ACT, NT push for control of euthanasia laws as private bill to restore rights reaches Parliament

An ad in the Australian says 'it's about our rights'. Photo: The full-page ad was printed in a national newspaper. (ABC News: Bridget Judd)
Related Story: ACT Chief Minister urges federal MPs to scrap ‘absurd’ euthanasia roadblock
Related Story: NT, ACT governments could regain right to decide euthanasia laws

The chief ministers of the Northern Territory and the ACT have ramped up calls to restore territories’ rights to make their own voluntary euthanasia laws.

Key points:

  • Full page advertisement urges Senators to restore territories’ rights to make euthanasia laws
  • Private bill to revoke constitutional powers over ACT, NT to be debated this week
  • Senator David Leyonhjelm says he had received assurances MPs would get a conscience vote, but claims the PM has not stuck to the deal

In a full-page advertisement printed in The Australian, Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner and ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr have called on Federal senators to support a private bill by Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm that would overturn a 20-year-old federal law preventing both territories from legalising assisted dying.

In 1995, the Northern Territory famously became the first Australian jurisdiction to legalise euthanasia.

But that was effectively voided two years later when the then federal government passed a bill that banned the ACT and NT from legalising assisted suicide.

It remains in place, despite Victoria passing its voluntary euthanasia law in October 2017.

“With other states around Australia now passing laws on voluntary assisted dying, the fact that the Australian territories can’t even consider their own legislation is unjust,” the advertisement reads.

“Voting for this bill doesn’t mean there will be assisted dying in the NT or the ACT. It will simply give Territorians the same right to decide on it as other Australians.”

The advertisement urges Senators to support the bill “and let our people decide what laws apply when it comes to their right to die with dignity”.

Government can’t say ‘we know better than you’: Senator

The so-called Andrews bill — named after conservative MP Kevin Andrews, who introduced the legislation in 1996 — invoked constitutional powers to overturn euthanasia laws passed by the Northern Territory.

Under the constitution, Federal Parliament can still legislate on behalf of the territories.

A poster advocating for Canberrans to make their own laws about assisted dying. Photo: A poster advocating for Canberrans to make their own laws about assisted dying. (Facebook: Andrew Barr MLA)

“To Liberal Democrats, to libertarians, the right to control your life, and not have the Government say you can or you can’t do things with your life, is fundamental to us,” Senator David Leyonhjelm said.

“That’s a situation that I don’t think, is any business of the Government to be telling us ‘no you can’t, we know better than you’.

“We own our own bodies, we own our own lives, it’s not up to the Government to tell us where and when we bring that to an end.”

The Senate will this week debate whether to repeal the ban, and Senator Leyonhjelm said the Government had agreed to prioritise it, in return for his vote to reinstate the construction industry watchdog.

Senator Leyonhjelm said he had received assurances from the Government that its MPs and senators would be given a free vote on the bill and, if it passed the Senate, it would go to the Lower House for debate.

But he claims the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has not stuck to that agreement — and there could be consequences.

“I’m just annoyed that what was a deal appears no longer to be a deal in the eyes of the Government,” he said.

“The issue for the Government is how can they do future deals if they’re not going to stick to past deals?”

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