Sen. Hon McCarthy TV Interview on Afternoon Briefing

Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians, Assistant Minister for Indigenous Health

MATT DORAN, HOST: For more on this, we were joined from Darwin by the Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians, Malarndirri McCarthy. Malarndirri McCarthy, welcome back to Afternoon Briefing. We've seen the news today that the curfew in Alice Springs will not be extended. What's your response to that news?

MALARNDIRRI McCARTHY, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS: Hello Matt, thank you for having me on. And yes, I did just see the report in terms of this public order being removed in terms of the legislation that the police have used in the Northern Territory in Alice Springs. Clearly the Police Commissioner is confident that this is the right decision, and I'm sure it brings a lot of relief to the residents of the region.

HOST: Clearly, there has been a sense that the situation is easing, but we are still seeing a lot of those tensions. There was a brawl yesterday afternoon involving up to 100 people, some armed with weapons. How concerned are you about the tension that is still present in the Alice Springs community?

MALARNDIRRI McCARTHY: Well, any kind of violence is totally unacceptable, Matt, whether it's in Alice Springs or any other part of the country. Clearly, the police were right there with this. There have been arrests made and charges provided, I understand. And certainly those people involved will certainly feel the full force of the law as they should. But let's also point out that this is not isolated to Alice Springs. We do see issues across towns in Australia, right across the country, and I do commend the police for the work that they are doing there in Central Australia.

HOST: What do you think, and I know that there is no silver bullet here. There is no one solution that is going to bring, for want of a better word, peace to this part of the country. But what do you think is going to be part of the solution going forward? Are we just going to see curfews imposed and lifted and imposed and lifted over and over, as we try to get a handle on what's happening in Central Australia?

MALARNDIRRI McCARTHY: Well, it is important that the police do now have the piece of legislation to enable curfews. Clearly that is a last resort in order to bring peace to a town, whether it's Alice Springs or any part of the Northern Territory. We are mindful, of course, that alcohol plays such a major factor in a lot of the issues we experience here in the Northern Territory. We have to get on top of the issue around alcohol. There is no two ways about that. That is something that we are trying to deal with at a federal level with the Northern Territory government and with organisations in Central Australia. And then, of course, there's the broader policy issues, Matt, like homelessness, the fact that we're investing in housing, clearly not quick enough, but we know we have to keep investing in housing, we have to invest in jobs, and we have to make sure our kids are getting to school. And we've provided substantial funds to schools in Central Australia in particular to ensure that we can have those areas resourced.

HOST: Given, and you pointed out there, that these are not solutions that are going to fix the situation overnight. They do take some time to build those houses, to get kids into school, to deal with alcohol dependency. For the time being, do you think we are going to continue to see this sort of unrest in Central Australia while those programs and policies are put in place?

MALARNDIRRI McCARTHY: Well, we do know that having this piece of policy in terms of being able to enact curfews is important, but it is a short term solution. The long term is what I've raised with you in terms of the broader policies, but it's also about keeping people together. Let's be mindful that this week is obviously the last week of school holidays here in the Northern Territory. So, children will be going back to school next week. We will see families returning to Country, back to their places of residence, we do know that's going to happen in Central Australia. But then as you move up the track, July is also the show month Matt, to your viewers across Australia. So, the next place will be Tennant Creek and Katherine and Darwin in terms of the show. And the show brings a lot of joy and happiness, and it brings people with their children to these events. So, of course, we have to be mindful to be prepared for the influx of extra people in all of those towns as well.

HOST: Something that's somewhat related or tangentially related, we've seen some debate this week around the cashless debit card, an initiative that the Albanese government did remove after criticism that it was draconian, that it was stigmatising people who were welfare recipients in certain parts of the country. We have seen this report from the University of Adelaide saying that since that card was removed, things like payments on alcohol, the sort of problems that the card was originally designed to stamp out, have re-emerged. Do you think that means there needs to be a rethink about the future of that policy?

MALARNDIRRI McCARTHY: Well, I just want to be clear to your viewers about the cashless debit card. It is unlike the basics card, which we have in the Northern Territory, a 50-50 split, if you like, in terms of people's access. So, we do not have, to the extent that other jurisdictions had with CDC, the cashless debit card here in the Northern Territory. So, to put a blame on that, I think is incorrect. It is not about the cashless debit card here in the Northern Territory. And it certainly is something that I've watched closely over my years, both in Opposition and now in government, that one of the things we were concerned about the cashless debit card more broadly across the country, especially in places like Ceduna, Matt, was the involuntary nature of it. We know that people need to rise above their circumstances, but they should also be enabled to make choices as to how they do that in a very responsible way.

HOST: Do you think there does need to be a broader rethink about how some of these income management provisions are put in place across the country though, because these issues do seem to be persisting?

MALARNDIRRI McCARTHY: Well, income management is there across the country, Matt, that's really got to be made clear. People have an opportunity to do that. They have a choice as well in how they do that. So, income management by itself actually exists. I think what you're perhaps referring to is the impact that this particular report says it's had on those jurisdictions. What we've done in places like Ceduna and other places in Western Australia is provide the much needed support around rehabilitation, around support for youth, around support in jobs. And this is what those communities asked for when we first came into government.

HOST: Just finally, Malarndirri McCarthy it would be remiss of me not to ask you your thoughts and reflections considering we are in NAIDOC Week and this is an important time of the year for all Australians, but particularly our First Nations Australians. This is also the first NAIDOC week since the Voice referendum last year. What's the, for want of a better word, what's the vibe out there in the community? How are First Nations feeling?

MALARNDIRRI McCARTHY: Well, we saw the national launch in Adelaide on the weekend on Kaurna country and some amazing participants who were awarded for their work in the First Nations community. And then when I arrived in Alice Springs and drove up the Stuart Highway, I joined in the March on Warramunga country and Tennant Creek there, Matt, where hundreds of residents across the Barkly turned out for that, just to feel strong. I mean, one of the messages I've given as I've travelled along, is that we experience as First Nations people so much hurt, so much Sorry Business, we're forever at funerals. We have a lot of sickness and we have a lot of issues that create very difficult circumstances for us. And what we try and do in NAIDOC Week is just be happy, be kind, love one another, support one another and be proud that our culture still exists today, and we are a resilient people and we are a people who want to share that with our fellow Australians and that's my message as I travel up the track.

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