ACT Greens MLA Caroline Le Couteur and ACT Labor MLA Tara Cheyne have joined together to urge the Senate to lift restrictions barring the Territories from making their own laws in relation to voluntary assisted dying.
Both MLAs addressed this morning’s Restore Canberra’s Rights’ rally at Parliament House, in support of moves to overturn the so-called Andrews bill, named after Liberal MP Kevin Andrews who introduced it to the House of Representatives in 1996 after the Northern Territory became the first Australian jurisdiction to legalise euthanasia.
The Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 has prevented the ACT and the Northern Territory from making laws which would permit voluntary assisted dying ever since.
The rally comes after the ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner, in a full-page advertisement published in The Australian newspaper on Monday (13 August), called on federal senators to support a private bill by Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm that would overturn the Andrews Bill.
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Petitions run by the ACT Greens and ACT Labor urging the Federal Government to restore Territory rights have garnered thousands of signatures.
Ms Le Couteur said it was absurd that Canberrans should still be prevented from determining its own laws, and be subjected to undemocratic and discriminatory restrictions.
“The ACT was granted self-government almost thirty years ago. The people of the ACT are tired of being treated as second-class citizens by the Federal Government. Enough is enough,” Ms Le Couteur said.
Ms Cheyne agreed that it was unfair that ACT and NT residents had fewer rights simply because of where they lived.
“The Senate choosing to restore Territory rights does not necessarily mean that voluntary assisted dying will be enacted in the ACT. What it would do is simply give our citizens and our parliament the same right to decide for ourselves as those Australians living in the states,” Ms Cheyne said.
They said that if the Andrews bill is repealed then the ACT would have the same rights as the rest of Australia to make laws with respect to voluntary assisted dying.
In November, Victoria’s Parliament passed legislation to legalise assisted dying for the terminally ill, with MPs voting to give patients the right to request a lethal drug to end their lives from mid-2019.
The advertisement in The Australian urges Senators to support the bill “and let our people decide what laws apply when it comes to their right to die with dignity”.
“With other states around Australia now passing laws on voluntary assisted dying, the fact that the Australian territories can’t even consider their own legislation is unjust,” the advertisement reads.
“Voting for this bill doesn’t mean there will be assisted dying in the NT or the ACT. It will simply give Territorians the same right to decide on it as other Australians.”
ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said told the ABC that the advertisement was helping get the message to people who needed to hear it.
“Certainly it’s raised considerable awareness across the nation in relation to this issue as the Senate considers the legislation this week,” he said.
But ACT Opposition Leader Alistair Coe said territories should not be interfering with the Federal Parliament.
“Obviously the Commonwealth is having a debate on this at the moment, it’s a conscience issue,” he said. “That’s why I think the ACT Government, using taxpayers’ funds to advertise, to try to persuade people to vote differently than according to their conscience, is reprehensible.”
The ACT’s Senators, David Smith and Liberal Zed Seselja will take opposing positions, with Senator Smith voting for the change and senator Seselja against.
The ABC reported that the Senate will this week debate whether to repeal the ban, and Senator Leyonhjelm said the Government had agreed to prioritise it, in return for his vote to reinstate the construction industry watchdog.
Senator Leyonhjelm told the ABC that he had received assurances from the Government that its MPs and senators would be given a free vote on the bill and, if it passed the Senate, it would go to the Lower House for debate.
But he claims Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has not stuck to that agreement — and there could be consequences.