Listen to Senator Malarndirri McCarthy discuss Alice Springs and the Voice on Michelle Grattan’s podcast The Politics Show

Listen to Senator Malarndirri McCarthy discuss Alice Springs and the Voice on Michelle Grattan's podcast The Politics Show

As the federal and territory governments try to solve the unsolvable problems plaguing Alice Springs and the rest of the Northern Territory, they have reimposed alcohol bans on Indigenous communities.

While discussions about this year’s referendum for an Indigenous Voice to Parliament heat up, the situation in Alice Springs and the surrounding communities has made national headlines.

Michelle sits down with Malarndirri McCarthy, Northern Territory Labor senator and Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australia, for a podcast discussion. McCarthy has worked as a journalist and served as a minister for children and families in the legislature of the territory she previously lived in.

McCarthy defends the bans, which were previously deemed “race-based” by the NT government. “What we’ve seen in the last few weeks in particular are scenes that show us that the urgency that’s required does need a circuit breaker […] there’s no doubt we have issues with alcohol across the Northern Territory, but I’m also seeing it on our borders as well with Western Australia and also with Queensland.

“It’s not just about providing jobs and a sense of promise for the future; these Australians also need a secure environment in which to raise their families.

McCarthy, a former minister for children, was asked for her thoughts on the difficult decision of whether or not to remove Indigenous children who are in danger. She responded, “One of the things I worked very closely on when I had the portfolio in the Northern Territory government as families minister was the absolute importance of the kinship structure.” That if a kid is in a bad spot with mom or dad, there are other people in the family they can turn to for help […] It’s a habit of mine. In a close-knit family, I am responsible for three kids. That’s right, an eight-year-old and a pair of nine-year-old twins.

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“No matter the danger, a child must be taken away to ensure their safety.

Is it time for a referendum, and how sure is she that it will pass, if at all? 2023 is the perfect year to start this adventure. That’s going to be a challenging task, I’m sure. It’s off to a bad start […] but I still have faith in the fundamental goodness of the American people. I have this unwavering confidence that no matter how bad things get, Australians are basically good people at heart, and that we will prevail.


The word “Treaty” came up frequently at the recent Invasion Day demonstrations. How soon after the Voice’s passage would the government seek to negotiate a treaty? “We’ve already started talking to state and territory ministers or premiers and chief ministers about the work they’re doing towards treaty in their respective jurisdictions,” the Makarrata Commission’s chairperson said.

In the event that the referendum passes, it has been speculated that the Voice might not begin broadcasting until 2025. When questioned about the schedule, McCarthy is direct. To paraphrase one participant in the process: “Well, it’s been a long time over the last ten years for this process, and I think people have been very patient and very particular about their research and about the work that they’ve done. My guess is that 2025 will be a better year than 2035.

Daniel Harrison

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