To the people of the Northern Territory: Thank you for your support and ensuring that we did not lose our voice in the Australian Parliament

03 December 2020

SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY: But of course, if you want to hear about the Northern Territory, please stay, please stay, because we got some great news to talk about here. Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. And given that we've had a fairly hectic morning here with previous Bills, I am absolutely delighted to be able to get to my feet on behalf of the people of the Northern Territory and speak about a Bill of absolute importance in preserving the seats of Solomon and the seat of Lingiari for the people of the Northern Territory. That's what this Bill is all about. My speech today is really to the people of the Northern Territory and also to the people on Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Thank you for your support and ensuring that we did not lose our voice in the Australian Parliament - in fact, our voices in the Australian Parliament. Many of you provided submissions to the Joint Select Committee on Electoral Matters and spoke so passionately about the need for democratic fairness and the rights of Territory and the Indian Ocean territories to be heard in the House of Representatives. So this speech goes out to you, to our First Nations communities, our organisations, to our ranger groups, to our farmers, to the cattle industry, to the mining industry, to the fishos, amateur and commercial alike. To our health workers on the front line, whether you're working in our hospitals, in our clinics, in the remote and regional areas of the Northern Territory and the Indian Ocean Territories, this is about you.

It's about your voice. It's about ensuring that the Australian Parliament never forgets the people of Lingiari and Solomon. I thank the Senate for this opportunity, and I certainly thank colleagues on both sides, on all sides who've stood very strongly in pursuing this, in particular in the House, Warren Snowdon, the member for Lingiari, Luke Gosling, the member for Solomon, and Senator Sam McMahon. It is important that no matter our political ideologies and our parties, where we live, that we came together very strongly to say this must not happen, where we lose a voice. You know, in 2022, it will be 100 years when the first member of the Northern Territory came into this Parliament. Nearly 100 years, so nearly 100 years later, you wanted to keep it still at 1?

It really is a shame job that the Northern Territory has not progressed even more. Two is not enough, but for the purposes of this Bill, we are enormously grateful that what seemed incredibly impossible at the beginning of this year is now becoming very real. I urge Senators, all Senators, to wholeheartedly support the passage of this legislation today. Because the people of the Northern Territory and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Islands have many issues to battle. You know, whether it's the Cashless Debit Card, whether it's the Community Development Program, whether it's jobs and infrastructure, COVID-19, we want to know that we have voices in this parliament to represent us.

This should never have been an issue. It should never have distracted us to the extent that it did, but boy, am I enormously grateful for those who stood by us to make sure we never gave up on this voice and these voices for the Northern Territory and the Indian Ocean Territories.

So this Christmas, it is hopefully an important gift that we can certainly come to and know that as we go into next year, because who knows what next year is going to look like. Are we going to have an election next year? The big question, isn't it, for 2021. But the people of the Northern Territory and the Indian Ocean Territories want to make sure we have our voices ready to go.

i'd like to just acknowledge Madam Acting Madam Deputy Speaker, just a couple of people in particular, if we think about the seat of Lingiari. And Lingiari, as hopefully everyone does know comes from the name of Vincent Lingiari, the late Gurindji elder who fought for land rights and not just for the Northern Territory, but for all First Nations people right across Australia and for our country, Australia, to treat First Nations people with the dignity and respect that we have ever been calling for. And dignity and respect not only comes in the way we treat one another, but it is in the financial ways that we treat each other, in the economic cycles that we treat each other, in the ability to be able to have homes, decent homes and houses, not 20 to a house, but families who can live comfortably in one home, knowing they have families in another home without feeling like they're overcrowded. That's the dignity and respect that Vincent Lingiari stood for. And his message lives on in his children and grandchildren.

And it was his family that I drove out to, got in my four wheel drive, went out to Wave Hill and I spoke to so many people - pastoralists, you know, all these communities, the roadworkers, the families at Wave Hill and said, listen, I really need your support here. We have to fight this. So when I got out to Wave Hill and the Gurindji mob got together and we sat down, we talked, so I went through and explained, well, this is the Senate, this is how many senators there are. Over here, this is the House. This is how many members there are in the House. And this is us four, you know, Warren, Luke, Sam and I, four of us in these two houses of over 200 people. So when you sit down with people and explain. This is our voice, they looked at me and they said, what? And they want to take one of you away? They said, that's not right, which we should have more than that, and I said, yeah, you're right. You're right, we should. But we definitely shouldn't be losing any.So the Gurindji got together and they wrote a letter, they wrote a letter to the Prime Minister. And I'm going to table the letter and just read a little bit of it, because I think it's important to acknowledge what the children and grandchildren of Vincent Lingiari did on this particular occasion:

Dear Prime Minister.

We are the grandchildren of Vincent Lingiari. In 2000, we gave permission for the Australian Electoral Commission to use our grandfather's name for the electorate of Lingiari.

We are proud to see the achievements of Vincent Lingiari and the Gurindji people recognised in this way. Now, the Australian Electoral Commission has declared the Northern Territory will lose a seat in the Federal Parliament at the next election. Losing a seat will make our voices softer, not louder.

Government talks about closing the gap and a First Nations voice. Yet in the Northern Territory, where almost 30 per cent of the population are Aboriginal, we are losing our voice.

The fight for land rights began here on Gurindji country. Our grandfather, Vincent Lingiari, fought against power and privilege for the betterment of our people and for the betterment of all Australians. We'd love to welcome you, Prime Minister, to come and have a look.

In fact, they've actually invited not only the Prime Minister, but probably most Senators and members at some point to come to Wave Hill and walk. I know Senator Penny Wong has spent time with me out there walking the walk. Talking the talk. Of the importance of what the legacy of Vincent Lingiari is about: power and privilege, the fight against power and privilege and the Gurindji hold that flame so strongly.

As they do here in this legislation before the Senate. So, Madam Acting Deputy President, I'm enormously proud that through the combined efforts of so many we stand here to do the right thing. To make sure the voices of the people of the Northern Territory and the peoples of the Indian Ocean Territories grow louder and strength, not less. Yo, Bauji Barra.

MADAM ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Are you seeking leave to table the letter?

MCCARTHY: Yes, I am. I'm seeking leave to table this letter from the Gurindji Corporation.

MADAM ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Is leave granted. Leave is granted. Thank you Senator.