TRANSCRIPT: ABC Darwin, 13 October 2021

13 October 2021

SUBJECT/S: Vaccination rates in the NT; Sam McMahon’s NT Rights Bill


ADAM STEER, PRESENTER: Malarndirri McCarthy is the Northern Territory’s Labor Senator whose just completed a trip through the NT. Senator welcome back to ABC Radio Darwin.


STEER: What’s the progress being made out in the bush?

MCCARTHY: Yes, look it was a certainly a very important journey Adam. I drove throughout the Tanami Desert Region, through Lajamanu down to Yuendumu and across to Santa Theresa and then up the Stuart Hwy, to meet with clinicians, to meet with families and to talk about the importance of vaccination, that we should get vaccinated, and listening to families as to what their reasons were for not vaccinating. Many of them were perhaps pretty casual about it, you know as we are in the Territory some say I’m going to get it soon, I’ll get it soon and I said well you know those clinics are open now, how about going now. So and then you also had some of the, as Doctor Fejo referred to, some negative messaging which was deeply troubling.

STEER: And in your experience travelling around the Territory were there certain jurisdictions where vaccine hesitancy was more prevalent rather than a latency which you’re also describing there?

MCCARTHY: Look I was pleased to see in most of the places I went to the active work that is occurring on the ground not only just with the clinic staff and Aboriginal health workers but also with a lot of the Elders and respected people in those communities. But there were one or two that were highlighted to me, about the negative messaging and I think that what we have to do in those instances, is actually just keep going back out to those communities and making sure that we have the people on the ground who live in those communities, who do see the importance of vaccination that they’re with you as well and we just have to keep going at it Adam. The fact that our country’s opening up at such a pace now, I am very keen to see that our communities go a lot sooner to the clinic to get those vaccinations than waiting.

STEER: How concerned are you that the country may open up while areas are not as vaccinated as perhaps they could be?

MCCARTHY: Well obviously very concerned. I mean we’ve seen what’s happened in NSW in particular with the Koori Communities there and the high rates of COVID that’s impacted on First Nations people. This was a concern from the outset with COVID and the fact that First Nations people were in the first class of 1B and 1A to get vaccinated and here we are still looking at figures, you know well below 10%, 12%. The urgency is far greater than ever.

STEER: Are you confident that vaccine rates in remote areas will get to that 80% fully vaccinated?

MCCARTHY: Well I believe that we just have to keep going. We have to keep going, it’s so vital that we keep encouraging our communities and people out there to go and get the vaccine especially when a lot of it, as I said earlier on there, that some of it’s just very casual “Yeah I’ll go when I’m ready or I’ll go when I go on the next bus in” and I said no no now, go now.

STEER: Doctor Aleeta Fejo said that its really weird, irrational logic that’s being spread. How do you, how do you discount that or how do you deal with that?

MCCARTHY: Well I do reflect on the fact that back in February I did ask the Department of Federal Health around what kind of messaging it was doing with First Nations people. It concerned me that as you know here in the Northern Territory we have over a 100 Aboriginal languages and unless we had those messages about COVID in language and an opportunity for First Nations people to ask questions, you know whether they were renal dialysis patients, whether they had heart disease, whether they had any other elements. They had time to digest and process what this vaccination was all about. Now that didn’t occur and only last month Adam, the Federal Minister for Indigenous Affairs provided over $250,000 to First Nations media organisations to get the messaging out. Now that’s way too late. We are now trying to deal with the negative messaging on social media which we should have been on the front foot about months earlier.

STEER: You’re on ABC Radio Darwin. Adam Steer, Jo Laverty with you. Malarndirri McCarthy is the Northern Territory’s Labor Senator. The Northern Territory’s Government’s ramping up a certain rhetoric about low vaccination rates in remote areas. The Health Minister told me that the Government might not be able to protect remote communities any other way because the Government won’t be pausing its reopening plan. What do you make of this?

MCCARTHY: Well it’s not a surprise Adam. You know we know that businesses across Australia have been really suffering in terms of the economic aspect of covid-19 and we’ve seen what the lockdowns across the country have been doing. So eventually at some point, our country needed to start coming out of it and so it’s no surprise that the Northern Territory is coming to that point as well. Hence my reason for doing this visit across the Northern Territory to talk to our communities.

STEER: But that language that the Health Minister is using in the last couple of days: Delta is coming we might not be able to protect you.

MCCARTHY: It is a concern, absolutely and it just again pushes the urgency of what is actually going on here in the Northern Territory and in Australia.

STEER: Does it signal the Government’s saying they’ve done everything it possibly can?

MCCARTHY: Well I’d certainly encourage the Government to keep doing more. We must have those frontline workers out there in these communities, the elders, the translators, the people who speak the language to keep going and I would certainly urge the Northern Territory Government to keep going on that.

STEER: Alright lets move to sort of a different topic its been a few weeks now since the Chief Minister Michael Gunner called you an anti-vaxxer in Parliament.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner Recording: The Senator McCarthy does not support our mandatory vaccine policy that in my opinion she is absolutely an anti-vaxxer and I will call her out.

STEER: So this came out after you raised concerns on ABC radio Darwin about the Northern Territory Government making vaccines a condition of employment for many industries we haven’t spoken to you since then, what’s your reaction to Michael Gunner’s comments?

MCCARTHY: Yeah it was pretty unhelpful, certainly a complete distraction to what we’re trying to do and that is to urge people to vaccinate and that’s what I’ve been doing since and will continue to do so.

STEER: Do you still hold on to that stance that you don’t agree with vaccines as a condition of employment?

MCCARTHY: Well you asked me a question around the construction industry at that particular point in time for that interview and you asked about construction workers and that was my response to you at that time. Certainly, what I did put out that day when there was a lot of excitement about our interview, is that naturally if you choose not to vaccinate there are going to be consequences with that Adam and I think that’s a fairly reasonable and rational kind of expectation that our country is obviously dealing with right now.

STEER: So but where do you stand now, a couple of weeks later on the construction industry being asked to get vaccinated as a condition of their employment.

MCCARTHY: Well clearly this is going to be occurring in different areas of employment and it’ll up to individuals to decide whether those areas are going to be somewhere they want to work in, knowing that there will be consequences if they don’t get vaccinated. This has to be an individual choice, if you want to work in an area where you have to be vaccinated then that’s a decision you’re going to have to make.

STEER: Lets move to Sam McMahon Restoring Territory Rights Bill. Your Federal Labor colleague Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus raised concerns about it on Monday on this program.

Mark Dreyfus MP recording: There’s a provision in this Bill that says that the Territory Government as best as I can understand the Bill, it says that the Territory Government should be able to take away the property of Territorians without compensation and that’s not the position the Commonwealth has. There’s a constitutional guarantee that the Commonwealth has to acquire property from citizens only on just terms.

STEER: Now we spoke to Senator Sam McMahon this is what she had to say about that yesterday in response.

Senator Sam McMahon recording: This is quite clear, that it refers to the ability of the Northern Territory to write laws that prohibit the Commonwealth from acquiring property other than on just terms. So this protects the Northern Territory from the Commonwealth coming in and saying I’ll take that and by the way here’s $50 and you don’t have a say.

STEER: What’s your reaction. Will you be supporting the bill?

MCCARTHY: Well look I certainly raised with you a couple of months ago that I thought it was commendable that the Senator brought forward the bill, if you are focusing on Territory Rights, but there are so many other elements to this bill that it makes Federal Labor just step back and look at it from a number of perspectives because those 2 additional points to the Bill are not what we thought the Bill would be about.

STEER: So will you be supporting it or not?

MCCARTHY: Well we still have to meet as a Federal Caucus so Parliament sits next week and no doubt we’ll be discussing it then. I certainly have a lot of questions around those two elements that Senator McMahon has raised in the Bill and that will be important to get to the bottom of that.

STEER: Senator, good to talk to you this morning, Thank you.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.