04 March 2022

SUBJECTS: Country Liberal Party/Nationals Senator Swap Plan, Low Voter Turnout

STEWARD BRASH, HOST: We heard from Jeff Bloom, who essentially said the process will take months and from the sound of it unlikely to happen before the writs for the next election are called, you would acknowledge that it's most likely that the CLP will be running as the CLP for the federal election?

MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY, LABOR SENATOR FOR THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: Well, the Australian Labor Party certainly heard the interview the ABC had with the Australian Electoral Commission, Stuart. And I have come to the conclusion that this is one of the most serious predicaments for the Northern Territory in terms of our Constitution and in terms of our role under the Self-Government Act.

BRASH: How come? More to the point. How so?

MCCARTHY: Well, there is a suggestion now from the Morrison government that they will loan a senator to the Northern Territory, which if that was to occur any time now, we would then have three senators in the federal parliament. And hey, I'm all for statehood. I'd like to see 12 senators. But does this begin the path for the Northern Territory to start loaning senators from around every state?

BRASH: It is an interesting one because we heard this came at a Central Council now the party themselves, the CLP haven't really confirmed whether this is a live option. Have you heard anything more than what we've heard?

MCCARTHY: Only what I've heard from the interviews that the ABC has conducted and also the NT News in terms of the media. It is a question, a serious question we need to ask. Certainly in the parliament and when the Senate next sits, this is a constitutional situation. It is really unfathomable when you think the Morrison government wanted to get rid of one of our lower house seats because they thought we were low in population and all of a sudden they've turned around and gone well hang on a minute, we'll give you a third, senator. This is quite incredible to believe.

BRASH: But I would imagine and this will be where the issue turns, that senator would remain a Queensland or a New South Wales senator, but they would belong to the Country Liberal Party. They wouldn't be a senator for the Northern Territory. Surely that's that's untenable, but they would be a senator who belonged to the CLP.

MCCARTHY: Well, there are two issues, or probably more than two, but this is where the Australian Labor Party is questioning this with the AEC that under the Australian Constitution, which is really in the first chapter, if people want to have a read of it, but the Senate needs to be composed of senators from each state directly chosen by the people of this state and representing the people of that state. So if a Queensland or WA senator does not represent their constituency, then they are going against the Constitution.

BRASH: Could it be argued, though, that they have decided I like the policies of the Country Liberal Party. I am not a Territorian, I'm a Western Australian, I'm a Queenslander or whatever. Is there really anything to stop that happening? I mean, I know you're pointing to a constitutional issue, but really, they wouldn't necessarily be representing the NT, though.

MCCARTHY: These are votes by states and territories. So that's where the dilemma here is and it is a serious constitutional situation. This predicament is very serious for the people of the Northern Territory and indeed very serious for the Senate.

BRASH: I do make the point and it was sort of made the point by the AEC Geoff Bloom that he's saying the process by which will happen may not even have finished by the time we get to the the election. So therefore it's pretty much null and void. And he did say it's going to take months. The writs for the election will have to be put out within, well, not necessarily weeks, but very soon, and the election will have to be by the end of May. So really, is it a moot point, given that it's unlikely this investigation will have finished?

MCCARTHY: It's something that we are questioning very seriously. We are very concerned that the federal parliament and the Australian Constitution is being undermined, is being sidelined for the sake of convenience, and that's reprehensible.

BRASH: It is quite possible that the CLP may in time get the 1500 members needed. So again, how do you know the CLP don't have 1500 members?

MCCARTHY: It's not for me to know. It's a case of pointing out that if we were to receive a third senator from another state, we would then be going against the Australian Constitution.

BRASH: Can I also say listeners who may not be partisan or maybe partisan would say, Well, this is purely just a tactic by labour because you're worried about Lingiari specially and by making the candidates independents that will actually maybe be an advantage to Labor. Is this purely just political strategy?

MCCARTHY: I would say to your listeners and those people questioning it have a look at the history here the Morrison government in wanting to remove the seat of Lingiari, they had no interest in the Northern Territory. Otherwise, why would they have pursued that? And I say that this is a serious constitutional issue facing the people of the Northern Territory and the Australian Parliament.

BRASH: Timeframes are everything. I mean, the National Executive National Secretary has written to the AEC. Have you had an answer back as yet?

MCCARTHY: Not that I'm aware of, but I'll certainly be, uh, hoping to get one or at least hoping to receive some information from the National Secretary.

BRASH: Now let's look at the seat Lingiari. And of course, I reckon the CLP are pretty confident they can make a real show in that seat. They've got a strong candidate. They will say someone with a profile. There is no incumbent in the seat at the moment. How worried are Labor about losing that seat?

MCCARTHY: We don't take anything for granted. The seat of Lingiari is a critical seat. We know that we have a retiring member who's looked after the people of the Northern Territory in those areas over 30 years, and we know it's going to be a hard battle. And Marion Scrymgour is a fantastic candidate and I'm absolutely pleased being out with her to just get the sense of what's going on. It has been difficult, obviously with COVID and I'm really pleased the biosecurity zones have gone down so we can get out and actually get a sense from people how they're going. Um, but we are mindful that the pandemic is still there, so we obviously have to be careful.

BRASH: Isn't the real issue for Labor, especially voter disengagement in Lingiari, one third of indigenous voters are not even registered and by looking at the last territory election and local government elections, the turnout from indigenous voters in remote parts of the territory were extraordinarily, extraordinarily low. Some some of the wards in some of the central Australian seats got a 30 per cent turnout of voters. Surely that's where you should be concentrating, because that will actually be a real problem for Labor, which is normally had a good show in the bush.

MCCARTHY: We are incredibly concerned about the low voter turnout, but more so about the fact that there's such a low enrolment base. The Morrison government removed at least 12 AEC officers here in the Northern Territory, down to about three. Now how can people be enrolled when they have cut significantly the funds from the Australian Electoral Commission here in the Northern Territory? I mean, these are all domino effects.

BRASH: Senator McCarthy. Other people might argue Aboriginal voters are making an active decision not to engage in the political process because they see no results from voting at a local territory or maybe a federal level. I mean, surely that is part of it. People are not turning out because what difference does it make to them?

MCCARTHY: Well, I certainly see with the Morrison government that not much has occurred in terms of our social issues, issues like the CDP, the cashless debit card, things that we know are very, very difficult.

BRASH: But they're not turning out for Labor governments in territory elections, either.

MCCARTHY: Senator, I know from the federal election that we've got a lot of work to do. We are certainly going out there and making sure and we will be obviously once these zones are now down to get a sense of what people are feeling and thinking. And I certainly encourage people to believe that we can under an Anthony Albanese Labor government make an incredible difference here in the Northern Territory.

BRASH: Can I ask you, Senator, when do you reckon the election will be? Was it going to be the weekend? It was the 14th or 15th or the 24th 21st 22nd?

MCCARTHY: We obviously expect it to be in May. I have no idea on the particular date. I think for me, it's just about being out there constantly, as I have been actually for the last two terms , just seeing what people are thinking and what they need.

BRASH: Senator, undoubtedly we will speak again soon, but thank you.

MCCARTHY: Okay, thank you.

BRASH: Senator Malarndirri McCarthy on her concerns about that plan, which is not a live plan as far as we can tell, but certainly seems to have been raised about the CLP borrowing a national senator from elsewhere to become a CLP senator. She's raised some questions there. And of course, we heard from the AEC. It does sound like they are unlikely to finalise their report into the country Liberal Party before the writs are issued for the next federal election.