POWER: Moving on the Northern Territory has been forced into a snap lockout as COVID case numbers continue to rise. It sparked concerns for the pressure on hospitals, with fears that there aren't enough ICU beds. Joining us live now is Northern Territory Senator at Malarndirri McCarthy. Thank you so much for your time. Is a lockout for the unvaccinated the right decision?
MCCARTHY: It's the decision that that has been taken here, Gabriella. We are very concerned across the Northern Territory with the rising numbers of COVID here, and we must do everything that we can to at least try and contain what we have conscious that a lot of this has to be about trying to make sure we have resources in our hospitals across the Territory, as you pointed out.
POWER: Could it spark backlash, though, and more resistance from those who feel they're being treated unfairly if they're choosing not to get vaccinated?
MCCARTHY: Look, I think we've seen backlash right throughout COVID. I don't think this will be anything different. But decisions have to be made, tough decisions have to be taken and we really do need to watch what's going on here in the Northern Territory. We've been very safe for the last two years. We've been kept reasonably well. And the reality is, we knew COVID was coming. It's here now and we have to do the best that we can to get through to the other side of this.
POWER: Cases are expected to rise. How likely is it that this lockout will be extended and this is what living with COVID will look like in the future?
MCCARTHY: Well, I think we're already there Gabriela. When you look at what's happening around the country, the long lines of people still in PCR testing queues, people waiting for three hours, six hours and now the RAT tests, I mean, we need those RAT tests available right across the country so that people can access it straight away. We look at our staff, we've got remote communities who are hundreds, if not thousands of kilometres from main centres here in the Territory. We need to make sure those tests are available for everyone. And Federal Labor has been calling for them to be made freely for all Australians.
POWER: Are you disappointed with the chaos surrounding the tests?
MCCARTHY: Oh, look, we've seen Australia go from one blunder to another. We talked about quarantine and vaccination. These are two jobs that the prime minister had. Now we're talking about RAT tests and testing generally. We are still as a country not getting it right and not getting it done quick enough to give confidence to Australians. And that, I think, is a real lesson that's being learnt and Australians who are just getting fed up.
POWER: What else needs to be done to support remote Northern Territory communities?
MCCARTHY: Well, right now I'm also checking on the food supply. I mean, clearly, we are concerned about what we're seeing down there in southern Australia. I'm trying to speak to our local stores in our remote regions, outback stores, the Arnhem Land Progress Association. This is going to be important, but there's also another issue of telecommunications. We still haven't got full Telstra communication in some of our Arnhem Land communities, and this is of concern when we've got COVID right here in our midst.
POWER: Just how critical is that, especially as the as cases are spreading?
MCCARTHY: Oh, look, it's absolutely critical, I mean, how else will we communicate and then we're supposed to use our phones, you know, the apps to be able to see what's happening. We've got the ‘good to go’ apps. All these things require telecommunications. And if Telstra is down in these communities as it was before Christmas in Maningrida and now in places further east of Maningrida, you know, this is not a good situation to be in. There must be reliable, consistent communication services.
POWER: Do you have fears that some people may feel that they've been abandoned or left behind?
MCCARTHY: Oh, of course. People feel that at all times, and that's why it's important you do have good leaders who keep pointing out what we need to do to keep all Australians together in this. And that is hard because you do have the people who oppose, you know, vaccinations and what we're saying here in the Northern Territory is get vaccinated please. Not only the first and second dose, but also the third one as well. I'm about to have my booster shot later on this month. I just think it's so important that vaccination will help reduce what we're already seeing is an absolute chaotic outcome of COVID.
POWER: Do you think you'll see more people getting their booster shots or going out and getting vaccinated in the Northern Territory because unvaccinated people are now under these lockout rules?
MCCARTHY: Look, I'll continually keep asking people to vaccinate, I just think whether we're in lockout or not. You've got to get vaccinated. We're at the point now where we're preparing for our five-year-olds and up to get vaccinated. School is about to start. It's so critical in our remote and regional parts of Australia, let alone the Northern Territory, that Australians have access to these vaccinations.
POWER: Just in another issue, Novak Djokovic has had his visa cancelled. How would you feel if he is able to play?
MCCARTHY: Oh, look, you know, this has been a real debacle, hasn't it? I mean, if the Border Force had been left to do its job, it wouldn't have become the political storm that it is. But clearly, we've seen the prime minister put France off side and now the Serbs. I just wonder who else he's going to put off next.
POWER: Do you think it's embarrassing for Australia to have the world number one tennis player arrive here only to be forced into quarantine?
MCCARTHY: Oh, what I think is embarrassing is that the prime minister seems to go from one blunder to another and it's another blunder down under from our PM and that's what's embarrassing here.