PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: The Northern Territory's chief minister has warned of possible COVID deaths as the Katherine Robinson River cluster continues to spread. The outbreak has increased to 19 infections, the biggest in the Territory since the start of the pandemic. Joining me live now is the Northern Territory Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy. Senator, good to see you. Thanks for your time this morning. So you've got these extra numbers now. Is that more members of your family at all?
SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: Good morning, Peter. Yes, Robinson River is part of the Garrawa people, which is my family kinship group in terms of the Yanyuwa and Garrawa people, which is that Gulf region. So we are all related and to here that there were more numbers yesterday and obviously we'll wait to see what further results come out today, it's incredibly alarming and not just for the Gulf country, but for the whole of the Northern Territory.
STEFANOVIC: In your conversations with those who are positive, are they OK?
MCCARTHY: Look, I have been speaking to many of my cousins who are in Howard Springs facility. Obviously, they know they're in the right place. It is a difficult time and an anxious time for them. But they're sounding a lot better. Certainly my sister, when I spoke to her for the first time yesterday, which was so good to hear her voice, she's slowly recovering. But look, it's still a little bit early yet. And I guess I just don't want to were to jump the gun. I don't know what this disease does, and neither do they. So it was just one day at a time at the moment.
STEFANOVIC: The chief, the chief minister, as we just mentioned there, the chief minister is worried that it will eventually lead to deaths by the end of the year, particularly if the vaccination rates aren't picked up. Do you share those concerns as well those fears?
MCCARTHY: Look, this is our worst fears realised, really, Peter. I mean, we've been talking about this across the country in terms of First Nations people, but in particular here in the Northern Territory. The remote and regional areas of the Territory have been always a concern. I think seeing the lines even in Katherine yesterday of residents just lining up for testing, urging residents for vaccination, this is a really serious situation for us and we've not really experienced this before.
STEFANOVIC: We had a similar situation in other states, too. When you have these outbreaks, it tends to, you know, shock people into life and you know, they go and get their vaccinations. Is this, is this what - it doesn't sound right saying this - but is this what the Northern Territory needed?
MCCARTHY: Absolutely. Well, look, you know, you're right, it doesn't sound good saying that, but the reality is, as we've seen across the country and perhaps even around the world, Pete, that when there is a spike or when there is an incident, you do see an incredible rise in the number of people getting vaccinated. But interestingly enough, I was just listening to a business operator in a place called Nhulunbuy, just in north east Arnhem Land, who's been there for 50 years saying that, you know, they've sort of been watching from the sidelines across Australia and also watching from the sidelines what was happening in Darwin and now Katherine and Robinson River. And it really is hitting home. So yes, you're right. I think people have been watching from the sidelines and now in the Northern Territory, in particular, Katherine and Robinson River, they're right in the thick of it.
STEFANOVIC: And what more can government do, whether it be the Northern Territory Government or the Federal Government?
MCCARTHY: Well, certainly first up, there needs to be an incredible vigilance about how we are coping here in the Northern Territory. Clearly, the chief minister has raised the concerns around possible deaths. There's also the Northern Territory health minister who's had to come out in terms of the hospital usage here in Darwin and cutting back on elective surgery. So we would certainly be reaching out to the Commonwealth to assist as best it can, but in particular with resourcing, that's really what we will no doubt possibly need should we get further results today that show that it's on the rise.
STEFANOVIC: There is such a problem with apprehension because of the disinformation campaign that that that appears to be prevalent in in many of the Indigenous communities. And I know this from my conversations with my family in far north Queensland, too. I mean, you've got places like Yarrabah where vaccination levels are so low. When it comes to trying to pick up the vaccination rates of Indigenous communities, would you like to see more efforts made by high profile Indigenous athletes even, you know, people who carry weight? Would you like to see them do more to be able to increase the levels of vaccinations?
MCCARTHY: Look, there is no doubt, Peter, that the more high profile a person is that's out there encouraging the vaccination, it does assist, but at the end of the day, I do think it's the practical stuff of just going from door to door. The Aboriginal community health organisations here in the Northern Territory are doing that. I know, and yes, you're right, with far north Queensland, there are some serious concerns there. Robinson River is only a couple of hours from the Queensland border and connects very strongly family wise to the community of Doomadgee. So I do think that it's the practical stuff of doorknocking and just taking the vaccines to the people.
STEFANOVIC: OK. Senator Malarndirri McCarthy. Appreciate your time this morning. Thanks so much for joining us here. We'll talk to you again soon.
MCCARTHY: Thank you, Peter. Thank you.