Interview with Liz Trevaskis, ABC Darwin Drive


LIZ TREVASKIS: Back in 1995 and then into 96, the Territory became the first Australian jurisdiction to introduce assisted dying, commonly referred to as euthanasia. But that move lasted no longer than two years when the then Howard-led Federal Government essentially flipped the decision, enacting a 25-year ban on the Australian territories, the ACT and the NT, on legislating around euthanasia. Well, today, the PM and the new Territories Minister Kristy McBain, have announced they’re keen to reverse that 25-year ban and give power back to the Northern Territory and the ACT to debate and decide for themselves around the topic of assisted dying. So what does this mean for the Territory? What does it mean for patients, for families? And how will this process unfold? The new Federal Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories is Kristy McBain. Good afternoon.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Good afternoon.

LIZ TREVASKIS: Why is this a priority for your government?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, I think that there has been 25 years of us allowing state governments to debate a whole range of issues, including voluntary assisted dying, and yet denying the territories the right to do the same thing, even though they are self-governing territories. We know that a number of ACT and Northern Territory members and senators have had a very clear position on this for a long time. And I think it’s incumbent, to now allow a private member’s or senator’s bill to come forward so that we can actually debate this in the Australian Parliament and allow the territories to debate it if it passes.

LIZ TREVASKIS: So you’re seeking to introduce a bill within the first week of Federal Parliament come July. What happens after that?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, look, we will bring forward, as I said, a private members’ or senators’ bill in the first sitting period of Parliament. And if we can’t get it into that first sitting period, it will be very shortly thereafter. A number of my colleagues have campaigned pretty heavily on this for a number of years now, so we hope it will be introduced to the Parliament, it will have the numbers and therefore change that law banning territories to have this discussion.

LIZ TREVASKIS: And what sort of conversations have you had with the new Chief Minister and Health Minister Natasha Fyles, around this?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, I know the Chief Minister has spoken to a number of my colleagues, I’ve spoken to my own colleagues, both members in the House, Marion and Luke, and had several discussions with them about what it would mean. And I think now is the time to put it before the Australian Parliament. We know that New South Wales was the last state to legislate their own assisted dying laws. Now that all the states have their own legislation, I think the time is right to have this discussion, to potentially allow the territories to have that debate in their own parliaments.

LIZ TREVASKIS: So I guess depending on the time frame, particularly here in terms of the Territory parliament, this could actually all change, potentially by the end of the year?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah. Look, there’s obviously a number of things happening, but we would hope that if it is enacted within the Australian Parliament that the territories would be in a position to move their own bills at some point in the near future.

LIZ TREVASKIS: I think a lot of people listening will be wondering what exactly is the role of the Minister for Territories? What sorts of areas are you particularly passionate about? I wanted to talk to you about a few things here at the end of the Stronger Futures legislation, of course, we’ll see some really significant changes across the Northern Territory, including the return of alcohol, potentially, to hundreds of town camps, communities and homelands that have been dry for years, if that is what they choose to do. I know people like the Alice Springs Mayor, Matt Patterson recently, in fact, last week travelled down to Canberra to share some of his concerns around that with the Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney. How much have you been involved in these conversations and what do you make of the imminent change?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, at this point in time, that policy decision has not been made through my office with Territories, very much sits with Linda Burney and also the Prime Minister. But I am always open to listening to people right across the Territory about the issues that matter to them and making their voices heard within the larger ministry.

LIZ TREVASKIS: And another big one, I guess, is just yesterday a landmark report was released here in the Territory, the Treaty Report, after a number of years of consultation, which essentially lays out really clear recommendations for the development of a series of treaties with really serious decision-making power right across the NT. Will something similar follow suit by the Federal Government?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, we obviously went to the last election with a policy that looks at implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart, with voice, truth and treaty at its heart. So we are really keen to engage with First Nations people on how we can make that process streamlined, but also what it looks like in terms of if we can implement what that treaty would look like.

LIZ TREVASKIS: Okay, and I guess, finally, what are the priorities that you see for the Northern Territory as the new Minister for Territories?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Look, I’m really looking forward to working with my colleagues, as I said, working with the NT Government and the NT Administrator on a range of priorities. And we obviously know that service and infrastructure is required in different parts of the Northern Territory. So I’ll be headed to the Northern Territory in the very near future and look forward to meeting with a number of local councils and also of the Northern Territory Government on their home turf.

LIZ TREVASKIS: All right, well, we do hope you’re able to speak to the ABC as part of that trip. Kristy McBain, thanks for your time this afternoon.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Thank you very much.

LIZ TREVASKIS: She is the new Minister for Regional Development, Local Government and Territories. Kristy McBain and that’s a pretty significant change that’s just come through signalled by both the Prime Minister and Kristy McBain that they are keen to reverse that 25-year ban that essentially meant both the Northern Territory and the ACT were unable to legislate around assisted dying. They’re keen to see that power return to the Territory Parliament. So we’ll wait and just see what actually comes before federal Parliament in July and then how your MLAs follow suit.

Media contact:

Minister McBain – Melanie Leach 0492 318 450