12 May 2021

Subjects: Budget 2021; Changes to the Community Development Program (CDP)


PAUL WILES, HOST: Northern Territory Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy joins us on the line from Canberra.

SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: Hello, Paul, and hello to all your listeners.

WILES: Well another Budget. What's in it for the Territory, and what's in it for Aboriginal people across the nation?

MCCARTHY: Well, it's certainly a budget that we will scrutinise in depth in a week's time, Paul. The problem we've always had with the Scott Morrison government is that they make many announcements but don't deliver. So what we're looking at in this budget in particular is CDP. They talk about scrapping CDP from 2023 onwards, but there's no detail as to what that means now and what can be said to organisations that run the program now and also to those participants on it.

WILES: We know in remote communities, job creation, job activity, is a long standing issue. I mean, if the Government's going to get real, putting another request or demand that people apply for another 5 jobs a week isn’t going to change anything.

MCCARTHY: Well, that's right. I think the history of this Government is that they promised 1000 jobs under CDP in 2019 and just in our budget estimates last year, it revealed that of the 1000 that were supposed to be created, only 360 jobs were created. And so the question we have really is how genuine are they in wanting to see employment in the regions across Australia?

WILES: CLP Senator Sam McMahon says an estimated 100,000 low and middle income earners in the Territory - almost 50% of the population - will receive tax relief. What's the reality of that and how is that going to flow through?

MCCARTHY: Well, that may be the case possibly for the people that Senator McMahon says, but my focus always has been always the development of remote and regional areas of the Northern Territory. And we know for a fact that we have far more people who are either unemployed or underemployed across the vast areas of the Territory, and there is no relief for them in sight.

WILES: Day to day reality of life in remote communities doesn’t change. Wouldn’t it be nice to see something in the Budget that says they’ve committed to a program that will and can make a difference?

MCCARTHY: Wouldn't that be wonderful? Well there’s certainly be no new certainly been no new funding for closing the gap in this budget. I think that says it all really. And that's the real concern here and almost despair that there is so much more that can be done and should be done. And this isn't a budget that's given much hope.

WILES: Again, some money there for roads in the Territory, tied up with gas and mining development, obviously has serious implications for Aboriginal people. Again, getting to the drawing board, being part of that discussion table, I mean who is going to benefit out of these so called improvements?

MCCARTHY: Well, that's an important question. I mean, we do desperately need good and better roads in the Northern Territory that there's no doubt about that. If I can just go to one part of that question and firstly say that in terms of the commitment that the Federal government is saying that they will provide to the Northern Territory for roads and the national NT network highway upgrades, that's way off into 2024-25. So we're not even looking at that happening immediately. We still have to ask what happened to Senator Scullion’s announcement of the Central Arnhem Highway, for example, in 2018, which was expected to be finished quite soon, but it's being pushed out to 2026. So when the federal government says it's got significant funding for roads, we never seem to really see it happen in the immediate future. It's way off. There isn't really a major investment in Kakadu in this budget. However, the prime minister did make an election pledge in 2019 of over $200 million, and we still have not seen that hit the ground in Kakadu. So, again, it's this constant announcement of funding, but never seeing it hit the ground in the Northern Territory.

WILES: So what positives are there that you can see for the Territory?

MCCARTHY: Well, look, I think the positives is probably more around the fact that they're acknowledging the CP program needs to be scrapped. I mean, that is an outrageous program. And we've said that from the get go with Labor. We know that it needs to have employment like the previous program of CDEP. And this particular one has way too many penalties and breaches. And we see too many of our people incarcerated as a result.

WILES: When we look at the vast amounts of money coming out of the ground, how is it we can still have people living in third world conditions in remote communities?

MCCARTHY: Well, it's a, it's a frustrating position to see that this continues, and this is why certainly with the Australian Labor Party, we are firmly of the view that First Nations people must have a voice to the federal parliament. We so believe in that as an important step from the grassroots all the way that we've got to have a voice in all of these processes and a voice that is enshrined in the Constitution.

WILES: Just changing the topic just quickly Senator, you asked Territorians to take a deep breath in regard to the youth bail laws.

MCCARTHY: I’m deeply disappointed that those laws have gone through the Northern Territory Parliament. It’s absolutely regrettable, Paul. I stressed on many occasions to Territory Ministers and certainly to stakeholders that this was of concern. I've spoken at a national level about the high rates of incarceration of First Nations people. And we know that in the Northern Territory we don't have a good record. So, I will be watching this process very closely. And I understand there is to be a quarterly report and I will certainly be examining that report when it comes out as to what is going on with this particular piece of legislation.

WILES: There are many victims of crime who continue to feel the impacts. I mean what do you say to them? What alternatives are out there.

MCCARTHY: Well, it is terribly unfortunate that anyone can be a victim of crime, you know whether it's to do with your personal stuff in terms of security or whether it's your home and belongings or your business. But let's have a good look at whether this particular piece of legislation is actually going to stop that. And in my view, they could have been a better way of working with the youth of the Northern Territory to try and encourage and assist them to stay away from crime.