Malarndirri McCarthy

Malarndirri Barbara Anne McCarthy (born 19 April 1970) is an Australian politician and former journalist who has been a Senator for the Northern Territory since 2016. She is a member of the Labor Party, and previously served in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly from 2005 to 2012.

Malarndirri McCarthy
McCarthy in the Senate
Senator for the Northern Territory
Assumed office
2 July 2016
Preceded byNova Peris
Member of the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly
for Arnhem
In office
18 June 2005  24 August 2012
Preceded byJack Ah Kit
Succeeded byLarisa Lee
Personal details
Barbara Anne McCarthy

(1970-04-19) 19 April 1970
Katherine, Northern Territory, Australia
Political partyLabor

McCarthy was born in Katherine, Northern Territory, and grew up with her mother's family in Borroloola, on the McArthur River. She began her education in Alice Springs before moving to Sydney to board at St Scholastica's College. Prior to entering politics, McCarthy worked as a journalist and presenter for ABC News and Current Affairs. She was known as Barbara McCarthy until 2007, when she adopted her current name to honour her deceased mother.

In 2005, McCarthy was elected to the NT Legislative Assembly for the division of Arnhem. She was re-elected unopposed in 2008, and was subsequently appointed to the ministry by Paul Henderson. She held a number of portfolios over the following four years, but lost her seat in Labor's landslide defeat at the 2012 election. McCarthy subsequently returned to the media as a presenter for NITV and SBS News. She re-entered politics as Labor's lead Senate candidate in the Northern Territory at the 2016 federal election.

Background and early years

McCarthy was born in Katherine, Northern Territory, the daughter of Limandabina Charlie and John McCarthy. Through her mother, she is descended from the Garrwa and Yanyuwa peoples, whose traditional lands straddle the McArthur River and the Gulf of Carpentaria. Her father, originally from Sydney, is descended from an Irishman who arrived in Australia in 1842.[1]

McCarthy was raised with her mother in Borroloola. She boarded in Alice Springs and at St Scholastica's College, Sydney, where she was school captain in 1988. McCarthy is a former Australian Broadcasting Corporation newsreader and journalist who began her cadetship in 1989 and worked across Australia as a news and current affairs television and radio reporter. In 1993, after a trial run at presenting the late news from Sydney, McCarthy became the weeknight newsreader for ABC News in Darwin.

McCarthy co-established Borroloola's first community radio station, B102.9FM The Voice of the Gulf in 1998 with assistance from the ABC, and also set up the Lijakarda Cultural Festivals & Media, Arts & Training Centre for Yanyuwa, Kudanji, Garrawa & Mara people from Borroloola.[2]

McCarthy has two adult sons.[3]


Early political career

Malarndirri McCarthy, then known as Barbara McCarthy, became the Member for Arnhem in 2005 when she was preselected to replace the retiring member Jack Ah Kit. Considered by many political pundits as a star recruit for Chief Minister Clare Martin and the Australian Labor Party, she received 73.9% of the two-party preferred vote, a 12.5% increase on Ah Kit's result.[4] As a result of her election McCarthy became one of ten women in the 25 seat assembly, considered at the time to be in the top 10 in the world in male to female ratio in a parliament.[5] McCarthy was also as one of five indigenous candidates elected, properly reflecting the population ratio of indigenous people in the Territory.

Her first term was highlighted by crossing the floor, with two other ALP members, to vote against the government's decision to divert the McArthur River to allow more mining developments, on spiritually cultural and environmental grounds, in her home country of Borroloola.[6]

In August 2007 on the sudden death of her mother, who had been a strong advocate for the Borroloola people's struggle for land rights, language and culture and who despaired at the river diversion, Barbara McCarthy added her Yanyuwa name of Malarndirri, out of cultural respect for her mother. She was re-elected unopposed in the 2008 election.

Immediately following the election McCarthy was promoted to the ministry and from August 2008- November 2009 was the Minister for Children and Families, Child Protection, Statehood, Women's Policy, Senior Territorians, Young Territorians and the Minister Assisting the Chief Minister on Multicultural Affairs.[7]

In December 2009 a Cabinet re-shuffle took place as a result of a Labor Cabinet Minister leaving the NT Labor Government and was not replaced in the Cabinet.

McCarthy's portfolios then doubled and she was tasked to implement major reforms in the areas of Local Government, Regional Economic Development & Indigenous Development, while keeping the Women's & Statehood portfolio, Tourism was also added to her brief.

At the 2012 election McCarthy was defeated by Country Liberal Party challenger Larissa Lee amid Labor's collapse in the remote portions of the Territory.

Interim years

McCarthy won the 2013 Journalism Story of the Year Deadly Award for her story on two Perth Noongar brothers, the Thorne Brothers, who were in Saudi Arabia. Shayden Thorne had been arrested on terrorism charges in Riyadh, while his brother Junaid was in hiding after protesting his brother's innocence. Both Shayden and Junaid returned to their families in Perth.[8][9]

McCarthy also was a member of the NITV team's Walkleys nomination in 2014 for the Innocence Betrayed documentary based on the Bowraville murders ongoing investigation. In 2013 she received two Walkley nominations for her story on Mercedes-Benz that filmed its advertisement on Wave Rock in Western Australia, a place of deep cultural significance to Aboriginal custodians. The General Manager of Mercedes-Benz flew to Wave Rock to personally apologise to custodians.[10]

McCarthy was a journalist and presenter at SBS/NITV News and presented NITV News Week in Review on SBS1 2.30pm on Fridays and on NITV on the weekend. In addition she worked part-time at St Ignatius College, Sydney and assisted the development of the First Nations' Unit program and taught a cross cultural program at the Catholic school.

Federal politics

Following the resignation of Nova Peris, McCarthy was invited by Labor to nominate as a candidate for the Senate at the 2016 federal election, representing the Northern Territory.[11] She was subsequently endorsed as the Labor candidate despite not being enrolled to vote in the Northern Territory.[12]

McCarthy went on to win a Senate seat at the 2 July 2016 federal election bringing a much higher primary vote and a swing of near 7-percent to the Australian Labor Party.


  1. Sen. Malarndirri McCarthy (ALP-NT) – Maiden Speech
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 7 September 2008. Retrieved 28 December 2008.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. "Malarndirri McCarthy, Senator for Northern Territory". Territory Labor. Retrieved 13 August 2016.
  4. "2005 Northern Territory Election. Electorate Results. Election Results. Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)". Retrieved 24 January 2017.
  5. Hinde, S. (22 June 2005). "Women hit top 10". Northern Territory News. p. 5.
  8. "ABC, NITV win at Deadly Awards". TV Tonight. 12 September 2013. Retrieved 3 June 2016.
  9. McCarthy, Malarndirri (8 March 2013). "NITV News interview mother of Shayden Jamil Thorne" (streaming video). NITV News. SBS News. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  10. McCarthy, Malarndirri. "Mercedes-Benz apologises over Wave Rock video". NITV News. SBS News. Retrieved 18 March 2015.
  11. "Malarndirri McCarthy puts hat in the ring for Nova Peris Senate seat". ABC News. Australia. 25 May 2016. Retrieved 3 June 2016.
  12. "Election 2016: Peris replacement Malarndirri McCarthy not enrolled to vote in NT". ABC News. Australia. 1 June 2016. Retrieved 3 June 2016.
Northern Territory Legislative Assembly
Preceded by
Jack Ah Kit
Member for Arnhem
Succeeded by
Larisa Lee
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