ACT calls for rights to legalise voluntary assisted dying

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Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne… “Territories remain banned from considering legislation of this kind thanks to laws passed by the Federal Parliament more than 20 years ago.” Photo: Holly Treadaway.

CANBERRA and the NT are again calling on the federal government to restore the rights of both territories to legislate on the issue of voluntary assisted dying. 

NT Attorney-General Selena Uibo and ACT Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne have jointly written to federal Attorney-General Christian Porter, assistant minister for regional development and territories Nola Marino and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack emphasising ongoing concerns about the stark inequity between states and territories regarding voluntary assisted dying.

“This is clearly demonstrated in that, by mid-2021, all Australian states will have either passed legislation relating to voluntary assisted dying or have a Bill before their parliament,” Ms Cheyne says.

“The Tasmanian parliament is debating laws on voluntary assisted dying this very week – while the territories remain banned from considering legislation of this kind thanks to laws passed by the Federal Parliament more than 20 years ago.”

Labelling it untenable and indefensible, Ms Cheyne says the letter also drew attention to their deep concern that the persistence of this situation is inconsistent with Australia’s international human rights obligations.

She refers to Australia being a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which guarantees citizens the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

“By prohibiting the citizens of the ACT and the NT from deciding for themselves — through their elected representatives — whether to legislate in the area of voluntary assisted dying, the federal government may be limiting this human right,” she says.

“Further, individuals are entitled to enjoy their human rights without distinction or discrimination of any kind — yet ACT and NT citizens are being denied their right to participate based on being residents of a territory.

“It is hard to fathom — and embarrassing — that the federal government allows a situation to persist which limits some residents’ human rights in our own country.

“We are asking that the federal government finally show leadership on this issue and restore our territory rights.”

Regardless of one’s views on voluntary assisted dying, Ms Cheyne says there should not be any controversy in allowing the ACT and NT to decide for themselves whether to introduce such legislation, and to allow citizens of the ACT and NT an equal opportunity to legislate on this matter if their communities desire.

“This is a simple legislative change for the federal government to propose and enact which would cost nothing. But it would mean so much to ACT and NT residents — and right a wrong that has persisted for decades,” she says.

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