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Canberra Today 3°/5° | Friday, August 19, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Why I’m standing up now to sort out territory rights

“I’m very proud that the new Labor government will allow the parliament to debate restoring territory rights in this first fortnight of the 47th federal parliament,” writes Canberra MP ALICIA PAYNE

IT’S hard to believe that in 2022 citizens of territories are denied the same democratic rights as other Australians by the federal parliament. 

Canberra MP Alicia Payne… Bill to ensure ACT citizens have the same rights as those of other states.

The Australian Constitution allows the federal parliament to legislate to prevent territories from making particular laws. In 1996, Liberal MP Kevin Andrews introduced a bill to prevent the territories legislating on voluntary assisted dying (VAD), in response to the NT passing a law to allow it. 

This has become known as the “Andrews’ Legislation” and to this day prevents the territories from debating the issue of VAD, although all of the states now have.

It is well past time that we had the right to debate and make our own laws on this issue as other Australians have. 

When the 47th federal parliament begins next week the Albanese Labor government will begin our ambitious legislative agenda. The first priorities will include landmark climate-change legislation and new laws to guarantee paid domestic violence leave. 

My NT Labor colleague, Luke Gosling, the Member for Solomon, and I will introduce a private member’s bill to repeal the Andrews’ Legislation and allow territories the right to debate VAD as other Australians have.

We do this on behalf of our ACT and NT Labor teams. It is perhaps not well known that governments actually decide whether private members’ bills will be debated or not, and I’m very proud that the new Labor government will allow the parliament to debate restoring territory rights in this first fortnight.

Standing up for the democratic rights of Canberrans has long been core business for ACT Labor and for me. 

Senator Katy Gallagher advocated for territory rights when she was Chief Minister from 2011-14. During their time in the federal parliament, both Katy and MP Andrew Leigh (Labor, Fenner) have sponsored bills to restore territory rights. Since our election in 2019, MP David Smith (Labor, Bean) and I have both spoken in parliament calling for ACT citizens to have equal democratic rights. I have written about the issue and talked about it extensively on social media. 

I also want to give credit to the work and advocacy of our ACT Assembly colleagues on this issue. Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Minister Tara Cheyne, in particular, have championed the cause and worked incredibly hard to raise awareness and progress the issue. 

Whether in the Assembly or in federal parliament, for years your Labor representatives have been fighting to have your democratic rights restored.

Over the past two decades, many politicians and advocates have worked hard on the issue including former Greens senators Bob Brown and Richard Di Natale and former Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm, to name just a few. 

In total, eight bills seeking to repeal the Andrews’ act of 1997 have been moved in parliament. Most of these bills lapsed or were not brought on by the previous government. Just one of these bills was brought to a vote in the Senate in 2018, and was narrowly and excruciatingly defeated by just two votes, one of which was former ACT Liberal senator Zed Seselja. This issue is not a new one, and like most Canberrans I’m frustrated that in 2022 it is still unresolved.

I was disappointed to read political columnist Michael Moore’s piece (“Our days as second-rate citizens may be numbered”, CN July 14) labelling our bill “a cynical approach to undermine the status of the local independent” (Senator David Pocock). When Luke and I introduce our bill, it is clearly the next of many contributors to this long-fought campaign.

Of course, we welcome Senator Pocock’s commitment to territory rights and look forward to working with him to see them restored. 

Personally, I can’t understand how any politician representing a territory could oppose their constituents having the same democratic rights as other Australians and I believe former senator Seselja’s position on the issue was a key contributor to his loss at the recent election.

Repealing the Andrews’ Legislation is about giving all Australians the right to debate the issue of VAD. It is important to note that repealing the Andrews’ Legislation will not mean that the territories will have VAD, but we will have the right to debate it. There are, of course, strongly held views supporting and opposing VAD and it deserves to be discussed carefully and respectfully. 

I respect people’s views on either side and particularly respect those of my federal colleagues who personally do not support VAD but will support our bill because they believe all Australians should have equal democratic rights.

We cannot consider ourselves inclusive or just if we deny Australians rights to democracy based on where they live. Canberrans rightfully have strong views on restoring their rights and raise this issue with me frequently. 

I look forward to introducing this bill on their behalf and am working my hardest to convince members of federal parliament across political lines to support it. 

This has been a long fight for our ACT Labor team, and I’m very pleased that, with the election of Senator Pocock, now all ACT federal representatives support equal rights for our constituents.

Alicia Payne is the recently re-elected federal member for the seat of Canberra.

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