EXCLUSIVE

Our Right to Decide: Where does Federal Parliament stand on ACT's right to decide euthanasia laws

The Canberra Times asked all federals MPs and senators - including Adam Bandt, Pauline Hanson, Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison - whether they backed the ACT's right to decide its own euthanasia laws.
The Canberra Times asked all federals MPs and senators - including Adam Bandt, Pauline Hanson, Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison - whether they backed the ACT's right to decide its own euthanasia laws.

The Greens, senior Victorian Labor parliamentarians and crossbenchers are among the strongest political advocates for the ACT's right to make its own voluntary euthanasia laws, a Canberra Times survey has found.

One Labor senator has even encouraged the ACT to start work on its own voluntary assisted dying legislation so it is ready to go as soon as the Morrison government pulls its "head out of the sand" and allows Federal Parliament to resolve the issue.

Government senators are among the strongest opponents, including one who regards assisted dying as "state-sanctioned killing" and another who said debating it would distract from the fight against COVID-19.

The Canberra Times asked all 151 federal members and 76 senators to state whether or not they would support a repeal of the laws which prevent the ACT and NT from legalising assisted dying - provided a conscience vote was allowed.

The survey was conducted as part of this publication's Our Right to Decide campaign, which is calling on the Federal Parliament to overturn the so-called Andrews Bill from 1997.

We must return the right to legislate on this question to the ACT without delay.

WA Labor Senator Louise Pratt

The results provide a useful insight into the level of support and opposition on the issue, which has re-emerged as a live topic in federal politics after Country Liberal Senator Sam McMahon unveiled a bill to restore the NT's power to make its own euthanasia laws.

Senator McMahon decided to exclude the ACT from her bill after her government colleague Zed Seselja signalled he wouldn't support it.

The most recent attempt to restore territory rights - David Leyonhjelm's bill in 2018 - was defeated by two votes in the Senate, and never reached the lower house.

A total of 52 parliamentarians responded to The Canberra Times' survey, including 26 Labor members and 10 government members.

The tally of respondents does not include the ACT's four Labor parliamentarians, who all strongly support the campaign, or Liberal Zed Seselja, whose opposition is well known.

Some 35 respondents expressed unconditional support, while seven were clearly opposed. The remainder either expressed in-principle support or wanted to consider their position at a later date.

WA Labor senator Louise Pratt. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

WA Labor senator Louise Pratt. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Labor leader Anthony Albanese did not respond to the survey, but has since separately told The Canberra Times that he backed a repeal of the Andrews Bill.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also did not respond to the questionnaire. A spokeswoman provided a statement on the government's behalf, which did not address the question of whether it supported a repeal of the 1997 bill.

The spokeswoman said the "very sensitive and complex issue" of voluntary assisted dying was generally a matter for states and territories, without acknowledging the ACT and NT were blocked from dealing with the issue because of federal legislation.

Labor education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek was the most high-profile MP to respond to the survey to declare support for the rights of the ACT and NT to make their own voluntary assisted dying laws.

Labor's education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek was the most high-profile MP to declare support for the rights of the ACT and NT to make their own voluntary assisted dying laws. Picture: Karleen Minney

Labor's education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek was the most high-profile MP to declare support for the rights of the ACT and NT to make their own voluntary assisted dying laws. Picture: Karleen Minney

Greens leader Adam Bandt expressed strong support for overturning of the ban, as did six of his Senate colleagues.

"Dying with dignity should be a right in Australia," Mr Bandt told The Canberra Times.

"It's also wrong and totally unfair that federal politicians from jurisdictions whose citizens have the right to legislate such laws would prevent the people of the NT and ACT from having the same right."

Victoria, where Daniel Andrews' Labor government holds power, became the first Australia state to pass voluntary assisted dying laws in 2017.

The Canberra Times survey reveals Mr Andrews' federal Labor colleagues are among the strongest supporters for the ACT and NT's right to decide their own fate.

Victorian-based shadow ministers Catherine King and Andrew Giles were together with Ms Plibersek the only members of Mr Albanese's frontbench to declare unequivocal support for a repeal of the Andrews bill.

Their Victorian colleagues Tim Watts, Lisa Chesters, Julian Hill, Peta Murphy and Rob Mitchell also supported overturning the bill.

"Australians in the territories aren't second class citizens and shouldn't be treated as such," Mr Giles said.

WA Labor senator Louise Pratt, the shadow assistant minister for skills and employment, said Canberra would be among the most pro-voluntary euthanasia constituencies in the nation and it was "extraordinary" the Federal Parliament had removed its right to legislate on the issue.

Labor senator Pat Dodson, who opposed David Leyonhjelm's 2018 bill to restore territory rights, seated next to his colleague Malarndirri McCarthy, who strongly backs the ACT and NT's right to make their own laws. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Labor senator Pat Dodson, who opposed David Leyonhjelm's 2018 bill to restore territory rights, seated next to his colleague Malarndirri McCarthy, who strongly backs the ACT and NT's right to make their own laws. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Senator Pratt said opponents needed to acknowledge there were only two avenues to resolve a situation she described as "no longer unsustainable": either Federal Parliament restored the ACT's rights, or it enacted voluntary assisted dying laws for the capital territory on its behalf.

The former, she said, would be far easier.

"To stand in the way of progress on this issue for the ACT will not be sustainable. It is very much like standing in the way of marriage equality where the ACT was the most pro-equality constituency in the country," she said.

"We must return the right to legislate on this question to the ACT without delay."

MORE OUR RIGHT TO DECIDE CAMPAIGN

Senator Pratt encouraged the ACT government to start consultation with Canberrans on potential assisted dying laws, so they could be introduced and passed as quickly as possible once the federal ban was lifted.

NT Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, who wants her territory to be ultimately granted statehood, said the Andrews Bill was an "unacceptable impingement" on the ACT, NT and Norfolk Island - which was also captured under the laws passed in 1997.

"This is unfinished business for us. It is absurd that the NT and the ACT cannot make laws for their own jurisdictions," she said.

Labor MP Kristy McBain, whose electorate of Eden-Monaro surrounds the ACT, said Canberrans should have the same rights as their neighbours across the border.

There was strong support for the ACT's cause on the Senate and lower house crossbench, which could prove crucial if and when a repeal bill is brought forward for debate.

Liberal senators Eric Abetz and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells are both opposed to a repeal of the Andrews Bill. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Liberal senators Eric Abetz and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells are both opposed to a repeal of the Andrews Bill. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Indi MP Helen Haines said "all Australians should have the same rights to representation", while One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson believed the territories' democratically elected parliaments should have the power to make laws for their citizens.

None of the Labor politicians who responded to The Canberra Times' survey were opposed to a repeal of the Andrews Bill, although some - like frontbencher Kristina Keneally - said they would consider their position after a proposal was put to caucus.

Half-a-dozen Labor senators did vote against David Leyonhjelm's bill in 2018, including Don Farrell, Pat Dobson, Deb O'Neill and the late Alex Gallacher.

The only people opposed to a repeal of the Andrews Bill, who responded to The Canberra Times' survey, were Coalition members.

Liberal senators James Paterson, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and Amanda Stoker voted against the 2018 bill and said their position hadn't changed.

Eric Abetz helped push the Andrews Bill through parliament in 1997 and remains strongly resistant to attempts to repeal it. Senator Abetz's stance is based on his long-held objection to opposition to euthanasia, which he described as "state-sanctioned suicide".

As reported last month by The Canberra Times, Victoria Senator Sarah Henderson, who will chair the parliamentary inquiry into Senator McMahon's bill, is strongly opposed to a repeal of the Andews Bill and regards voluntary assisted dying as "state-sanctioned killing".

Nationals Senator Matt Canavan said the issue had been settled in 2018 and bringing it back for debate would distract from the efforts to save lives amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

His Nationals Senate colleague Perin Davey was one of a small number of Coalition members who backed the ACT and NT's rights to make their own euthanasia laws.

Liberal backbencher Jason Falinski, who represents the seat of Mackellar on Sydney's northern beaches, said the territories should be responsible for legislating on assisted dying, given they controlled their hospital systems.

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This story Where does Federal Parliament stand on ACT's right to decide voluntary euthanasia laws? first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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