In 1997, as the Commonwealth parliament sought to remove legislative rights from the ACT and the Northern Territory, then Liberal Chief Minister of the ACT Kate Carnell appeared before a committee of this parliament to say “what is at issue here is nothing less than the democratic rights of the citizens of the ACT”.
She referred to the proposed Andrews Bill as “limiting our self-governing powers”. Ms Carnell emphasised the long-term effects of depriving citizens of democratic rights enjoyed by those in the states, but the Andrews Bill passed the parliament and the restriction of the democratic right of territorians is with us today.
Current chief ministers Andrew Barr and Michael Gunner said it’s about our rights. As Andrew Barr puts it, this remains ‘fundamentally undemocratic’. He continued:
“One group of Australians are trusted through their state and territory parliaments to be able to deal with these matters [but] other groups, those who live in the territories, are not. And that can’t be allowed to stand.”
As Mr Barr pointed out, one thing Canberrans definitely don’t need is assisted thinking.
Territory rights are about restoring equality to Territorians and their legislators. Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, a former NT MLA, said, “as a legislator and as someone elected by the people” she had never felt so powerless as a parliamentarian. “I had no say, along with 24 other members of the Northern Territory legislature.”
Senator McCarthy, personally, does not support the current proposal for euthanasia. She shares the same position as Luke Gosling, the Labor member for Solomon. He has his own uncertainties about euthanasia itself, but strongly supports territory rights. That’s why he and I have moved a private member’s bill in the House of Representatives to repeal the 1997 Andrews Bill.
As I made clear in a parliamentary speech on 17 August 2015, I’m personally a supporter of euthanasia—like four in five Australians, including four out of five Anglicans, three out of four Catholics, and four out of five Liberals.
But repealing the Andrews Bill is fundamentally an issue of territory rights. I find it surprising that Senator Seselja, who is meant to stand up for the ACT, did not take the position taken by his Liberal predecessor, Kate Carnell, but chose instead to vote to restrict the democratic rights of Canberrans.
Territorians should not have to accept this deficit in our democracy. While federal law treats Canberrans like second class citizens, I will keep campaigning to fix this gross inequity.
Andrew Leigh is the Federal Member for Fenner.