29 July 2021

Territory rights is not about voluntary assisted dying

| Ian Bushnell
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Zed Seselja

ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja: prepared to limit ACT political rights in a bid to stop voluntary euthanasia. Photo: File.

Let’s be clear from the start: repealing federal legislation to allow the ACT to legislate on voluntary assisted dying is not really about the contentious issue at all.

Voluntary assisted dying may be associated with the renewed arguments over the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 (aka, the Andrews bill), which specifically targeted attempts by the then Legislative Assembly to pass laws, but the crux of the matter is the limitation placed on territory governments and the subsequent devaluing of ACT residents’ democratic rights compared with their state counterparts.

Both camps on either side of the euthanasia or voluntary assisted dying debate should remember that this is the central point, not what the eventual outcome of a debate about euthanasia decides.

READ MORE Gallagher fires shot across Seselja’s bow over euthanasia rights law

ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja makes no secret of his opposition to voluntary assisted dying. Being a politician from the whatever-it-takes school, he had no qualms about twisting the arm of NT Senator Sam McMahon so she did not include the ACT in her proposed territory rights bill.

When called out for his intervention, the Senator hit back by claiming the ACT’s radical legislature would produce the country’s most extreme voluntary euthanasia laws. He said it could not be trusted to act responsibly on such a serious issue.

Referring to the Assembly’s ‘unchecked power’, he argued that without a house of review, the Barr Government already had form with its alleged refusal to crack down on bikie gangs, mismanagement of the health system and consideration of the decriminalisation of drugs such as ‘ice’.

The Senator’s mash-up may be justifiable in his mind, but it betrays a lack of faith in the democratic system he purports to uphold, his fellow Canberrans and deliberately conflates the issues so that the question of ACT rights may be lost in the sound and fury.

READ ALSO Zed Seselja is the worst and that’s great

The exceptionalism he argues for the ACT is not based on the jurisdiction’s status as a territory, and therefore extendable to other issues, but on a single issue about which he has firm convictions.

The Senator’s views on voluntary euthanasia are to be respected, which is why in this matter, a conscience vote is the preferred path in legislatures to date.

You never know, he may have more friends than he realises.

Federal Member for Bean David Smith backs change despite opposing voluntary euthanasia. Photo: File.

On the other side, advocates for repealing Andrews roll out the distressing stories about the long, painful and undignified deaths of friends and relatives.

It is impossible not to be moved by these, but these should be part of the community conversation and eventual debate by our elected representatives not produced in arguments about whether a specific law that erodes the ACT’s political franchise should stand.

The ACT’s Labor MPs have vowed to lobby for the repeal of the Andrews bill to become part of the Federal Labor platform, but it’s a sign of the thorniness of the issue that they even have to push for it.

At least the Member for Bean, David Smith, has separated his opposition to voluntary euthanasia from his duty to support his constituents having the same political rights as those in the states.

The Canberra Liberals’ support for the federal limitation on the Assembly to be overturned shows the waning influence of the ‘Seselja Right’ in the ACT and reflects the view that the Territory, after more than three decades of self-government, is capable of making up its own mind.

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For the Barr Government, presenting a united front to the Commonwealth must be pleasing, and it will continue to press for change.

That remains the priority, and with no legislation planned, it says nothing would be rammed through the Assembly in the way Senator Seselja suggests.

It’s worth remembering that even if the Andrews bill is repealed, the Commonwealth still has power under the Constitution to intervene in the affairs of territories if it so chooses.

Not to mention that a territory, soon to have a population of half a million, comparable to Tasmania, only sends two Senators to the Hill.

These are matters for future debate but tidying up the Andrews aberration is long overdue.

As Winston Churchill said, more or less, democracy isn’t perfect, but it’s better than the alternatives.

Let the chips fall where they may, but at least let’s have the right to have the debate.

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The ACT government has shown over decades that it is incompetent and is nothing more than a trumped up council. Their record of governance and service delivery is woeful. Why anyone would want them having more power is beyond me.

You forgot to prefix your comment with “In my opinion …”, Chewy

Normally that would be the case but in this instance it’s verifiable fact.

Cheey, I’m sure you can cite many examples which you believe support your opinion that “ The ACT government has shown over decades that it is incompetent and is nothing more than a trumped up council” (no doubt, I and others may even agree with you on some/all), but that doesn’t make constitute “verifiable fact”. The only fact here, is that for whatever reason, the ACT voters don’t accept your hypothesis, as they continually re-elect them. I totally respect your assertion that they should not be given more power (and we are really only talking about the power to legislate on VAD here), I just don’t agree. If you were to put up an opinion piece arguing against conferring statehood on the ACT, I would fully support you – but having the right/power to legislate on certain matters is not the same as being made a state.

Zed has lost his grip on the party. He is literally a human parasite, drained the Canberra Liberals dry, consigned them to opposite and keeps them unelectable to keep the safe senate seat.

Time he moved on. Even his own party is sick of him which is why he ran his preselection so early.

He needs to go.

anthonypesec9:20 am 30 Jul 21

I guess y’all wished that you’d strategically voted for that independent guy that ran for Senate in 2019. He seemed quite reasonable.

LOL – touche Andrew

Peter Graves8:07 am 30 Jul 21

It is quite remarkable that a Senator elected to represent all Canberra residents at the federal level and presumably believes in the practise of democracy puts a highly-personal view of his ahead of the people.

As the article argues, it is about the people and Governments of BOTH the Northern Territory and the ACT being able to decide their own legislation. Not subject to an archaic federal ability.

Remember the conservative arguments in the early 1970s that neither Territory was even entitled to have Senators because the Territories were not mentioned in the Constitution of 1901. When they did not exist.

Whether the ACT subsequently legislates for VAD is another step and up to the ACT voters and who ever represents them. In the Territory Assembly – not the federal Senate.

I’m more than happy for the Andrews legislation to remain while we have an ACT government that lies, discriminates and fails to deliver basic services such as education and healthcare noting they have been in power for 20 years.

Well Ian that’s a mature, logical and well thought out response.

So, Ian_M, as I understand it, you have a gripe with successive ACT Labor governments and therefore ACT citizens should be punished (by not being able to have VAD legislation debated by their representatives) because they have democratically elected those governments for 20 years. I’m sure there’s logic in that – I just don’t see it.

Stephen Saunders7:51 am 30 Jul 21

Salute to David Smith. Politicians who can recognise people in front of personal views are about as common as thylacines.

Absolutely agree, Stephen Saunders – it’s about giving the ACT Assembly the right to debate a particular piece of legislation on behalf of the citizens who elected them to do so, which tepeal of the Andrews bill will do. Neither of these federal politicians (Smith or Seselja) were elected to pass legislation for the ACT. Voters may not like the outcome at the last Assembly election, but that’s democracy in action. In supporting action to repeal the Andrews Bill, Smith and Seselja (and the other 3 federal politicians) are doing the very job they were elected to do – represent the citizens of the ACTV. David Smith understands this, Zed Seselja doesn’t. If people in the ACT are for or against VAD, they can lobby their elected representatives accordingly – just as ACT citizens Smith and Seselja have the right to do so.

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