Transcript - TV interview: ABC News 24, Afternoon Briefing with Greg Jennett

GREG JENNETT, HOST: Why don’t we welcome in now our political panel for the day and joining us Regional Development, Local Government and Territories Minister Kristy McBain is back.


GREG JENNETT: Along with Liberal MP Bridget Archer. Welcome to both of you. Bridget, I might start on the Voice, very much the topic of the day, as it was yesterday. Did the Nationals surprise you and fellow Liberals by seemingly out of the blue adopting such a strong position as articulated by Jacinta Price against?

BRIDGET ARCHER: Look, I’m probably surprised that they have formed a position at this stage and come out and expressed that. Certainly the Liberal Party room has not made a decision yet and is looking to, you know, take more of a wait and see approach.

For me personally I’m very open-hearted and open-minded about the discussion, and indeed I sort of co-chair a Parliamentary Friends group for the Uluru Statement so, you know, I was surprised that they have come out so soon and with a no position, and obviously it’s caused some consternation amongst their own ranks as well. But we are yet to make a decision in the party room.

GREG JENNETT: There is a little bit of fracturing there. What do you think it means for your own party room about which you would have a better understanding than the Nats, I imagine? Do you think you’ll have an adopted, united formal position on it?

BRIDGET ARCHER: You know, I was surprised that they have come out so soon and with a no position, and obviously it’s caused some consternation amongst their own ranks as well, but we are yet to make a decision in the party room.

GREG JENNETT: There is a little bit of fracturing there. What do you think it means for your own party room about which you would have a better understanding than the Nats, I imagine? Do you think you’ll have an adopted united formal position on it? I ask that because Andrew Brad was on the program yesterday saying, “We might treat this as we have the Republic question back in 1999 and not seek to adopt one at all.”

BRIDGET ARCHER: Yeah, I think that’s possible. I think anything’s sort of possible and on the table at this point.  And I think that that is, and I think I heard the Prime Minister reflect earlier, and the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, that ultimately this will be a decision that is made by the Australian people, as it should be. So politicians, representatives can have a view but ultimately that decision will rest with the Australian people, as it should.

GREG JENNETT: All right. Well, Kristy, your job these days maintains a connection with the territories, and Jacinta Price I think you’d have to acknowledge is a not insignificant figure within the Northern Territory. To that extent and allowing for what Bridget says, she has some influence here, doesn’t she?  Perhaps enough to douse support for the yes vote at least in the Territory?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Obviously Senator Price represents the Northern Territory and, you know, doing her job is out speaking to a range of different communities. I think the important thing here is that there is not a homogenous view amongst Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people about the Voice to Parliament which is exactly the reason there should be a referendum.

But I think what the Prime Minister is saying is correct. If we are to move truly towards reconciliation then we really do have to amend our constitution. We have to acknowledge that this place that we know as Australia wasn’t, you know, discovered in 1788, it wasn’t settled in 1788, that, you know, we were not the first peoples of the country. And this is a way to correct the record and actually bring people in to help us make decisions on behalf of those First Nations people. So whilst Senator Price is a senator for the NT, I’m sure that even she must acknowledge that there’s not a homogenous view on the Voice.

GREG JENNETT: No, there’s not obviously. But had you anticipated a major party, and the Nats are that within the Australian political system, attempting to derail the process as per this announcement yesterday?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Well, like Bridget said I’m surprised that they have come out with a consolidated view so early on in the process. I think that that is troubling, I think for a number of those communities that are represented by Nationals members who have a different view and those members should really be listening to what their communities are telling them, and as I said there are a range of views and they should have been open-hearted and open minded like Bridget to actually take in those views before they made a position clear to the Australian public.

GREG JENNETT: Well who knows, there may yet be some fracturing on all of this. We’ve been recording that Andrew Gee who wasn’t present for yesterday’s decision has already broken free, as have Western Australian Nats, apparently. 

Look, on the anti-corruption commission, Bridget, it’s in the hands of the Senate very firmly. They may push it through tonight. There seems to be some argument at the margins though in that chamber about the oversight committee and how much power it should have to support or undermine the appointment of the Commissioner and Commissioners. Is that a power that should be addressed, do you think, in the Senate? Was it wrongly designed in the House?

BRIDGET ARCHER: Oh, look, I supported amendments in the House that were, you know, seeking to look at the representation of the oversight committee, but I think your point is that it is at the margins. Overall as I said when I spoke on this bill, this is a good bill. This has broad support across the Parliament, which is exactly what it needs to have, and I think that these are important discussions. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having those debates and ventilating those concerns in this way. That’s what we’re here for. But I think ultimately, you know, I have faith in the Senate that they will resolve this in a functional way that will lead to the enactment of a federal integrity commission.

GREG JENNETT: And they might, Kristy, they might sort of modify their positions there, but the way Mark Dreyfus argues is that this would give a power of veto to politicians, perhaps the opposition of the day, on that committee to say, “No, we don’t want the Government’s pick for Commissioner”. Is that technically true on the oversight committee as it was formulated in the House?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, that’s definitely my understanding and it’s, you know, really interesting that we would break from conventions that have been long-held within the Parliament, that is that the Government of the day does appoint people to particular tribunals or boards. You know, we saw the previous government appoint several members to the AAT and the Fair Work Commission, and whilst we might not agree with it, that is the convention of the day.

Now I know that some of those opposite don’t really care about the conventions of the Parliament and obviously the former Prime Minister tried to break away from a number of those conventions with his ministerial appointments.


KRISTY MCBAIN: But I think, as Bridget said, the bill strikes a really good balance, takes into account a number of concerns that were raised. There were amendments made to the bill, but I think one, I mean really I don’t think it should stop that bill from coming back to the House to be adopted because what most people are asking for is for an Integrity Commission to be put in place.

GREG JENNETT: Yeah, and it may not.  Someone might blink in this debate as it unfolds there in the Senate. But since you’ve invited us to go there, Kristy, and I think you were in the caucus meeting today, explain the thinking behind moving on to a censure motion around Scott Morrison, starting tomorrow morning I think?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Potentially that will be coming forward, but I think most importantly the Australian people need to have faith in their politicians. And what we saw the previous Prime Minister do was really break with the conventions of the Westminster system, broke with conventions of actually gazetting whom the ministers of the day were, and this is as much about trying to restore faith in our institutions as it is about saying we will no longer accept standards like that.  So I’m –

GREG JENNETT: But you could have done that by doing, as you are going to do, which is amending legislation and making publication of all of these appointments the norm.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Absolutely.

GREG JENNETT: Forever more. Why take the censure over and above that?

KRISTY MCBAIN: It’s one of those old arguments that, you know, you could do this instead, that what about [indistinct] and we can do both and we should do both.

We should acknowledge that things need to change in our regulatory framework, which is what we will do. But we also need to acknowledge that the wrong thing was done by a sitting Member of Parliament, a former Prime Minister, and this is the appropriate way to do so.

GREG JENNETT: All right. Bridget, you’ve had some strong thoughts on this throughout since we discovered it as a nation what had exactly gone on under Scott Morrison. You will have a choice there to make on the floor of the House. What will you do?

BRIDGET ARCHER: I’ll be supporting the censure motion if it comes forward. You know, we don’t have any control over whether the censure motion comes forward. That’s a matter for the Government. But we certainly have a choice about how we respond to that. My view is it would be an act of extreme hypocrisy for me personally, given the stance that I have taken in the past couple of years on issues such as integrity, to do anything other than to support that motion. Because it is an affront to democracy, you know, as I’ve said previously and as the Bell report has also said, you know, it’s corrosive to the Parliament, to those institutions to trust in public office. And so I don’t think it would be surprising to anyone given the stances that I’ve taken previously that I will feel compelled to support a censure motion.

GREG JENNETT: Very interesting. You are within rights to make that decision. Did it take the Bell report to convince you? Because we’d had rumours about a possible censure for quite some time, only confirmed I think by the Government on Monday, but had you kind of arrived at this idea in your own mind some time prior to the facts all being laid out there in the Bell report, was that influential in where you are today?

BRIDGET ARCHER: Look, I think as the Government reflected at the time that they called for that inquiry it was appropriate that there was a formal process to inquire into that. I had a view, as did others, you know, at the time that I was dismayed at the reports of what had occurred, but it was entirely for there to be a formal process for that to be investigated and that has come forward and this is a logical result I think of that process.

GREG JENNETT: You made that very clear and very public here on this program. Can I ask if you’ve informed anyone else in the party or whether you expect others to exercise a vote as you will?

BRIDGET ARCHER: Well I think that’s a second part to the argument. I mean I think that what happens in relation to this issue and the Parliament stands alone in my mind, and in terms of my own actions it’s linked to actions that I have previously taken before. But I also do believe that there is a wider question in relation to this in terms of the party and the choices that they are going to make in relation to this. As I said, they may not have control over whether a censure motion comes forward, but they have control over the way they respond to that.

And I think it is important in terms of the future of the party to look at the lessons of the past and I think that these actions of the former Prime Minister are intrinsically linked to lessons that we need to learn if we’re going to move forward constructively, if we’re able to get out from the shadow of that time and reset.

GREG JENNETT: Kristy, you’re at great risk of being ignored here because some of Bridget’s remarks are remarkable.

KRISTY MCBAIN: No, I absolutely commend Bridget and she’s a person of very high integrity and it takes a lot to cross the floor against your party and I acknowledge what you’ve done, which is in service to your electorate, so congratulations.

GREG JENNETT: And will you speak on the motion? I mean you’re outlining some pretty refined thoughts here about what you think it means for the broader Liberal Party of which you’re a member, will you craft that into the speech?

BRIDGET ARCHER: Look, I certainly think it would be appropriate to speak on it. I am not yet sure what the form of the motion will be or what that process will be, but certainly if I have an opportunity I think it would be certainly appropriate to speak on it and given the obvious gravity of the action that I feel that I need to take I think it would be appropriate to speak on it.

GREG JENNETT: You’ve obviously put a lot of thought into that. Thank you for expressing it and sharing it with our audience. We might just move on though because I think, Kristy, you will be sweating on each and every day that the Senate sits with territory rights, which is a step to allowing voluntary assisted dying in the NT and the ACT. Do you remain confident that will become the law of the land, or be repealed, whatever the expression is, by the end of this year?

KRISTY MCBAIN: Yeah, the second reading of the bill, the private members bill that came forward to repeal a piece of legislation which doesn’t allow the territories to have that discussion on voluntary assisted dying passed the Senate quite easily.

There were a number of speeches given which were around some questions and it will be back before the Senate on Thursday, but I remain confident that the numbers are still there and I think that people in the Northern Territory and the ACT are looking forward to the day when they can actually debate any bills within their legislative assemblies just like they can in any State Parliament, and I think it’s a real sad indictment that for 25 years they have not been allowed to debate these laws.

GREG JENNETT: It will be a big moment when that goes through. That was sort of a local one to Kristy.  Final local one back to you, Bridget. Rental crisis. We had some figures out today saying that Tasmania, but Hobart in particular, worst in the country. I know there’s a federal and state process under way here to try and tackle this but it’s acute.

BRIDGET ARCHER: Yes, it really is, and I think it’s representative of an issue that exists across the country, and I’m sure, without speaking for Kristy, the regions in particular.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Absolutely.

BRIDGET ARCHER: And yeah, it really is at crisis point and as much as possible needs to be done. There are, you know, all levels of government are turning their mind to this and working together. It’s not something that can be fixed overnight and there does need to be both those longer-term solutions around housing affordability and supply, but I think we also need to look at local government and state government level about the emergency and transition arrangements that are in place for people.

GREG JENNETT: Yeah, something’s not working obviously because it gets worse by the month. Kristy McBain and Bridget Archer, thanks both of you for, yeah, joining us so often throughout the year.

KRISTY MCBAIN: Thank you very much.

GREG JENNETT: We really appreciate it.  Bridget, for your forthright comments today, really appreciate it.