Interview with Greg Jennett, ABC


GREG JENNETT: Now, among federal ministers coming to grips with their new responsibilities since being sworn in just over a week ago is Territories, Regional Development and Local Government Minister, Kristy McBain. That’s a broad enough area of responsibility at any time but there’s every likelihood that Kristy McBain may be in a position to lead the abolition of a 25‑year‑old law put into place by the Howard Government that banned the Northern Territory and ACT Parliaments, or Assemblies, from ever legalising voluntary euthanasia; assisted dying laws, in other words. Kristy McBain joins us in the studio now.

Congratulations, first of all, Kristy on your elevated responsibilities since we last spoke. Why don’t we start with news of the day before we get to assisted dying and broadly it might fall into regional development if not Local Member for Eden‑Monaro. Gas and electricity prices, a lot of manufacturing and industry happens in the regions, what feedback are you getting about the impact on jobs going or threatened to go because of this?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, I think there’s no doubt that a lot of regional people and regional industry and businesses are struggling through a number of things: the interrupted supply chain network, the increase of price of materials and the increased cost in electricity. And there is no doubt that after a decade of denial and failed energy policies that we are seeing an impact on our businesses and industries now. There’s no quick silver bullet, though, so it’s fantastic to see my colleague Chris Bowen pulling together those state ministers and talking about that.

GREG JENNETT: But we shouldn’t be holding our breath on that to be some Eureka moment, some breakthrough moment today?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, I think it’s important to understand that after a decade of nothing it’s going to take some time to put in place medium and long‑term solutions and our Powering Australia plan will help address those. But in the short‑term it’s about working with those providers to make sure that we are producing more electricity. It’s about making sure that the Treasurer has the ACCC looking at making sure that our companies are not price gouging at a time when things are going awry and helping those operators get more energy into the market as soon as possible.

GREG JENNETT: Do you think those generators have capacity to get plants back online sooner than anticipated given all the national attention that’s falling on this shortage? I don’t know if we’re using the word “crisis”, but shortage at least?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, I really hope so. We know that there are some plants that aren’t running at full capacity for a range of maintenance issues. We know some have been impacted by floods and we know some just aren’t up to capacity at this point in time. So, working with those suppliers to make sure we are getting more supply into the market is crucial and I think we’ve seen both Madeleine King and Chris Bowen working with those companies to make sure that we are doing everything possible to do more for regional people.

GREG JENNETT: All right, why don’t we return to the issue we flagged at the outset with you, wearing your Territories Minister hat. There are forces at work now to overturn what we might call the Kevin Andrews law, which tied the hands of the Territories. Some of those forces are on the crossbenches now, in the Senate and the House. Will the Albanese Government make good on its talk to be inclusive and cooperative with those crossbenchers and actively support the repeal of the Kevin Andrews law?

KRISTY MCBAIN: We made a commitment to the Australian people and the Australian Parliament that we wanted to be more collaborative and work across the Parliament. We know after the last three years it’s been pretty traumatic for a lot of our communities going through drought, bushfires, floods, COVID and we need to make sure that we work collaboratively to get things done. I for one have done that in my previous roles. I’ve done that here. So, I’m really looking forward to working with an expanded crossbench, working with my own colleagues in the Senate to make sure that we can bring a private members’ bill or a private senators’ bill forward which would look at the repeal of these laws.

GREG JENNETT: And the most likely agent in this, is at least David Pocock; he’s in the Senate of course. Are there others?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, I think there’s probably a range of both ACT and Northern Territory members and senators who are keen to see this come forward and I’d really like to sit down with a lot of my colleagues and have a discussion about how they want to see this proceed. I do have a meeting this afternoon with David Pocock to understand his motivations and how he wishes to see that proceed as well. But in my mind, jurisdictions across the country have the ability to make laws in regards to assisted dying, and the ACT and Northern Territory should be no different if that’s the way their elected assemblies wish to go.

GREG JENNETT: A lot of them, in fact, now if we did a count around the country, many states have. Have you spoken to, had representations from Chief Ministers Natasha Fyles and Andrew Barr? I take they would be actively encouraging you to go there.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, I’ve had an initial discussion with Chief Minister Andrew Barr and I’m looking forward to catching up with Natasha Fyles as soon as possible. But, again I think the communities of those two Territories are saying, “why are we different from the rest of the country?” And certainly in 2022, I think there are a lot of people that wish they had access to these laws, so I’m looking forward to it.

GREG JENNETT: What about in the Labor Government and on the numbers, how would your party approach this? Is it strictly a matter of conscience or is it more narrowly defined as a matter of territory rights that doesn’t involve conscience at all?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, I think people would look at it in a couple of different ways. Strictly, it’s a matter of territory rights, but when that allows territories to make decisions which may be against the faith of some of our members, you can see how they end up conflicted and that’s why if that private members’ or senators’ bill comes forward, the Labor Party would allow a conscience vote so it doesn’t go against somebody’s personal religious or cultural belief.

GREG JENNETT: Which is an important distinction, but on the numbers – having made that, but on the numbers what would be your expectation in both chambers? I know it’s hard to read the private and conscience views of all members and senators, but you get the sense that there is a momentum there for change?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, always hard to define the numbers in a conscience vote. But I would gather from the views of constituents across this country and given the number of states that have already passed assistant voluntary dying laws that the numbers would be sufficient in both the House and the Senate to pass a bill that would allow the territories to debate those rights. But again, that would be a matter for those people once it comes to a vote here.

GREG JENNETT: And of course, a great many private members’ bills come forward particularly in the Lower House where you are. What they always require is Government sponsorship and expedited passage through the processes of the House. Are you at a point where you can guarantee that? I mean, has the Albanese cabinet locked on to that?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look at that point in time I can’t guarantee. We have obviously got our first sitting week coming up towards the end of July, but what I do know is that this is an important private members’ bill, or senators’ bill, that will be coming forward and I will be there as the minister responsible fighting for it to be put on the government notice paper as soon as possible.

GREG JENNETT: And I take it you’re getting strong support from – well, it’s the three, well, four relevant territory senators as well.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, I don’t know how those senators might vote.

GREG JENNETT: Because it’s conscience, yes.

KRISTY MCBAIN: But there is a definite desire of an Albanese Labor Government to allow the territories to be able to debate their own laws, and I think it’s important we move to a situation where that bill is brought as soon as we can so that it is up to people of the ACT and the Northern Territory to work with their elected members to make sure that this bill either happens or doesn’t happen. The most important and critical thing is that the members who live in the ACT and the Northern Territory, the populations that live there, should be able to debate this. They should be able to make their own decisions. They are self‑governing territories and there should be no reason that they are treated differently than any state in Australia.

GREG JENNETT: Sure, we’ll watch with interest. Just one final one, and you don’t have to answer it if you’re not comfortable. Are you prepared to state your own position on this conscience vote?

KRISTY MCBAIN: I sure am. My personal position on this is that I’ll be voting in favour of the bill. My mum worked in aged care for the last 15 years of her career and I’ve had grandparents who have had terminal illnesses who have had to go through probably a difficult end to their lives and I think that at the end of your life when you have a terminal illness you should be able to make a decision about when that ends for you.

GREG JENNETT: Sounds like there’s a champion in the Territories Minister at least. Kristy McBain, nice to see you again and thanks for joining us in the studio today.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Thanks, Greg.

Media contact:

Minister McBain – Melanie Leach 0423 759 288