30 June 2022

Labor to leave Territory Rights move to private member's bill

| Lottie Twyford
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Kristy McBain and General David Hurley

Minister for Territories Kristy McBain has confirmed a Territory Rights bill would be introduced by way of a private member’s or senator’s bill. Photo: Kristy McBain Facebook.

The Federal Labor government will leave it up to a member or senator to introduce a Territory Rights bill in the first few weeks of the new parliament.

It’s expected the bill could be introduced in late July or early August.

Such a bill would give the ACT and the Northern Territory the power to legislate on voluntary assisted dying and reverse the so-called Andrews Bill which was enacted in the late-90s to stop the territories from legalising euthanasia.

All Australian states have now passed voluntary assisted dying laws, with NSW the most recent to do so in May.

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While Minister for Territories Kristy McBain will not introduce the bill herself, Region understands she is willing to work with the member or senator who does.

ACT Senator Katy Gallagher supports territories legislating on voluntary assisted dying and Member for Fenner Andrew Leigh has indicated he would like to introduce a private member’s bill.

Minister for Health Mark Butler today became the latest Federal Labor MP to indicate he would support lifting the ban.

Member for Canberra Alicia Payne has called for the party to take a binding vote on the issue, not a conscience vote.

Despite the fact the bill is about Territory Rights, Labor will grant its members a conscience vote due to the nature of deeply held views on euthanasia.

Zed Seselja

Former Liberal Senator for the ACT Zed Seselja repeatedly refused to support overturning the so-called Andrews ban. Photo: Cassandra Choake.

Former Liberal Senator for the ACT Zed Seselja had repeatedly refused to lend his support to overturning the ban on voluntary assisted dying. Following his defeat at the election, Liberal Party sources suggested his conservative position contributed to his loss.

The previous Federal Government had also knocked back efforts to repeal the ban.

It’s expected a bill would be introduced to Federal Parliament by August, although it’s not yet clear who would introduce the legislation.

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During his campaign, now Senator David Pocock promised to move a private senator’s bill to restore the ACT’s right to legislate on voluntary assisted dying in his first weeks in the Senate.

He said his bill would not invite the Federal parliament to debate the issue of voluntary assisted dying but to consider whether the territories should have the autonomy to decide for themselves.

A spokesperson for Mr Pocock confirmed he would be willing to work constructively on the bill with other members alongside Ms McBain and had already had conversations on the matter.

Details about who would introduce the bill are still being worked out.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has previously confirmed work was underway to commission draft voluntary assisted dying legislation ahead of what he expected would be a repeal of the ban. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

Locally, the ACT Government has already confirmed work was underway to commission draft voluntary assisted dying legislation ahead of an expected repeal of the existing ban.

Mr Barr told the ACT Legislative Assembly at the start of June that a consultation document alongside a draft bill would be prepared.

He described the former Government’s treatment of Canberra as akin to “disdain”.

“Canberrans are sick of being treated like second-class citizens … we know Canberrans care deeply about this issue, and they have every right to feel frustrated and disappointed,” he said.

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee has previously confirmed she believed the ACT Legislative Assembly should be able to debate and legislate on the issue.

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Peter Graves4:56 pm 30 Jun 22

This is NOT just about Territory rights to legislate on VAD. The Commonwealth retains powers to over-ride and dis-allow Territory legislation on ANY topic. It just so happened that the Howard “private members” Bill introduced by Kevin Andrews disallowed the NT’s VAD law.

This creating two classes of Australians – knowingly.

Both Territory Governments should have absolute rights over their own legislation. Like the States have always had and which Howard never dared over-ride.

@Peter Greaves
While I agree that the democratically elected Territory Assemblies should have control over their legislation, we (NT and ACT) are different.

Whereas the states have their legislative powers embedded within the Constitution, the authority to enact legislation in the Territories has been “granted” by the respective pieces Federal Legislation – Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 and Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988, both acts having been amended many times, by The Federal Parliament, over the years. In both cases, the Federal Parliament has the right to override Territory legislation.

It’s interesting that you say “Howard never dared over-ride”. I’m sure there are many occasions when JWH would have loved to override the states – thankfully/unfortunately (depending on your political leanings), he did not have the Constitutional power to do so.

At some stage, (IMO) the NT will become a state – there has certainly been discussion around this in the past. However, (again IMO) it would be inappropriate for the ACT to become a state, as we have the added responsibility of being the nation’s capital and hosting the Federal Parliament – which as we all know is the raison d’etre for the birth of ACT/Canberra. So in order to “protect” that national role, I believe it is important that the Feds retain the “power to override” ACT legislation to ensure that the Assembly does not pass legislation which in anyway hampers the ability of the Federal Parliament to operate. Which I guess means, to some extent, ACT citizens

cont’d … to some extent the ACT citizens will always be ‘slightly below’ those citizens in the states.

Peter Graves4:22 pm 01 Jul 22

I completely disagree with your contention that residents of the ACT and NT are in any way different to the residents of the States. And saying the powers are in the self-government legislation completely ignores the main point – why whould the federal government have that power ?

In 1973/74, the conservative forces tried to stop the ACT having Senators, on the completely spurious grounds that the Territories were not mentioned in the original Constitution. When they did not exist.

Times change – so should the powers of the Territories to make their own legislation, without non-residents of either having the absurd powers to over-ride that law-making.

Peter, while I understand, and to some extent agree with, your frustration, I still believe residents of the NT and ACT are different, because we are not residents of a state. You seem to be trying to argue against the reality:
“… saying the powers are in the self-government legislation completely ignores the main point – why whould the federal government have that power ?” Well because the Federal government DOES have that power and it was enshrined in the Constitution, even before the self-government Acts I mentioned above came into effect:

“122. Government of territories
The Parliament may make laws for the government of any territory surrendered by any State to and accepted by the Commonwealth, or of any territory placed by the Queen under the authority of and accepted by the Commonwealth, or otherwise acquired by he Commonwealth, and may allow the representation of such territory in either House of the Parliament to the extent and on the terms which it thinks fit.”

It was Section 122 that enabled the Federal Parliament to “bestow” self-government on the NT and ACT (despite the citizens of the latter voting aginst it).

So, while times may have changed, the Constitution has not. Furthermore, it (the change to the Constitution) will not happen until a majority of Australians (i.e. a majority of people in each state and territory) plus a majority of states approve said change. Noting that while the votes of territorians are counted toward the national vote, the territories are not counted in the “majority of states”.

So I think my “contention that residents of the ACT and NT are in any way different to the residents of the States”, within the context of self-government, is 100% accurate.

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