SPEECH – Territorians deserve the same rights as those living in the states to legislate on euthanasia
CANBERRA – 24 May, 2021
We in the Territories have been fighting to restore our rights for a long time, Deputy Speaker.
For a quarter of a century, we’ve been barred from fully enjoying the same democratic rights as Australians living in the states.
It’s ridiculous that we’re still being forced to explain why people living in the ACT and the Northern Territory are worthy of having equal rights to other Australians.
In 1997, Kevin Andrews, the Member for Menzies, decided to stop the Northern Territory and the ACT from legislating on euthanasia.
There’s a lot of anger still today about the passing of the Andrews bill.
The Northern Territory was the first jurisdiction in the world to legalise euthanasia.
For nine months the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act was law, during which time four people chose to die with medical assistance.
The Member for Menzies Kevin Andrews was successful in inserting a clause in the Northern Territory’s Self-Government Act of 1978 to prevent the NT from making laws in respect of euthanasia.
The vast majority of Territorians would like to see that clause overturned.
There are almost three-quarters of a million people living across our two territories, three-quarters of a million people who’ve been told for 24 years that they don’t get to participate in the same kind of democracy as all other Australians.
Why is this Coalition Government so afraid to let Australians in the Territories have their say on this issue?
This isn’t about right-to-die legislation. This is about equal rights for our citizens.
Overturning the Andrews bill doesn’t mean that the NT or the ACT will be forced into legislating on euthanasia.
All it means is that the elected representatives of the territories may choose to consider the matter, taking on board the arguments and feelings for and against the issue by their constituents.
For the past 20 years, about four in five Australians have supported doctor-led voluntary assisted dying.
The public mood has shifted to the point where it has now been legalised in Victoria and WA, rejected by NSW and SA, and is being considered by Queensland and Tasmania.
And this is exactly as it should be – Australians should be able to reflect on this matter and decide if its something they support or not.
Three years ago, my colleague Andrew Leigh and I brought forward a bill to restore territory rights.
We were seeking to restore the democratic rights of citizens in the Territories by removing a constraint on the legislative authority of their elected representatives, which does not exist anywhere else in Australia.
However, the Government blocked debate on that bill.
They did the same thing the previous term.
Senators in this place have been debating and voting on related legislation, but those of us on this side of the building have been prevented from expressing our views.
Australians deserve a Government that will consider such matters in a mature and considered way, no matter where they live.
Those opposite must explain to all Australians, and to Territorians in particular, why they are viewed as second-class citizens.
As long as the Andrews bill remains in force, the Government is explicitly telling Territorians that they are less than.
The Government is telling Territorians that their rights are not important.
The Government is telling all Australians that discrimination of this sort against certain groups of its own citizens is acceptable.
I don’t think that stands up in the court of public opinion, Deputy Speaker.
The Government must immediately commit to overturning the Andrews bill and must send a clear message to Territorians that it hears their concerns and values them equally to all other Australian citizens.