The 25-year-old slight to the people of the ACT has been erased with the passing of the Territory Rights Bill in the Senate, eliciting a combination of joy and relief for those who have campaigned hard and long for the Territory to makes its on laws on voluntary assisted dying.
The ACT may have been seen as the nation’s petri dish for dangerous experimentation but the so-called Andrews Bill that stymied attempts to legislate on this matter has been overtaken by changed attitudes across the rest of Australia, along with the obvious fact that Territorians here and in the Top End should have the same democratic rights as their state counterparts.
While the vote was hailed a momentous victory, the tone was not too triumphal, given the gravity of the subject matter behind the Territory rights push.
It is important to remember that while an ACT law for voluntary assisted dying may be the eventual outcome, Thursday night’s vote was about restoring Territory rights.
While most involved may support that choice for people, it was not a vote explicitly endorsing voluntary assisted dying.
That will now be a matter for the ACT community and their representatives in the Legislative Assembly.
Given that a clear majority of MLAs support voluntary assisted dying, the Government could take the opportunity to introduce a bill quickly and have it passed without too much fuss.
But it has correctly chosen the more cautious path so that any legislation reflects the will of the community and includes the safeguards, and checks and balances the community expects.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the process would be thorough, and Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said the community did not want this to be rushed.
The Government seems to accept the heavy responsibility it bears bringing this to the Assembly despite what polls have shown to be overwhelming support for the idea of voluntary assisted dying.
The Government does not have a preferred model, indeed it could not even have started to explore its options while the Commonwealth legislation stood.
Wisely, it will look at the current six schemes operating in the states, take in what the community says and hopefully come up with legislation that fits and suits the ACT.
It is no surprise that the Government has already identified where some of the concerns will be, apart from the obvious. These include the age thresholds, the fears of the disabled community, and how members of the medical profession will or won’t be involved.
Legislation will have to ensure proper oversight – including preventing coercion – assessment of patients, and integrity of the path to ending life.
Those worried about palliative care being undermined have been reassured that if anything it will have more not less of a place.
Mr Barr is hopeful of a respectful debate, despite the passions the issue can stir.
But he and others should expect that for some the idea will remain unconscionable and a slippery slope to normalising the taking of life.
Powerful arguments have been mounted on both sides and, for many, next year’s road to a bill will be an emotional one.
It will still be tricky for the Government to provide a scheme that is accessible while accommodating the range of concerns.
Implementing and overseeing a scheme could prove just as tricky.