“Attempts to overturn the changes to the Self-Government Act are not new. However, considering the election was a slap in the face for conservative members of the parliament, there’s a real chance for this legislation to be successful,” writes MICHAEL MOORE.
CREATING second-rate citizens was the consequence of the “Andrews’ Bill” that stripped the territories of the right to self-determination regarding assisted dying.
Reinstating that right has been the aim of a range of independents who have campaigned at the federal election.
Now there are two bills being prepared. Labor MP Alicia Payne, from the seat of Canberra, and Senator David Pocock are looking to be the first to introduce legislation to ensure Canberrans and people from the NT have the same rights as citizens of all of the other states.
Pocock made this an issue from the very early stages of his campaign. As important as the issue is, it certainly appears as though Payne has taken a cynical approach to undermine the status of the local independent. Considering the cynicism of the Labor Party in cutting the staff of independent MPs – this ought not be surprising.
The Assembly has not had the power to legislate for the ultimate end of life choice – voluntary active euthanasia or physician-assisted dying since 1997. Attempts to overturn the changes to the Self-Government Act are also not new. However, considering the election was a slap in the face for conservative members of the parliament, there now appears to be a real chance for this legislation to be successful.
Territory rights ought not be a conscience vote. The challenge is that people such as former Senator Zed Seselja and former Prime Minister Scott Morrison saw this as a vote on an issue that confronted their own moral framework. A moral framework, incidentally, that was out of step with about 80 per cent of Australians who believe that people with a terminal illness and in great pain ought to be able to make their own decision regarding how they die. It is a vote on territory rights.
Ironically, in 1993 the ACT Legislative Assembly became Australia’s first jurisdiction to have a voluntary active euthanasia bill tabled. The NT followed suit. Within a few years the power to pass such legislation was taken away from both jurisdictions.
The federal parliament voted to remove the power in 1997 when the legislation was being used in the NT and was being debated in the ACT. The decision to remove this right from the elected representative body was especially painful for me as the MLA responsible for introducing the first such legislation in Australia. With all the states now passing voluntary assisted dying legislation, it is clear that the ACT was simply ahead of its time.
A report of the ACT Legislative Assembly Select Committee that examined the original legislation considered the matter a “vexed question of compassion and personal freedom”. It remains so.
However, “active euthanasia takes the prime decision-making process out of the hands of the doctor and returns it to where it rightly belongs – to the individual” was a point I made in June 1993 when introducing the Voluntary and Natural Death Bill. My view has not changed.
However, it also remains a matter of a right to self-determination for territories. The amendment to the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 by the insertion of Section 23 (1A) and (1B), and similarly in the NT, was a simple case of federal MPs deciding that they knew better than local elected members of territory parliaments.
Kristy McBain is both Territories’ Minister and the member representing Eden-Monaro, the electorate surrounding Canberra. She promised that this issue of territories’ rights to self-determination would be brought to the House or Representatives for debate as soon as possible. NT MP Luke Gosling has indicated he will co-sponsor the amending legislation with Payne.
This is not the first attempt to restore territory rights. Then Greens Senator Bob Brown made a number of valiant attempts but was not able to secure the support he needed. There was a more recent attempt in the most recent parliamentary period.
Whether the bill put forward by Payne and Gosling or that proposed by Pocock is successful does have some political significance. However, the most significant issue will be the equitable rights of territorians compared to those who live in the states.
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.
Who can be trusted?
In a world of spin and confusion, there’s never been a more important time to support independent journalism in Canberra.
If you trust our work online and want to enforce the power of independent voices, I invite you to make a small contribution.
Every dollar of support is invested back into our journalism to help keep citynews.com.au strong and free.
Ian Meikle, editor