Territory rights is not about voluntary assisted dying

Ian Bushnell 29 July 2021 35
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.


READ ALSO: Home Affairs again told it must consult staff on contentious dress code


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.


What's Your Opinion?


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35 Responses to Territory rights is not about voluntary assisted dying
chewy14 chewy14 2:53 pm 01 Aug 21

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.

    GrumpyMark GrumpyMark 7:10 pm 01 Aug 21

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

    chewy14 chewy14 2:59 pm 02 Aug 21

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

    GrumpyMark GrumpyMark 9:03 am 03 Aug 21

    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.

Christopher Stuart Veilands Christopher Stuart Veilands 9:03 pm 31 Jul 21

If it was that important, why wasnt it done when Labor had the numbers back in 2008. They had the numbers in the Senate with their mates the Greens

    Mark Oz Mark Oz 2:44 pm 01 Aug 21

    That was 13 years ago Christopher Stuart Veilands and perhaps VAD was not a forefront issue for a majority of citizens back then. It’s worth noting, that back in 2008, not one state jurisdiction had passed legislation to allow VAD - yet since then, 4 states (Vic, WA, Tas and SA) have passed such legislation, which the Feds cannot overide. Things change over time and so do people’s priorities on what they want from a government. This is not a Labor/Greens V Libs issue in the ACT - the ACT Libs are 100% in favour of the Assembly being able to debate VAD legislation. So, to more succinctly address your question … who cares what did or did not happen in 2008? It’s 2021 and a majority of ACT citizens want their democratically elected representatives to be allowed to debate the matter of VAD in the ACT Assembly and, if it passes, legislate it.

Sol Sol 4:58 pm 30 Jul 21

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.

Marky McCool Marky McCool 1:26 pm 30 Jul 21

So he wants terminally ill elderly to live the last days in pain.

Um what..

Noelle Waugh Noelle Waugh 12:56 pm 30 Jul 21

Oh god Zed again! 🙄

John Dale John Dale 10:11 am 30 Jul 21

Zed is happy for the territory to have self determination, as long as it’s things he agrees with. Flog.

Shan Weereratne Shan Weereratne 10:03 am 30 Jul 21

Vote out this freeloader once and for all. The ACT needs politicians who actually represent us not impede.

anthonypesec anthonypesec 9:20 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.

Marc Edwards Marc Edwards 9:11 am 30 Jul 21

Maybe someone can assist Mr Seselja with his career that seems to be terminal.

    Kylie Wylie Kylie Wylie 10:03 am 30 Jul 21

    Marc Edwards we'll all pray for him 🤣🤣🤣

    Noelle Waugh Noelle Waugh 12:58 pm 30 Jul 21

    Marc Edwards agree, what is he still doing there?

Anne Ackroyd Anne Ackroyd 8:43 am 30 Jul 21

Paul Keating once referred to members of the Senate as "unrepresentative swill". I always think of that when Zed Seselja stands in the way of good public policy.

Kerri Hallas Kerri Hallas 8:38 am 30 Jul 21

Oh look it’s ‘out of touch Zed’ again. 🙄

Peter Graves Peter Graves 8:07 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.

Ian_ M Ian_ M 7:52 am 30 Jul 21

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.

    franky22 franky22 2:39 pm 30 Jul 21

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

    GrumpyMark GrumpyMark 6:49 pm 30 Jul 21

    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.

Jeannou Zoides Jeannou Zoides 7:51 am 30 Jul 21

He is not our Premier we are Labor stay on your side of the fence

    Grant Jones Grant Jones 8:50 am 30 Jul 21

    Jeannou Zoides yeah you don't have a premier, that is part of the point, territories are set up differently to states and therefore have different abilities in governing.

    Michael McDonald Michael McDonald 12:50 pm 30 Jul 21

    Jeannou Zoides We have a premier?

    Craig Evans Craig Evans 6:04 pm 30 Jul 21

    No we have a Chief Minister..as does NT

Stephen Saunders Stephen Saunders 7:51 am 30 Jul 21

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

    GrumpyMark GrumpyMark 9:39 am 30 Jul 21

    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.

Jewels van der Toorn Jewels van der Toorn 7:45 am 30 Jul 21

This is about us the people, and we want the choice and we want to be able to choose Euthanasia if that is what we need when given terminal diagnosis. It is not about a personal view of a politician or church. It is about we the people. And politicians need to think about the people....how about that for a change!!!!

David Newman David Newman 7:44 am 30 Jul 21

If Zed wanted to have a say, he should have stayed in the Legislative Assembly where he’d previously engaged in SELF government.

Aaron Still Aaron Still 7:41 am 30 Jul 21

Although it should be about approving it

    James Grayson James Grayson 7:44 am 30 Jul 21

    Aaron Still one step at a time, I guess. Can't approve the legislation if we don't even have the right to debate it.

    Aaron Still Aaron Still 8:04 am 30 Jul 21

    James Grayson yep, completely agree. Just get annoyed when bureaucracy and religious beliefs get in the way of compassion 🤷🏼‍♂️

Peter Groves Peter Groves 7:32 am 30 Jul 21

Get out of the way Zed and let your constituents have their say. You do not represent all of us in any way.

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