A majority of senators have indicated their approval for the ACT to legislate for itself on controversial issues such as euthanasia.
In a preliminary vote Thursday morning, ahead of next week’s final vote on the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022, 41 senators showed their support while 25 remained against.
It means the ACT and the Northern Territory will soon be able to make their own laws on controversial matters without them being overturned by the Federal Government – as has happened.
In this second reading, all parties determined to allow a conscience vote on the legislation.
The third and final reading of the private members bill, introduced by Member for Canberra Alicia Payne and Member for Solomon (in the NT) Luke Gosling, should be heard by the end of the week as parliament draws to a close for the year.
ACT senator Katy Gallagher described Thursday’s vote as an historic moment.
“I think it gives the first indication of how everybody is going to vote,” she said.
“It’s a conscience vote for everybody in the chamber and the second reading vote passed 41 to 25, which is just amazing.”
She said once passed, the new law would not actually make euthanasia legal in the jurisdictions, but it would allow the ACT and the NT to vote on the issue.
“I want to mark this moment and thank everybody for the way we have conducted this and for the support for the rights of the territories,” Senator Gallagher said.
Twenty-five years ago, Federal Liberal MP Kevin Andrews introduced a bill to the Federal Parliament that succeeded in overturning the Northern Territory’s pioneering right-to-die legislation.
The federal veto bill allowed the Commonwealth Government to stop territories from legalising euthanasia, even though the ACT and NT had self government.
Senator Gallagher said she had campaigned to overturn the federal veto for more than decade, beginning when she was the ACT chief minister.
But not everyone was happy with Thursday’s outcome.
Liberal senator Sarah Henderson described the bill as deeply offensive.
“This bill, because of its inevitable consequence, is a statement that we in Australia are prepared to kill our most vulnerable, sometimes under circumstances when it becomes too difficult, perhaps too expensive, perhaps too inconvenient to allow them to live,” she said during debate.
“It represents state-sanctioned killing.”
ACT independent senator David Pocock said he was frustrated that those who stood against the bill had put the final vote off until next week.
“Senators are claiming they haven’t had time to draft amendments, but we’ve had more than five months to do this,” he said.
All Australian states have passed laws that allow for voluntary assisted dying.