Interview with James Vyver, ABC Canberra Drive

JAMES VYVER: Well, this is how the story started but we wonder how it’s going to end.

Kevin Andrews SPEAKING:

“The Commonwealth Parliament clearly has the constitutional power and I believe the duty to enact this bill. I commend it to all honourable members”

“Once you allow intentional killing and assisted suicide, you cross a line and thereafter it’s virtually impossible to draw another line

JAMES VYVER: Kevin Andrews, Liberal MP speaking in 1996. This is when the story, I suppose you could argue, began for voluntary assisted dying euthanasia for either territory. You’ll remember that the Northern Territory introduced controversial legislation to allow for voluntary assisted dying back in 1996. The Andrews bill was what followed, which prevented both the territories from making such legislation.

Marshall Perron was the NT Chief Minister at the time. We’re going to talk to him in a minute, but what Labor has told us today, the Labor Government has said that we could even see a bill to reduce – to repeal, I beg your pardon, the Andrews bill as soon as the first week of the first sitting period. So how’s it’s going to work? Will there be a conscience vote? Let’s find out. Kristy McBain is the Federal Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and the Territories. Good afternoon.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Good afternoon. How are you?

JAMES VYVER: I’m fine, thank you. So a bill introduced to – possibly as soon as the first week. When will it pass?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Well, we will obviously be working closely with NT and ACT members and senators. This will come forward as a private member’s or senator’s bill and we hope that if it’s on the Business Paper in the first sitting period that it will reach the Business Paper shortly thereafter.

JAMES VYVER: Have you got the numbers?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, I think that when you look at a number of the members of both the House and the Senate, very – you know, quite a few of them have said that they would be in favour of such a move. And I think now that New South Wales has just finalised their own assisted dying bill, which was the last state to do so and I think it’s only fair that the territories should be able to have that debate, if that’s what they wish to do.

JAMES VYVER: So, on the numbers, yes or no?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Oh look, I – I am pretty confident that there – the numbers would be there in both the House and the Senate.

JAMES VYVER: In terms of how those numbers will come about, will this be a conscience vote at least on the Government’s side of the benches?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yes, it will be. It will be a conscience vote for the Labor Party and it will obviously be up to – to the other parties on how they wish to – to treat the matter.

JAMES VYVER: Have you had any signal from Peter Dutton or some of the crossbench about how they might go about this?

KRISTY MCBAIN: No, but as I said, a number of – a number of people took a platform to the last election; a number of those revolved around what the community was asking for, and I think in the ACT it has been an issue for a number of years. We saw it come forward again from the Northern Territory in the last Parliament. So I think it’s, you know, high time that this is back before the Federal Government so that if it passes, both the territories can have that debate on whether they wish to pass such a law.

JAMES VYVER: Nine after five, James Vyver with you on the Drive program, speaking with Kristy McBain. She’s the Federal Minister for the Territories and Local Government. Talking about the mechanism by which the Andrews bill may be repealed. A pretty first order, too, high on the legislative agenda, as you can hear Kristy McBain describing. The question will be about numbers and on those numbers I just want to stick with the mechanics of Parliament here because if – if the Opposition were to decide that their party position was no, to not law a conscience vote, obviously that pool of votes contracts in terms of getting at least passed in the House.

For the Labor Party itself, for those votes, which of course is the majority, within the Labor Party how – how is the yes and no vote structured? Do you have an overall support, assuming this is a conscience vote, that would get this through the House?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Well, I think there are a couple of things there. Number one, you’re supposing that if the Liberal and National parties aren’t going to allow a conscience vote that they would vote against it, and I’m not sure that that would be the position given that New South Wales, as a Coalition Government, has just passed their own voluntary assisted dying laws.

Number two, the private member’s or senator’s bill will still come before our caucus for discussion, and, as I said, our own party will be able to make their own decision on whether they support this bill or not. But at the end of the day, I think the community has spoken quite clearly. Every state has passed a similar law and this, in effect, corrects a 25‑year‑old law which took away rights from territories that they should – they should be allowed to debate their own bill in this accord. So I think that it’s time that the Australian Parliament let the territories discuss this bill.

JAMES VYVER: Let’s just play out a potential hypothetical which is if you were not to have the numbers to pass it in the House, would the Government consider directing members to vote on a party position, like with other legislation, and not have a conscience vote?

KRISTY MCBAIN: No, this has been talked about – this isn’t a Government bill. It will be a private member’s or senator’s bill –  

JAMES VYVER: No, but it could still be a party position –


JAMES VYVER: –  with direction to vote in that way.

KRISTY MCBAIN: I am – I’m confident that the numbers will be there in both the House and the Senate, and the position of the party has long been that we would allow a conscience vote on this matter.

JAMES VYVER: Yeah, and in the Senate then obviously we know that the Greens are broadly in favour of this in theory and, of course, David Pocock too. He has promised to put his own bill forward, potentially as soon as the first week of Parliament too. That’s one of his election promises, he talked about it quite prominently. Could it be his bill that would be introduced?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Oh look, it may well be. I would say that I’ve had colleagues who have brought this before Parliament on numerous occasions. The former Chief Minister within the government ranks has talked about this now for a number of years. So this isn’t just, you know, an election promise that has occurred in – within our party or within our ranks over the last few months.

This has been a long‑held position from a number of NT and ACT members and senators. And as I said, as recently as last year, we had a former CLP senator who – who brought a similar bill forward specifically for the NT but it didn’t get on for debate through her own government. So I think this is a long‑held position from a lot of people, and I am sure that there will be collaboration right across both the House and the Senate to make sure that this issue is dealt with.

JAMES VYVER: Kristy McBain is who we’re talking to, Federal Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and the Territories. Could the 25‑year story of territory rights and, by proxy, voluntary assisted dying in the ACT be about to change? And is that something you support? 0467 922 666, 1300 681 666.

Tim in Stirling says, “Hi James, there are legislative review processes everywhere except Queensland. It’s not unreasonable that the ACT should also have one.”  

I’m just wondering in terms of the legalese, Ms McBain, how might the bill to repeal the bill function exactly? Have you – have you worked out the best or the optimal or the ideal way that this may work out?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, as I said, there has been numerous discussion on it over the last few years. We have had previous bills brought before both the House and the Senate. We have already had an initial discussion both with people from the Labor Party as well as David Pocock about how such a bill might work. But I think that there is definite space for people to collaborate on this bill and I’m really looking forward to it entering Parliament.

JAMES VYVER: While I have you, we saw the census this week and the ACT Territory – population, rather, of the Territory has gone up. Do we need more senators?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, I know it’s something that I’ve been asked about a couple of times over the last week or so. At this stage that isn’t on the agenda for an Albanese Labor Government. We currently have a system in place that legislates how many senators can be in Parliament for each state and territory, and it may be something we need to discuss down the track. But it won’t be, you know, a priority for – for our Government.

JAMES VYVER: Thank you for your time this afternoon.

Media contact:

Minister McBain – Melanie Leach 0492 318 450