Ahead of today’s expected introduction of a Territory Rights bill in Federal Parliament, opponents and supporters have made their positions clear.
ACT Labor backbencher Alicia Payne and Northern Territory backbencher Luke Gosling will introduce legislation to repeal the Andrews bill. If it passes, the ACT and the NT will be able to make their own laws around voluntary assisted dying – something they have been barred from doing since 1997.
“All Australians should have equal democratic rights, whether they live in Canberra or Queanbeyan,” Ms Payne said in a statement earlier this month.
“The reality is the Andrews bill makes residents of the ACT and NT second-class citizens, and I’m proud the Albanese Labor government will enable the parliament to vote on restoring territory rights.”
All other states and territories have passed voluntary assisted dying laws.
Work is already underway at a Territory level to prepare laws ahead of the expected repeal.
University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor Paddy Nixon penned an open letter last week, calling on the Federal Government to rid itself of the “long-standing blight on Australian democracy”.
Professor Nixon made a joint statement alongside his counterpart at the Charles Darwin University in support of the bill.
The two universities are the only ones to have been created under territory legislation.
“UC is required by law to pay special attention to the needs of Canberrans and self-determination is a fundamental need of all people,” Professor Nixon said.
“It is not our usual practice to speak out on legislation before the Parliament, but this legislation is critical.”
On the same day, the Archbishop of Goulburn and Canberra Christopher Prowse wrote to federal politicians to urge them to consider the proposed bill in light of the fact it was only about allowing the Territories to “legislate for state-sanctioned killing”.
Archbishop Prowse did not directly urge politicians to vote against the bill but offered some thought for their “reflection”.
“The rationale for this proposed legislation is ensuring that Territory Assemblies have equal democratic prerogatives with the States. In my view, this argument is flawed and such an outcome is evidently not intended at all,” he wrote.
“My view is that a radical change to society’s most foundational law, overturning the prohibition on the intentional killing of citizens, is ethically unjustifiable, cannot ensure legal protection of the vulnerable, and would fail to uphold the dignity of the dying.”
Archbishop Prowse said if the bill passes, the Commonwealth would accept responsibility for sanctioning the killing of its citizens in jurisdictions where it has direct responsibility.
Labor has granted its members a conscience vote on the matter.