8 October 2021

Federal government dismisses the ACT's push for right to legislate on assisted dying

| Karyn Starmer
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Tara Cheyne

Tara Cheyne said Attorney-General Michaelia Cash failed to respond to the issue of territory rights and human rights. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Seven months after ACT Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne and Northern Territory Attorney-General Selena Uibo wrote to former federal Attorney-General Christian Porter outlining concerns regarding the ban on territories considering legislation providing for voluntary assisted dying, the current federal Attorney-General, Michaelia Cash, has effectively dismissed the ACT’s push.

In her letter to the ACT and Northern Territory governments on 1 October, Senator Cash confirmed that the Commonwealth Government had no current plans to introduce legislation to repeal the ban on the legislative ban on the territories.

“The government recognises that members of the community have strong views about dying with dignity, compassion, and with minimal pain. The government believes that people should have access to quality palliative care and relief from pain and suffering and that, where possible, people should be able to choose the extent of active medical retreatment they receive. The underlying principle of the government’s investment in health services is quality of life, including during end of life care,” Senator Cash wrote.

“While I appreciate the diversity of views, the government does not have any plans to introduce legislation to repeal the Euthanasia Laws Act.”

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In a joint statement, Ms Cheyne and Ms Uibo strongly criticised the response, saying it failed to respond to the issue of territory rights and the human rights implications the letter had raised.

“On 3 March 2021, we wrote to several senior ministers in the Commonwealth Government outlining our governments’ serious concerns regarding the continued ban on the ACT and the NT being able to consider legislation providing for voluntary assisted dying.

“Attorney-General Cash’s correspondence ignores the very real concerns of ACT and Northern Territory citizens, and that of our governments.

“It shows contempt towards the issues reflected by citizens across Australia who are appalled that ACT and NT residents cannot engage in a genuine way on this issue while residents in every single state can,” Ms Cheyne and Ms Uibo said.

“The response also lacks reasoning and an explanation behind the Commonwealth Government persisting with its approach to allow for the democratic rights of citizens in its own country to be inconsistent, simply based on whether a resident lives in a state or territory.

“This untenable situation cannot be ignored, and it is unconscionable that the Commonwealth Government has attempted to do so – particularly in light of how voluntary assisted dying laws have progressed in other jurisdictions (with Labor and Liberal Governments) this year,” Ms Cheyne and Ms Uibo said.

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NT Country Liberal Senator Sam McMahon introduced a bill to the federal parliament in August to restore the NT’s rights to legislate on voluntary assisted dying, but the bill does not seek the same removal of laws for the ACT.

Senator McMahon had consulted ACT Liberal Senator Seselja on the bill and he explicitly requested the ACT not be included in seeking this removal.

“This is despite all parties in the ACT Legislative Assembly having urged the Commonwealth Government and Parliament to lift the current restriction on ACT residents’ right to consider this issue, including explicitly on 31 March 2021,” Ms Cheyne and Ms Uibo said.

“We are perturbed that the correspondence received from the Commonwealth Attorney-General appears to actively and blatantly contradict the intentions of Senator McMahon’s private member’s bill given it was generated from within the same party as the Federal Government.”

The territories have been barred from making their own laws on voluntary assisted dying since 1997 when Liberal MP Kevin Andrews introduced a bill to block the territories ability to legislate on the matter in response to the NT legalising voluntary assisted dying in 1995.

Ms Cheyne and ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury moved a motion in the Legislative Assembly on Friday (8 October) denouncing the correspondence received from the federal Attorney-General.

Speaking to the motion, Ms Cheyne vowed, “we will stand up and do whatever it takes and we will not let this go”.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee said in support of the motion, “We believe we should have the right to debate and legislate on this matter that affects Canberrans”.

“The Canberra Liberals support Canberra’s territory rights; our position has not changed.”

The motion was passed unopposed.

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Stephen Saunders8:27 am 10 Oct 21

As David Gonski said, they’re “not some fringe religion”. Indeed. They can make invasive, punitive, laws, but you can’t vote them out.

Whilst I completely disagree with the Federal government on this issue, the ACT government needs to accept this to focus on their core areas of control rather than the constant grandstanding about things well outside of their purview.

When the Territory has such serious governance issues, focus on your own house first.

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