11 February 2022

SUBJECTS: Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame’s speech at the Nation Press Club; Religious Discrimination Bill.

ADAM STEER, HOST: What was your reaction when you heard Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame speak at the National Press Club this week

MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY, LABOR SENATOR FOR THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: When the ads first came out, Adam, I just knew that was going to be a sell-out. Unfortunately, I couldn't get to it, but some of my colleagues were able to. I certainly took the opportunity to have a bit of a listen to different parts of the speech. But I think with Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins, all of Australia knows that in this term of the Morrison government, but also in this last year of Grace Tame as the Australian of the Year, they have been incredibly powerful figures of the movement for change, and they have really achieved an incredible amount.

STEER: What about for you yourself, though? As a female politician, how did you feel when you heard the powerful speeches by both of these young women?

MCCARTHY: I feel enormously proud of these two young women. The young women of today can see Grace and Brittany and see that no more should things be just left unsaid. They need to be called out. And that's what Grace Time did at the National Press Club in expressing this particular moment. But she's done it so many times throughout her 12 months, and it gives and not just women, but even men, people who do feel that they have been bullied in any way or told to sit down and shut up, you know, speak up, speak out.

STEER: What about within the halls of the Parliament House given, as I was saying before, we are in the last weeks of parliament before the next federal election? Was there much talk about Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins speeches? And if so, what was the reaction from politicians?

MCCARTHY: Look, only the greatest of respect with the people I spoke to, absolutely that these two young women have achieved, as I said, a great deal in the movement of culture in this place and the fact that there was an acknowledgement in the parliament, in both houses, to women who've worked here now, who work here now and former staffers. The fact that there's been the Kate Jenkins review that has some very, very important recommendations. This is as a result of Brittany and Grace.

STEER: What do you make, though? Brittany Higgins wasn't even invited to the federal apology in Parliament House until 10:20 at night. The government saying it was because of COVID restrictions. What do you make of that?

MCCARTHY: I think Australians can see that this is again, the federal government not really recognising the significance of what they should be doing here. It should be about respect. And of course, Brittany should have been sort of at the get go. The fact that she was a last minute add on was an absolute disgrace, really.

STEER: Brittany Higgins said in the press club that she wants plans to tackle violence against women and children to become action. Is there a mood in Parliament House to have some real action as Brittany is calling for to tackle violence against women and children?

MCCARTHY: Absolutely. And not just in Parliament House, Adam. There are so many hundreds of women and organisations across the country who have been involved in trying to develop a plan. You know, I had a meeting with June Oscar, who's looking at the First Nations women and the issues around family and domestic violence. I know that there are organisations just in the Northern Territory, Tangentyere, you know, the ladies there who do so much work, the women's shelters across the territory who want to see these changes in the national plan. I guess what Brittany is highlighting there is that you do have so many women and organisations are urging the Australian parliament to do something. I guess the deepest fear is they don't come together and they do nothing. And certainly the women in this side of the parliament with Labor are absolutely pushing this under the Shadow Minister Jenny McAllister.

STEER: Senator Malarndirri McCarthy is the ALP senator for the Northern Territory. You are on ABC Radio Darwin. Adam Steer with you this morning. Let's move to the Religious Discrimination Bill, a bill that was debated until 5:00 am in the House of Representatives and then shelved before it hit the Senate. What do you say?

MCCARTHY: Well, I guess I'm glad it was Luke and Warren sitting up to a 5 AM first up, but certainly for us in the Senate, we're expecting to do something similar. But clearly, you know, there were senators, certainly on the government side who were not going to vote against what their five colleagues in the House of Reps had done. And the government knew it didn't have the numbers to take the bill through the Senate. We were certainly going to push for the amendments.

STEER: Both parties need the votes of places like Western Sydney, where religious freedom is an issue in the electorate. Where do you see it? Should the bill have been debated at all? Or are you happy the ALP sided with the bill in the House of Reps.

MCCARTHY: Look, this has been a difficult journey and I was so conscious of the many people who had called me and contacted me in the Territory, certainly this past week, but also in the last 48 hours that I'm just very concerned. And if I can just reach out to your listeners here that this bill was meant to be debated over the three years, the Prime Minister bringing it on the eve of an election could only mean he had one focus, and that was to cause absolute division. The Australian Labor Party does not want to see that in our country, we know there are important aspects of this bill to debate fairly and responsibly. But there were many aspects of this bill which were totally unjust. And so we went into it in good faith to try to make amendments that we saw would bring our country together, not divide it further.