases in the NT; Community Development Program (CDP) trial sites

STEWART BRASH, HOST: We know the NT is big, but in many ways it's small. We have a tiny population spread over our vast distances, and in many ways everyone is quite connected to someone else. And it maybe is no surprise that you know someone or might have heard of someone who may be affected in the outbreak of COVID in Katherine or for that matter, may be in Robinson River. Now, Robinson River is a community of only a few hundred people in the Gulf of Carpentaria. But it's also where Senator Malarndirri McCarthy has family, and she joins us on the line to talk about that. Malarndirri McCarthy Good morning.


SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: Good morning, Stewart, and good morning to you.


BRASH: Very personal for you.


MCCARTHY: Very much so. You know, it's been quite devastating, actually, Stewart, and just working with the families, listening to them and trying to encourage them to stay strong, especially those who are in Howard Springs now that they are in the right place. And, you know, we just hope and pray that they'll all pull through.


BRASH: Now one of your sisters, I think the 30 year old woman who tested positive, she is she in Howard Springs now?


MCCARTHY: I understand so. I've been speaking to my cousins, my aunts and uncles who were in Katherine where my sister stayed, and they are all there at Howard Springs. I've yet to speak to them this morning, as you can understand, we certainly spoke late yesterday, but everyone's pretty tired, so I'll give them a call soon.


BRASH: So how were they faring yesterday?


MCCARTHY: Oh, just anxious Stew. I think, you know the unknown. What does this mean? And also the concern for their families, especially back at Robinson River. You know, there is a great deal of anxiety. Yeah.


BRASH: How many people have gone from Robinson River to Howard Springs? Do we know?


MCCARTHY: Look, I know that we've got a family from Robinson River who live in Katherine that have been sent to Howard Springs. I also know that in Robinson River that people were being tested and we'll certainly find out I'm sure today if any of those have turned out positive and had to be relocated to Howard Springs. I'm sure the chief minister and the NT health minister will provide that update. But I'm very aware just talking to family in Robinson that, you know, there were a large number of them waiting for their test results.


BRASH: Yeah, because of course, you know, they obviously had to be sent away. Do you have a sense of of how that rapid response team has been going in Robinson River? Have you heard much from family on what they've been up to?


MCCARTHY: Sure. Look again, yes, family, have been keeping me well informed of what's going on and just talking about things. They say the team is there doing the testing and certainly telling everyone that they have to stay put and pretty much, not leave the community.


BRASH: Yeah. Good luck to them all. And we'll find out probably later today what exactly is happening there. Now, Linda Burney--sorry. Go ahead.


MCCARTHY: Sorry, can I just say this too, though? For those listening, especially in the Robinson and Borroloola area and even the Katherine area, that the contact tracing that the contact tracers are trying to do here is really, really important. And I just urge everyone to give as much information as possible to authorities. We have to be sure that we've contained it as best we can. And at this stage, I'm not sure if that is the case, and it's really important that people tell where they've been and who they've seen to assist the contact tracers.


BRASH: Yeah, because we know that there was a bit of time before they restricted movement out of Katherine that people actually were moving out of Katherine, possibly further south or further east towards the Gulf country. So yeah.


MCCARTHY: Well that's right. People were going to leave Borroloola too Stew, you know people ringing me saying, can we leave? And even though Borroloola wasn't in lockdown and and I was fairly concerned that the traffic between Robinson River and Borroloola is a constant occurrence. And I was surprised that wasn't locked down. But obviously there's other information that, you know, the chief minister and the cabinet received it that I'm not privy to. Yeah, but there is a great deal of transportation that does take place.


BRASH: Oh, absolutely. I mean, Borroloola is the Gulf Centre and people be moving through there and then again, further to the west as well. It's interesting, Linda Burney this morning was in the media saying was saying the feds should have done more. What does she mean by that? Because it's a Territory Government response. I don't know what more the feds have done to prevent this.


MCCARTHY: Look, in February, the First Nations Labor caucus had a briefing with the federal health departments, Stew, and one of the things that I asked the federal health department was their communications and messaging and insisted that it was quite quite critical that the appropriate messaging went out and this is something I've raised consistently. It really wasn't until September that First Nations media organisations started to receive some funding. By that time, the horse had bolted and the inaccurate information that's been on social media filled that void. So I expect that that's perhaps where Linda is going. It's certainly something I've raised consistently. And you know, we we lament the fact that that didn't move much quicker and swifter from February.


BRASH: I do want to move to the issue of CDP. We're speaking to the Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, Labor Senator from Northern Territory. Now, CDP was in many ways, the activity requirement of CDP was dropped earlier this year, must be over six months ago. And I remember speaking to Anne Ruston and Minister Wyatt, the Minister for Indigenous Australians, about what will come after it. They were saying that they were going to run trials in various sites, which would see a replacement for CDP. All we've heard is a number of trial sites have been announced, but I don't really have a sense of what that will mean, but I think we had southern Barkly, northern Barkly. What has happened? What do you know? Because it's been, there's a big vacuum here, Minister- ah Senator.


MCCARTHY: One day, maybe, Stew, but look it certainly is a concern. I realise that the Northern Territory's Tennant Creek community is the base in which I understand Ken Wyatt has focused his trial for the Northern Territory. However, having said that, Stewart, no one is really clear as to what that means. And I just like to say to your listeners, you know, if we are successful in getting into government, we would scrap the Community Development Program full stop.


BRASH: But they've pretty much scrapped it anyway, but the activity test doesn't apply anymore. So essentially, if you don't want to do an activity, you don't need to at the moment.


MCCARTHY: Yes, but it's about jobs. You know, we're talking about the fact there is no job creation through this program. And I think I've spoken to you many times over the past six years really, as we've really focused on CDP and the lack of, you know, futuristic planning for employment here. Basically, I think the government's - Federal Government's - just given up and walked away and said look here you go, five trial sites.


BRASH: So what is, do we know who's running the trials? Do we know who's been consulted about the trials because this-- I remember speaking to both ministers, they said oh, there will be there'll be widespread consultation. We'll be talking to the land councils, government, everyone. What do we know? Is anyone being consulted to your knowledge?


MCCARTHY: Well, when I travelled through the Tanami, and drove recently down Lajamanu to Yuendumu way down to Alice, I spoke to people there, certainly Lajamanu and Yuendumu said they'd met, the Warlpiri men had met with Ken Wyatt. They'd met with him over in in Western Australia apparently at a meeting there. And Minister Wyatt had reassured them that their program would be one of the successful trial sites or successful in receiving further funding. And obviously, that is not the case, and clearly they'd be disappointed by that failed promise.


BRASH: So he promised Warlpiri a trial there. That didn't happen. Do you know who's running the trial in Tennant Creek in the southern Barkly?


MCCARTHY: Look, I understand it's Ngurratjuta Rise. I may be incorrect with that, but please, please follow that up. I will certainly do that as well once things settle down a bit up this way.


BRASH: And do we know what the trial includes? What are they? I mean, are they giving people real jobs? What? This is what I'm not being able to find out.


MCCARTHY: Yes, no neither am I. I had hoped to make with Nurratjuta Rise when I was in Tennant Creek for the Central Land Council meeting. Unfortunately, that meeting went over, so I was unable to meet with him, but I certainly will follow up to see where they're at with with this trial.


BRASH: You said you will scrap CDP, Labor would scrap it. What would you put in this place? What would a new jobs program look like?


MCCARTHY: Well, people may recall the Community Development Employment Program, and we would certainly look at a model very similar to that. That was quite a successful model, even though it had some of its own issues--


BRASH: Did it create real jobs though. Was there real jobs coming out of CDEP?


MCCARTHY: Well, look, I was on CDEP when I worked in the Gulf region and I found it worked really well. I was able to set up a community radio station in Borroloola when I was working for Mabunji on the CDEP program. So I would say yes.


BRASH: Key question here, Senator. The CDP contracts ran further than what the the time when they stopped the activity test. What's happened to those contracts and those CDP providers  because if people didn't want to turn up to an activity, they probably wouldn't run an activity. Did the CDP contracts continue?


MCCARTHY: Well, good question. These are things we put to Senate estimates, and my understanding is is that as CDP participants don't have to do anything really at this particular point in time.


BRASH: But the providers are getting paid to provide a service aren't they?


MCCARTHY: Precisely.


BRASH: So what does that mean? Where's the money going?


MCCARTHY: Well, I guess you'd have to ask the Federal Government as to what their expectations are with the providers. I mean the providers have to keep going, and this is what I mean about this ad hoc trial sites, Stew. Like, the fact that there's only five across the country when we've got 33,000 participants or more, close to 40, what is actually going on and we didn't get those clear answers.


BRASH: We've been trying to speak to the Minister for Indigenous Australians now for six weeks. We haven't been given a chance to speak to him because we want to ask this precise question for CDP providers. They've got to run their contract. If no one's coming to do your activity, you probably don't want your staff anymore, potentially. That means you might be able to, you're maybe just sitting on a goldmine. I'm not saying that's happening, but there's that potential, is what I'm saying. Do you fear that could be happening?


MCCARTHY: Well, look, I think it would be good to hear on your program from these providers. I'd be interested to hear what they're saying. This is obviously a question that we did, as I said, put in Senate Estimates, and we're not satisfied with the response.


BRASH: Yeah, it'd be interesting. If anyone knows, please get contact. 0487 99 1057Will you be able to get to see any family? I mean, I know some family are in quarantine at Howard Springs, but you'll be in contact with them today?


MCCARTHY: Yes, I will Stew, just letting them rest a bit because they were pretty exhausted last night. So yeah, I'm hoping to call them in the next hour or so.


BRASH: Yeah, good luck.


MCCARTHY: Thank you. And please, can I say to all Territorians, please get vaxed?


BRASH: Yeah. And also, if you were in Katherine or you're anywhere near those exposure sites, even though you might have come back to Tennant Creek, Alice Springs, maybe you need to go and make sure you're not exposed. But thank you.


MCCARTHY: Thank you.