Radio interview with Assistant Minister McCarthy and Rick Hind, ABC Darwin - 15 May

Read the transcript of Assistant Minister McCarthy's interview with Rick Hind on Federal Budget; remote housing; funding support for menstrual products for women and girls in remote communities, Prison to Employment program.

Senator the Hon Malarndirri McCarthy
Assistant Minister for Indigenous Health

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RICK HIND, HOST: The budgets are coming thick and fast for the Top End. This time yesterday, I was in the budget lockup for the NT budget. Last night, Treasurer Jim Chalmers delivered his third federal budget. There's $300 off power bills, whatever your income, and there's $319.50 a week for something called a Commonwealth Prac payment, to be paid to 73,000 eligible nursing, midwifery, teaching and social work students per year. So, how do these two piles of documents interact? Well, one Labor Senator who's deeply aware of the NT budget process is the former NT government Minister Malarndirri McCarthy. Senator McCarthy, do you miss being the NT Minister for Local Government?

Assistant Minister MALARNDIRRI McCarthy: Good morning Rick and good morning to your listeners. Well, I’m certainly enjoying being the Senator for the Northern Territory, Rick. And obviously keeping an eye on what’s going on in the Northern Territory Parliament. You know budget time is quite exciting. You know there’s a lot of good things, and certainly there’s lots of other things that people might have wanted more from, but certainly happy to chat about it this morning. 

HOST: There’s $4 billion for remote housing under a joint agreement with the promise of up to 270 houses each year. This is over ten years. Do you know how many houses will be delivered in the first year? 

McCARTHY: Well, we expect that with that ten year, $4 billion joint investment with the Northern Territory government that there needs to be up to 270 houses each year, that is absolutely critical. It's certainly something that I'll be keeping an eye on, going forward. We want to make sure that we reduce overcrowding, and we want to make sure that we certainly reduce homelessness. 

HOST: A lot of ten year agreements, the funding ends up being very back ended. Are we going to see a lot of new houses straight away? 

MCCARTHY: Well, we need to. 270 houses is quite a lot of houses Rick, I was just out at Maningrida last week having a look at the housing program there. We've had to also install additional resources like better water in terms of the pipe fixtures. So we know that there's a number of things we have to do. So I'd certainly say to those builders and contractors who are listening, that this is important to the Federal Government, and I know it's important to the Territory Government. We want those houses and we want them built. 

HOST: There's ten millions dollars to NACCHO to provide mental health support and menstrual products distributed in remote communities. How acute is period poverty out bush? 

MCCARTHY: This one is a really important one for remote and regional areas to be able to produce women's business in terms of, you know, tampons in terms of sanitary products freely, I think certainly will assist greatly. I've been out to places like Yarralin, and where we've seen with the flooding and the concerns around food security, one of the things that I looked at, both there and also out at Gapuwiyak, is the cost of food on the shelves and the cost of nappies and the cost of sanitary napkins in terms of support for women, but also knowing that this kind of assistance from the federal government will go a long way to assisting them. 

HOST: And how does this assistance work? Do people get payments or is it just a subsidy in terms of the pricing? 

McCARTHY: Well, at this particular point in time, we expect that, the First Nations communities will get them free from straight away. So we will see this happening. I need to actually start to get the communication out to, obviously the stores and the sector that I have in terms of food security to ensure that women, when they come in, they obviously get these products free. 

HOST: Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, the NT recidivist rate is really high. How will the First Nations Prison to Employment program, that's $72 million bucks, and the Justice Policy Partnership, which is $10 million, reduce the number of First Nations people in prison?

McCARTHY: Yes. I'm really pleased with this, Rick. We have a real concern, obviously, with the high rates of incarceration, across the Territory, but indeed across Australia, certainly a First Nations people. And we are focused on jobs. We need to ensure that Territorians have access to jobs and good jobs. We certainly need to make sure that those people who've been in prison have an opportunity to get good jobs, to be able to move away from a life of crime. And this is critical with having the $76.2 million over the forward estimates to improve the transition from prison to work for First Nations people. 

HOST: You're listening to ABC radio Darwin Malarndirri McCarthy is Labor's Senator for the Northern Territory. Senator McCarthy, I'm keen to look at the interaction between the NT and federal budgets in health. Let's look at one big announcement from the Chief Minister, Eva Lawler, yesterday. 

EVA LAWLER, NT CHIEF MINISTER: Budget 2024 also includes $20 million for a new health centre for Borroloola to improve primary care closer to home across the Roper Gulf. The new Borroloola Health Care Centre will significantly expand the available of health services in the region with consulting rooms, emergency bays, dental facilities, x-ray facilities, a hearing booth, renal facilities and a morgue. 

HOST: Senator McCarthy, what will that clinic and all the attendant services it provides mean to people in the Roper Gulf Country? 

McCARTHY: Well, I certainly commend the Chief Minister on her budget. And her first as chief minister. This news, obviously, for the Gulf region is quite substantial. The clinic that is in Borroloola at the moment, is certainly not large enough to cope with the needs of not only the Borroloola people, but the region. And I think this is a great initiative by the Northern Territory government. And we will certainly be complementing that with, renal dialysis chairs with four renal dialysis chairs that will be rolled out as well over the next 12 months. 

HOST: One question we've had put to us around International Nurses Day, which was on the weekend, is how do we train up our nursing and midwifery workforce? You're talking about getting employment and jobs throughout the Territory. What will the Commonwealth Prac Payment do on that front? 

MCCARTHY: Well, just on the weekend, along with Luke Gosling and Marion Scrymgour, I announced the new school for medical needs and for doctors at Charles Darwin University. And we've also, in addition to the $24.6 million for the new medical school in Darwin, we're going to make the HECS and health system fairer, Rick, so that if you're studying, whether you're a nurse, whether you're a teacher, we will assist with the practical side of that learning. So when they do go into the classrooms to teach, we are going to give substantial support to people. This is going to help around 18,000, nearly 19,000 Territorians in terms of that kind of support.

HOST: That's a big chunk of the 73,000 total. But we've had an award winner at the Nursing and Midwifery Awards, Heather Keighley. She's got 40 years of experience. She's a lecturer, at Flinders University and she says it's not just about paying the students for the placement. 

HEATHER KEIGHLEY: Remote is where we really struggle. We would like to get more students into, you know, remote placements where there are good workforce supports there. But it is quite a struggle to make that all happen because the funding you haven't always got, you know, support for the transport to get to and from, etc. So there's like lots and lots of things.

HOST: There's lots of architecture around it, isn't it? And then at the other end you've got somebody who's absolutely slammed, oh, you want me to take on a student as well? 

KEIGHLEY: We do need to advocate for educators who are able to then travel out with students and be their support or student group of students. But then the other problem is accommodation in situ where you want to go. So if you want to go to a remote community, is there a place for the people to stay while they're there? Not usually. 

HOST: So there's funding for a clinic often, and there's a big fanfare for that. But the funding for accommodation so that people can have a student placement. Is that they're in either the NT or federal budgets. Does that need a separate allocation so that people doing nursing prac can actually, that sounds like a great idea, but make that actually happen.

McCARTHY: There are obviously factors that we have to take in consideration Rick. But I would say just listening to Heather there, and I do think she's made some valid points. If we look at the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association, for example, you know, 20 years ago we had only one Torres Strait doctor. Now we have over 127 Torres Strait doctors. We have over 800 Indigenous doctors in Australia. 38 of those are in the Northern Territory. So we are clearly capable of ensuring that even from remote and regional Australia, we can produce terrific medical students and we can certainly produce terrific teachers and other forms of employees. 

HOST: You're listening to ABC Radio Darwin, Senator Malarndirri McCarthy. The losers in this federal budget are international students and universities that rely on them for income, like Charles Darwin University. You've talked about the medical school that Charles Darwin University will have, but how much does the reduction in the number of international students coming to Australia affect a place like CDU? Does Canberra really understand that the North wants more students, wants more people to move here? It's different from Sydney and Melbourne?

MCCARTHY: Well, we’re certainly seen the growth with Charles Darwin University, the new facility in Cavanagh Street, there soon to be opened this year and which is quite exciting. And I'm sure CDU can speak for itself in terms of international students. But I would say this to your listeners that when we announce the medical school, we said the medical school was for locals so that we had local people applying and that we can have local doctors who stay in the Northern Territory. And we are focused on that. We have so many Territorians who need jobs and you know, I've heard the Chief Minister say this, and I totally agree, we have to focus on our local people, especially our First Nations remote communities, to ensure that those jobs are on the ground. 

HOST: One thing we didn't hear much about in the NT or federal budgets was the environment and environmental protection. The NT government is banking on new projects coming down the pipeline between now and the election in August. Are you satisfied that the environmental safeguards and oversight is in place, that the NT EPA can assess the Tamboran onshore gas proposal, which the Chief Minister, Eva Lawler, is sweating on? Here's what she said in her budget speech.

EVA LAWLER: That will see huge investor confidence as Tamboran moves towards a final investment decision expected by mid-2024. 

HOST: Mid 2024. We're in mid-2024 now. Can all of that approval happen in time for the August election, or should this assessment be put off until afterwards? 

McCARTHY: Well, that's obviously a question for the Chief Minister. But what I can say at the federal level Rick, is we have responsibility for the water trigger. And whether it's Tamboran or any other companies that wish to proceed in terms of major projects, they will still have to meet certain requirements at the federal level. And that's something we can certainly do. We introduced the water trigger, late last year to ensure that in terms of the environment, we can be reassured about that transparency in regards to that. Now, if they don't meet that, then we need to point that out at the federal level. 

HOST: Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, thanks for making time for us on a busy budget period. 

McCARTHY: No worries. Thank you. Rick.

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