16 August 2018

Private members' bill to take territory rights fight to the House after Senate defeat

| Ian Bushnell
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Member for Fenner Andrew Leigh and NT MP Luke Gosling will take the territory rights fight to the House. Photo: Jack Mohr.

A private members’ bill in the House of Representatives is the next phase in the campaign to overturn the ban on the ACT and Northern Territory legislating on assisted dying, with Chief Minister Andrew Barr vowing to fight on to restore Territory rights.

On Monday (20 August), Member for Fenner Andrew Leigh and NT MP Luke Gosling will sponsor the same bill which went down 36-34 in the Senate that would restore to the territories the right to legislate on euthanasia.

Mr Leigh told The RiotACT that he was keen to keep up the pressure to repeal the Andrews Bill and ensure that Territorians had the same democratic rights as the people in the states on this issue.

He said there were a range of views in the House, but that on the Labor side there were many who saw this first and foremost as an issue of territory rights.

“In the Senate the lone [territory] Senator who saw it as an issue of euthanasia rather than territory rights was Zed Seselja, all the other territory senators and members see it as an issue of territory democracy,” he said.

He rejected the assertion from Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz that the Senate vote should be the end of the matter.

“I don’t think Senator Abetz would be saying that if we were talking about taking away the democratic rights of Tasmanians,” Mr Leigh said.

But he was realistic enough to doubt that this bill will come on for debate, with the Government controlling the agenda in the House.

“We’ll raise it, certainly get to at least introduce the bill and Luke Gosling has had a conversation with the Prime Minister, telling him that he ought to bring this on for debate,” Mr Leigh said.

“For Territorians this isn’t a second order issue, they feel they’re being treated as second-class citizens.”

On whether a Labor Government would legislate, Mr Leigh said it might have to come to that “but it would be better yet if Malcolm Turnbull could allow debate in the House, and allow the issue of territory rights to be discussed as he’s allowed other issues to be aired”.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr told ABC Breakfast that the issue would not go away, saying it was ‘strikingly similar’ to the eventually successful marriage equality campaign.

He hoped that Mr Leigh’s bill would be debated and there would be a conscience vote in the House but if not it would not mean an end to the campaign.

“If that doesn’t happen in this Parliamentary term we are less than a year from an election. This I absolutely guarantee will return in the next term of Federal Parliament,” he said.

Mr Barr said there was a sense of deja vu about this debate.

“We had a number of setbacks along the way but many people who said there was no way that marriage laws in Australia will change, they were wrong, and people who say this law won’t change will also be proved wrong,” he said.

Mr Barr believed the community was ahead of Australian parliaments on this issue and that developments in the States could leave the territories as the only places not moving in this area.

“What happens when another Australia state [after Victoria] moves on this, when we have two, and then a third and then the fourth, what if all the states move on this and what we’re left with are the territories being the only places that can’t debate these sorts of laws?” he said.

He said in the end parliaments did need to respond to the weight of public opinion and will of the people.

“The ACT’s time will come I’m sure, and the more work we do now, the more advocacy, that time will come sooner rather than later.”

Mr Barr said Senator Seselja’s position and the silence of the Canberra Liberals during the debate showed how out of touch with the electorate they were.

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As a liberal voter, it saddens me that our liberal senator voted against Canberrans having the same rights to consider this type of legislation as the states. His arguments in relation to potential problems with assisted dying should be made in the context of debate around whether it should be legalised and if so with what safeguards. There should have been no question around whether the ACT was allowed to have that debate.

That the ACT liberals keep selecting him to represent them demonstrates that the liberal party of Menzies is dead in the ACT. “We took the name ‘Liberal’ because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary but believing in the individual, his rights, and his enterprise, and rejecting the socialist panacea.”

With Zed Seselja preaching in concert with Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives in relation to same sex marriage and assisted dying, I will have to give a lot of thought as to the allocation of my last preference at the next election. That will also apply to those liberal MLA’s who adopted the same line. Its shameful that the person who wants to be the next ACT Chief Minister backed us retaining fewer rights than the states. A rational person would have at least bowed to the sheer weight of public desire for this choice being available, even if personally opposed.

Andrew Leigh, you have the support of this liberal voter in keeping this issue alive.

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