17 November 2021

SUBJECT/S: Jump in COVID cases in the Northern Territory

BRIDGET BRENNAN, HOST: Let's get more now on one of our top stories we're following: the COVID situation in the Northern Territory. Another nine cases were confirmed there yesterday. Very concerning and Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy says they're all her family members. Malarndirri McCarthy joins us now from Darwin. Senator McCarthy, a big shock for your relatives. Terrible news that we just didn't want to hear that COVID has gone into a remote community and even into Katherine there. So many remote communities connected connected to that centre. How is everyone feeling? And we've also heard that there are five year old twins with COVID.

SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: Good morning, Bridget, and good morning to your viewers across the country. Yes, this is our worst fears realised, Bridget, in terms of First Nations people being infected with COVID, it is something that our First Nations Labor Caucus has raised consistently over the last two years, really, and to now see that it's actually impacting quite personally here at home is quite devastating, really.

BRENNAN: Senator, for your family members, were they vaccinated, had they had the chance to get the jab before this outbreak began?

MCCARTHY: Bridget, I've been speaking with quite a number of my cousins who were evacuated from Katherine, and they have been double vaxed. So I'm enormously proud of the fact that they are double vaxed and I know they're in the right place in terms of Howard Springs, but also know that some of my family members had gone in for a vaccination, which is how they were picked up in terms of COVID. So there was definitely no hesitancy. It's just, unfortunately, the slowness of how the rollout has taken place across the country, but also the messaging Bridget in terms of First Nations languages and getting the right messages to counteract such negative messages that have been out there on social media.

BRENNAN: Just talk about that, Senator McCarthy, some of that misinformation that's gone to our mob. The rights are still far too low, not only in the Northern Territory but around the country. What would you say about some of that misinformation? Has it been deliberately targeted to Indigenous communities and how do we counter that now?

MCCARTHY: Absolutely. You know, I raised this Bridget in February this year with the First Nations Labor Caucus when we were briefed by the federal health department and asked specifically about communications and messaging for First Nations people across the country. As you know, we've got over 100 Aboriginal languages just here in the Northern Territory, more across Australia. And the first time really that First Nations media received funding was in September. So there was this massive gap between February and September when there should have been messaging out there. And in the meantime, that gap was being filled by misinformation from overseas right wing extremists, but also from the backbenches of Scott Morrison's government.

BRENNAN: Senator, what is the situation on the ground now? Some people have been evacuated. What support systems are needed there to try to bring this outbreak under control, but also get testing out there to all of the different homelands connected to Borroloola, Robinson River, Katherine and those kinds of places?

MCCARTHY: Well, we need immediate support really with housing Bridget, and I think this was raised in Wilcannia in particular when we saw the outbreak there. We know that overcrowding is a massive issue across Australia for First Nations people. We've been fearing it for here and it's hit quite dramatically here. So housing on homelands and communities is absolutely essential. How can people isolate when they're 15 to 20 people to a house, for starters? Secondly, what I've also picked up just in the last couple of days, Bridget, is the the shame and the fear that comes with once you do have COVID of how to to to speak up about where you've been and the interaction that you've had with different people. And so I'm encouraging not only my family members, but others that when contact tracers come to you, please, please tell them everything because at the moment, our deepest fear here is that it has spread across the Territory. We don't know that for a fact. But that is our deepest fear that it may be doing that.

BRENNAN: Yeah, crucial message there about sharing information. I just want to ask you. The Northern Territory Labor government says it could open up around 80 per cent of fully vaccination vaccinated when it hits that milestone. Should that happen until indigenous communities are vaccinated at a much higher level, given we now have kids with COVID. Should they hold back on that, do you think?

MCCARTHY: Well, this is really our first experience, Bridget, with COVID here in the community. In fact, the fact you know, the number of people so far, yes, they happen to be my family members. But irrespective of that, it is the fear that we've had in the Northern Territory and it's now here that we've seen the Aboriginal community health organisations certainly calling for for higher vaccination rates than 80 per cent, we've even seen the Indigenous Doctors Association say it should be 90 per cent. I really would say that we are probably at the beginning of something here and we've got to arrest this in terms of the COVID outbreak before we can actually really seriously consider when it is safe to open up

BRENNAN: Malarndirri McCarthy, Labor Senator for the Northern Territory, thank you very much for your time this morning and we're wishing all your relatives well.

MCCARTHY: Thank you, Bridget.