TRANSCRIPT: ABC RADIO ALICE SPRINGS DRIVE PROGRAM WITH ALEX BARWICK
01 December 2021
ALEX BARWICK, HOST : the ALP Territory senator Malarndirri McCarthy shared her personal experience with me of being in federal parliament.
MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY, LABOR SENATOR FOR THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: Well, I've certainly experienced elements of harassment in my time as a senator, and you know, there were moments that I did have to discuss with my female Labor colleagues, and there were moments where I needed to work with members of the opposing party. It was not within the Labor Party, it was actually incidents that occurred outside. They're not as serious in terms of what I've read in this report, but I do take on board the importance that even my incident, no matter how minor it might be, you know, adds up to the bigger picture. Women should feel safe wherever they are.
BARWICK: Would you be willing to share what happened to you?
MCCARTHY: Look, I think I can share now with you, Alex. It really is about being surrounded by a large group of men in an environment that should have been a work environment and feeling like I needed to have more women in that situation. So, in the end I was able to make sure that more women were involved. It was still a work situation. There was just banter that was going on that I found inappropriate, but not enough to feel that I should take it any further. I thought, “well, what am I going to do here?” Well, just make sure there's other female politicians joining me on this particular event. So that's what I did and ensure that that did happen and it made for a much better outcome. But that's just one example. I'm sure there's plenty others who have different ones, but I'd also like to point out the stress of the job. I mean, this report covers even the media and others who work in this place. I mean, I was about 18 or 19 when I first worked in Parliament House, and I certainly experienced it. Then, as a young journalist.
BARWICK: Again, what sort of things did you experience? That is a very young age to be there.
MCCARTHY: Well, that's right. And I was there more as a cadet and experiencing the opportunities. And, you know, reading through this report of Commissioner Jenkins reminds me of that experience. When you come fairly starry eyed and you're excited and you’re here at Capitol Hill and you're at the place where it all matters for all Australians and you expect that people will look out for you. But sometimes there are, there are really predators out there, and I certainly experienced that when I was quite young here.
BARWICK: Yeah, and at that time, and even more recently, did you feel as though there were ways of reporting things that had happened, that things were able to be dealt with appropriately?
MCCARTHY: Oh no. I was about 19 years of age. Alex, there was no way I even considered reporting it to anyone. I just felt I had to fend for myself. And basically, you know, that memory does come back as I read through this report, and thankfully I was able to, um, you know, talk to those people who were good to me and gave me advice. But it was never something that could be raised publicly or through any particular process.
BARWICK: And this report has shown clearly that that bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault disproportionately affects female staff and MPs. It's really not much of an advertisement, is it, to get into politics?
MCCARTHY: Not at all. And if anything, this is the time to draw that line in the sand that says not only enough, but that our country has really had a gutful of this sort of behaviour. The women, the men that marched the streets last year, thousands, thousands, hundreds of thousands who marched demanding change as a result of the bravery of Brittany Higgins. And now we learn from Grace Tame, our Australian of the year that this is just not the Australia we want.
BARWICK: do you think we are listening? When you hear the prime minister respond yesterday, some of what he said was that he wished he was more surprised, but that he was appalled and disturbed. What did you make of that response?
MCCARTHY: Well, it's a response that we're all expressing. But what concerns me more is that if we're aware of that particular response, what are we going to do? And so this is why I'm reading through this report and thinking, well, what do we do on our side of politics and the important thing to do first, this is what I've done certainly this afternoon is to make sure my staff all have a copy of this report. Make sure that, you know, once parliament is over, we actually get down and talk about this. But it's also about talking with my colleagues and saying, Well, let's look at these recommendations and what are we going to do? We support it in full. Commissioner Jenkins, a previous report. The Respect @ Work Alex and I have no doubt that the recommendations that she's placed in this report will be considered incredibly carefully. And we have to have that discussion now.
BARWICK: And I don't know if you've had a chance to speak with your leader, Anthony Albanese, but if Labor is elected next year, you know, will your party guarantee that you will absolutely implement all the recommendations?
MCCARTHY: Well, it shouldn't matter whether we're elected or not. You know, these recommendations need to be looked at and dealt with now, irrespective of whether we're in government or opposition. And that's exactly what we're doing. I mean, we did get the report yesterday. 200 more than 200. In fact, it's more than
BARWICK: 400 pages long.
MCCARTHY: I just I'm just looking at it. And so there's a fair bit of a fair bit of reading, and I've certainly started on it. And I expect that in the next couple of weeks, we should all be having a serious conversation around what our response is, if not earlier.
BARWICK: And again, I don't expect you necessarily read all 400 plus pages. The review will be.
MCCARTHY: Oh I will be let me show you, Alex, haha
BARWICK: because this is the last 24 hours.
MCCARTHY: No, not then. I'm not that good.
BARWICK: It would have been impressive and I would say I have not read the entire thing either, but I've looked at some of the recommendations, there’s 28 of them. They group in areas of leadership, diversity and inclusion systems, of supporting performance, safety and well-being. What do you actually see is the priority? A code of conduct and alcohol, which I think many people will think I cannot believe there's not a code of conduct and that it's acceptable for people to be doing such important work under the influence of alcohol. What do you see as a priority, though?
MCCARTHY: Well, the priorities is that we have to actually collectively come together, certainly from our side of politics with Labor. We need to work through these recommendations. We have the Labor Status of Women Caucus, which who I know under the chairmanship of Sharon Clayton will be looking at this immediately and trying to address this immediately. Second, from that, of course, the parliament itself, according to these recommendations, you know, each of the different parties in this parliament need to be coming together as soon as is possible.
BARWICK: Yeah, I mean, because it is just shocking that there is extraordinary, that there is currently no code of conduct for people working at Parliament House.
MCCARTHY: Well, certainly in relation to what we've seen revealed over these last 18 months. It's got to stop. That's really as simple as that. So I think I think what I'd like to see happen is even before Christmas, way before Christmas, we need to have really got a handle of where we're going as a parliament, as the employer of, you know, they say in the report, Commissioner Jenkins says that there's 4000 people that work in Parliament when parliament sitting. So there must be an urgency to this, to responding to these recommendations
BARWICK: From all parties, as you've said
MCCARTHY: from everyone.
BARWICK: Yesterday afternoon, there were reports that a government senator David Van growled while independent Jacqui Lambie was speaking in question time. Now he's since then apologised, although he refutes the description of the noise that he made. Given that this happened really not that long after this report was released. It would be reasonable for Australia to think that really people in Parliament House aren't taking anything that seriously.
MCCARTHY: Look, I'm not aware of who the actual senator was. I certainly suspected who it was. So hearing it from you is interesting. But in terms of that kind of behaviour, whether there's a report coming down or not, it's just not on. It's unparliamentary, for starters. And secondly, you just wouldn't do that anyway, would you? I mean, we talk about wolf whistling, you know, when women were walking down the streets and all of those things, you know, our country, the women of today, we've said, no, stop it. Don't treat us like that. And the same goes in the Senate
BARWICK: you're on ABC Alice Springs this afternoon. My name's Alex Barwick. My guest is Territory ALP Senator Malarndirri McCarthy. Senator this morning, Western Australian Greens Senator Dorinda Cox spoke with Brashy on Breakfast about a new Senate enquiry into murdered and missing First Nations women and children. Now I know you co-sponsored this and you're also hoping to be on this committee. Given the shocking rates of domestic and family violence in the territory, will you be campaigning to see the inquiry take a really hard look at the territory.
MCCARTHY: Oh, this is an important enquiry, a significant one. And I certainly commend Senator Cox for not only bringing it to the Senate, but for ensuring that most senators on all political parties where we're involved and are involved in terms of the Northern Territory, we know the statistics, Alex. They are way too high. And of course, I will be putting forward very firmly the cases of the Northern Territory. But firstly, we'll be calling for submissions from Territorians to speak to us. And that means families, you have families who want to speak about their loved ones, to nursing staff, to the police, to those organisations who do look after families in these situations. And we need to hear from them and we will and I will be asking for that.
BARWICK: Senator, you've been really vocal in speaking out against the federal government's recent push to bring in laws that would essentially force voters to produce identification at the election booth. Now, the government argued that by bringing in this legislation, it would stop voter fraud, although the Australian Electoral Commission said that was not really a significant problem in Australia at present. You argue, though, that this legislation would suppress the vote, particularly the indigenous votes in places like the Northern Territory. Again, news through, just through this afternoon is that that legislation won't be going ahead, at least not prior to the upcoming federal election early next year. Why has that decision been made?
MCCARTHY: Well, it's been made because the truth of this whole issue was that there was no fraud around, you know, voting in the Australian system. There have been no prosecutions of fraud. And when all of that was pointed out and I certainly lobbied strongly along with Warren Snowdon and Luke Gosling. The impact of that in particular on the territory would be quite extraordinary, especially at short notice. But there's another level to this as well, Alex. We argued that the Australian Electoral Commission in the Northern Territory has lost staff from fifteen down to three. How would it be capable of even communicating and informing people on the eve of a federal election? So all of these factors lined up and shot the bill out of the out of the House.
BARWICK: But at this stage, this is just so that it won't go ahead before next year's election. Do you think if it had gone through, it would have actually affected the results in the Northern Territory?
MCCARTHY: I believe it would have had a dramatic impact on the result in that it would disenfranchise not just First Nations people, but most Australians, and they would be disengaging from voting at the ballot box.
BARWICK: Senator. I will leave it there. Thanks so much for your time this afternoon.
MCCARTHY: Thank you.
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