It’s been revealed that ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja was “not keen” to include the ACT in a new territory rights bill that would allow the two territories to legislate on voluntary assisted dying.
Outgoing Coalition Senator for the Northern Territory Sam McMahon has announced her intention to introduce a private member’s bill that would reinstate the right to legislate on the issue. The Howard Government stripped both territories of the right under the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997.
Senator McMahon told The Sydney Morning Herald that she originally tried to include the ACT in her proposed bill but her conversations with Senator Seselja indicated “he wasn’t keen to do that” so it would be “rude” to progress the issue.
“If Zed’s not interested and not going to support it, I don’t think it would be worth doing. I’d be better off just doing it for the NT,” she’s quoted as saying.
Senator McMahon angered some conservative Coalition members by calling for a conscience vote on the issue without consulting the party before making her announcement.
Senator Seselja, a conservative, has previously stated that he was against reinstating the territories’ right to legislate on the issue as he saw it as a pathway to legalising voluntary assisted dying under the current ACT Government.
His reluctance to include the ACT in Senator McMahon’s bill incensed local MLAs, who accused him of neglecting ACT residents.
“Even when invited to speak for Canberrans on an issue as important as Territory rights, Zed only speaks for himself,” ACT Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne said.
“By asking NT Senator Sam McMahon to leave the ACT out of her prospective bill to restore Territory rights, Zed has not only abandoned Canberrans but he’s gone against his own colleagues’ wishes and actively and knowingly undermined the ACT Opposition Leader.”
ACT Labor and Greens politicians, and Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee on behalf of the Canberra Liberals, signed a letter to all Australian MPs and Senators alerting them to the Legislative Assembly’s unanimous motion calling for the Assembly’s ability to legislate on voluntary assisted dying to be restored.
Ms Lee says that that the position of the Canberra Liberals is clear after co-signing the Assembly motion.
“I have made the views of the Canberra Liberals Legislative Assembly team very clear to Senator Seselja and will continue to discuss this matter with him and other federal colleagues,” she said.
“The ACT Legislative Assembly is democratically elected by the people of Canberra. It should have the right to legislate on this matter on behalf of Canberrans, just as we have the right to legislate on a whole host of other matters dealt with by state and local governments across Australia.”
Ms Cheyne has previously said that the territories’ inability to have their elected representatives legislate on their behalf contravenes Australia’s human rights obligations.
Her view is supported by ACT Human Rights Commissioner Dr Helen Watchirs who said “it is entirely inappropriate for the Commonwealth Parliament to determine a policy setting that is only relevant to the people in the ACT”.
Senator Seselja was not available to answer questions from Region Media about a direct vote on voluntary assisted dying or elected representatives legislating for their constituents.
“The Senator’s views on euthanasia are well known and have not changed,” a spokesperson from Senator Seselja’s office said.
“Individual senators are free to present legislation to the Parliament as they see fit.”
Senator Seselja previously said he was open to an omnibus territory’s rights bill that included the right to legislate on voluntary assisted dying.
ACT Labor Senator and former Chief Minister Katy Gallagher introduced a similar bill to the Senate in 2016 which included both territories. It remains on the Notice Paper.
When asked if she would move amendments to include the ACT in Senator McMahon’s bill, Senator Gallagher’s office said it only had media reports on which to base comments as the proposed bill has not been released and she had not been consulted.
A vote to repeal the laws was narrowly defeated 36 to 34 votes in the Senate in 2018.
Senator Gallagher said it would be a hard path for Senator McMahon’s bill to even make it to debate on the Senate floor after she lost pre-selection and would not be returning after the next election.