19 October 2023

'Clear, unmistakable breach of our Territory rights': Federal Senate rejects Cash's attempt to stop ACT's drug decriminalisation law

| Claire Fenwicke
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Michaelia Cash in the Senate

Michaelia Cash argued her bill was about preventing harm, not interfering in Territory rights. Photo: Facebook.

The Federal Coalition’s attempt to stop the ACT’s drug decriminalisation laws has failed.

But concerns have been raised the Territory’s right to consider voluntary assisted dying will be the next law in the Opposition’s sights.

Senator Michaelia Cash introduced her ACT Dangerous Drugs Bill 2023 as a private member’s bill in September, arguing in the Senate today (19 October) that the “logic just isn’t there” to decriminalise small amounts of illicit drugs.

“For some baffling reason, the Labor-Greens government of the ACT has decided it is a good idea to, in but a few days, release ice onto the streets of Canberra,” she said.

“The suppliers of these hard drugs … they’re the people who are going to be the beneficiaries of the ACT Government’s laws.

“[My] bill responds to the egregiously bad public policy outcomes to decriminalising ice and other hard drugs.”

She argued her bill wasn’t about interfering in Territory rights, but about ensuring a national approach to drugs and protecting the community.

Ms Cash said by repealing the Andrews law, which prevented self-governance for the ACT, trust had been placed in the Territory.

Now, she argued that “trust has been misplaced” with the ACT introducing a law she felt would harm drug users, emergency workers and families.

“Only misery will result from this terrible law,” Ms Cash said.

“The ACT drug law is a bad law. It must be thrown out in the interests of all Canberrans and all Australians.”

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However, several senators said this was nothing more than a Coalition attempt to interfere with the Territory’s right to self-governance.

NSW ALP Senator Tim Ayres argued the threshold for Commonwealth interference should be “very high”, and suggested the Coalition was only interested in trying to change ACT and NT laws when they were motivated by social issues.

“It is not possible, in my view, to assert that this does not affect Territory rights. The effective cancellation of legislation in the Territory does have a chilling effect on the Territory’s capacity to make laws,” he said.

“This [bill] should be rejected on that basis, and it must be rejected on that basis.”

Mr Ayres argued that while states and territories will make good laws, bad laws and imperfect laws, it’s their right to do so.

“The truth is, intervening in this way doesn’t just have a chilling effect on the capacity of the Territory government and a Territory Assembly to make its own laws, it effectively – I use this word not in its pejorative sense – but effectively corrupts the governance of the way that laws are made,” he said.

“It means this place has been invited to interfere on a consistent basis with the affairs of the territory governments.”

Mr Ayres pointed out the Canberra Liberals leader Elizabeth Lee had called on her Federal counterparts not to interfere as well.

NSW Greens Senator David Shoebridge also picked up on this point, stating the Federal Coalition was effectively “burning the brand” for their ACT counterparts.

“People who might have been open to supporting the Coalition in the ACT … have been completely burnt off by once again seeing the Federal Liberal party use its Trumpian-style, evidence-free, angry form of divisive politics,” he said.

“The poor old ACT Liberals in the Assembly are saying ‘please stop, please stop’.”

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Independent ACT Senator David Pocock labelled Ms Cash’s bill as a “clear, unmistakable breach of our Territory rights” and pointed out the stark difference between how states could decide their policy futures.

“The states should breathe a sigh of relief that they have the protections in the Constitution; otherwise, you could bet Senator Cash and the Opposition would have long ago abolished this inconvenient second level of government,” he said.

He expressed his concerns that this wouldn’t be the last time the Federal Coalition would try to dictate how the Territory was governed.

“I worry that the Coalition will try again to erase our right to consider voluntary assisted dying for ourselves,” Mr Pocock said.

“Despite calls to do so, Senator Cash has not ruled out a future challenge to voluntary assisted dying laws, so it remains firmly on the table.”

Senator Cash’s bill was defeated 34 votes to 27.

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Would anyone in the ACT like to explain to me why a local, State and National approach to hard drugs is such a bad idea ?…the answer to this is a no-brainer, apparently too few Labor/Green adherents are still aware of what damage ice is capable of causing to people stupid enough to use it, not to mention innocent victims of their behaviour. In due course, all the ACT ‘authorities ‘ will come to realise, after the event as usual, that they haven’t got the facilities and trained personnel in place to handle the problem they’ve caused. God only knows how low their bar must be on the definition of mental health.

HiddenDragon8:51 pm 22 Oct 23

The passing yesterday of Labor hero Bill Hayden, and the mention in tributes of his role in the creation of the original Medibank (not the privatised health fund which now bears that name), serves as a reminder that federal governments, particularly of the Labor variety, have been intruding into the states’ areas of responsibility for a long time. and by various means.

Labor and Green senators should remember this and stop pretending that they give a stuff about states’ rights – they’re defending the ACT as a Labor/Green bastion and social laboratory, and that’s it.

Equally, the federal Liberals need to reflect on their stated/former(?) commitment to states’ rights and if the answer to that is that the ACT (and likewise the NT) is not a state or a de facto state and thus states’ rights are not at play in this case, they need to clarify just what they mean by that. More to the point, and as an alternative to this scrappy, piecemeal approach, the federal Liberals should look more to longer term strategy and less to week-to-week tactics, and get working on ideas for reforming the federation – including the role and future of the territories.

Sometimes I despair at the people who blackwash other people instead of addressing the issues rationally. The top two issues I see are: 1) Is decriminalisation of “hard drugs” in the ACT in the best interest of the People of the ACT and Australia. 2) should the Federal Government be able to over-rule the ACT Government? In answer, 1) I don’t want the ACT as a staging ground for drugs to other states. 2)The Federal Government gave us self government when we said (twice) we didn’t want it. Built in was the ability to override it. Why winge that the government we didn’t want gets over-ruled. We didn’t want them anyway.

James Bolivar DiGriz1:12 pm 22 Oct 23

1) Is decriminalisation of “hard drugs” in the ACT in the best interest of the People of the ACT and Australia?

2) should the Federal Government be able to over-rule the ACT Government?

It is perfectly rational to do what we can to stop the Federal coalition from trying to rule the ACT when they are not prepared to fund us properly, nor to look after the things that matter to those of us who live here.

Of course, they like to be in charge even though they avoid taking responsibility for the outcomes.

It was pitiful watching ABC news tonight. How long do we have to be subjected to local media inviting Chief Minister Andrew Barr to justify self government in the ACT? Not to mention Elizabeth Lee in a follow up interview seemingly endorsing her federal Liberals’ intervention to override territory laws and allow our democratically elected government to do its job?

One year out from the ACT election and the Canberra Liberals have no ideas and no policies. The party is heading into its seventh election loss in a row and over two decades in opposition.

When will our local media hold them to account?

So you like the financial mismanagement of the Barr government?

ACT government should just be making sure the transport is fine, the hospitals are funded and the bins get taken away.

Labor hasn’t been able to do any of that without major issues.

The reason they invent these new social policies is that they can’t do the basics.

Maybe you should stop watching ABC news if you don’t enjoy it.

@jack D you really can’t help yourself can you by stating things that are simply not true. I was listening to ABC radio yesterday afternoon and Elizabeth Lee was very clear she was against the drug decriminalisation laws but didn’t agree with the federal LNP getting involved and trying to overturn the laws. You must be getting concerned about the people of Canberra not buying the garbage from Labor and the Greens anymore so you feel the need to make ridiculous untrue statements.

You are right Tom Philips, I really can’t help myself. And only one year out from the next ACT election!
The ineptitude of the Canberra Liberals and the antics of their right wing supporters including the ACT young Liberal movement will give me plenty of fodder leading up to the election.
I have been most interested in the weak leadership of Elizabeth Lee and her servility to the party’s right wing. Most particularly allowing her deputy, Jeremy Hanson to run his conservative and toxic agenda in collusion with far right fringe groups including the Australian Christian Lobby, Advance Australia and Fair Australia using the party’s platform. Not to mention her party’s Shadow Attorney-General Peter Cain recently contributing to social media and posting content which undermined the ACT’s parliament and appeared to call for an end to self-government.

And the Canberra Liberals pretend they want to win government!!

We are pretty tolerant people us Canberrans. If we are not being disparaged for coming from Canberra we are being criticised for our decisions. Social media has been alive with abuse directed at us over the past week as the only state or territory to vote overwhelmingly YES in the Voice Referendum. 

It was only a few weeks ago that the Canberra Liberals’ Peter Cain was replying to media, posting content that appeared to support commentary undermining our parliament and calling for an end to self-government in the ACT!

Interference in our laws is not new. Right wing Federal politicians like the highly strung WA Senator Michaelia Cash and Queensland’s Senator Matt Canavan would not be singling out the ACT and pursuing legislation to overrule our laws if it was not for deputy Liberal leader Jeremy Hanson and the ACT branch of the party’s lobbying. Zed Seselja, although rejected by ACT voters at the last election has also been in there lobbying and undermining our democratically elected government to do its job.

Leader Elizabeth has no control over the dominant right faction of her party. She has been silent and totally irrelevant as this plays out. Her party rejected a motion in the Assembly just recently for each MLA to sign a letter to the Federal parliament reaffirming our Territory rights.

This federal oversight and intervention in our parliament to make decisions for our citizens and do its job effectively is deeply offensive to Canberra voters. One has to ask, where does it end? 

Gregg Heldon4:41 pm 21 Oct 23

You’re right. Politicians interfering in Territory affairs.
After all, it was Labor that gave the ACT self government, when we rejected the offer on a couple of occasions.
Both sides of politics do it. Just in different ways.
And the way this current Government carries on, I’d like self government to dissolve at times. Just my opinion. But I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Canberra doesn’t need more drugs. We’re high enough.

What an appalling piece of work she is. Leave us alone, and stick your rather elongated nose into your own states business. Thats right, you cant.

When you write your next post about someone getting rolled by a druggie post 28 Oct 2023, remember your comment

James Bolivar DiGriz1:16 pm 22 Oct 23

If you read the article, what Senator Tim Ayres argued is cogent. Whether this is a great progressive law or a horrible idea, the federal government interfering in lower levels of government corrupts the legislative power of the assembly, and by that disempowers every single Australian resident of the ACT.

innocent7percent9:20 am 31 Oct 23

Too right. The way we’ve been addressing the issue of illegal drugs for at least the last 50 years has been a complete success. That’s why we never hear about police and politicians reaping large amounts of money and nobody getting “rolled by a druggie”. Why would any one want to try another way? Especially police and politicians . How lucky we are to have visionaries like yourself.

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