Canberra's democratic freedoms shouldn't be limited - Transcript, 2CC Canberra


Subjects: Territory rights, assisted dying, Cory Bernardi.

ROD HENSHAW: Australian states and territories are looking closely at how Victoria's voluntary euthanasia laws play out, following that state's introduction of the legislation which came into effect yesterday as we all know. Here in the ACT, a number of rights advocates are hoping the Victorian model will lead to the federal government relaxing its legislative hold on the ACT and the Northern Territory, which has so far prevented the introduction of similar assisted dying legislation. Now Dr Andrew Leigh, the Member for Fenner here in Canberra, has undertaken to have talks with his Labor colleagues at federal level to see if there's a way forward. Andrew Leigh’s on the line with me now. Andrew, good afternoon.


HENSHAW: Thanks so much for joining us. Just before we get into this very important subject, I've got some breaking news this afternoon that Senator Cory Bernardi rather is deregistering his Australian conservatives.

LEIGH: Well, it's a decision from a man who took top spot on his party's Senate ticket, got elected for a six year term and then immediately quit and set up his own party. I'm not sure what his plan is for getting re-elected under his own name, but I imagine that he's staring down the barrel of his last term in office if he is to stay a member of the Australian conservatives.

HENSHAW: Well he has made some murmurs earlier this week, I don't dwell too much on this because I'd like to get into the other one, but he has made some murmurs earlier this week that he is edging towards maybe, maybe, maybe, maybe not, perhaps, perhaps not going back with the Liberals.

LEIGH: Well, he's a rubber stamp for the Liberals. He ratted on them when he left to set up his own party. His party has had no electoral success, so it’s no great surprise to me that he's looking at rejoining the party that he always votes with.

HENSHAW: Thanks for your observation on that, but I didn't get you on to talk about Cory this afternoon. Yes, this is a very important one - why should the federal government of any colour be able to dictate such terms to either the two territories regarding this particular piece of legislation, the assisted dying legislation, voluntary euthanasia legislation - call it what you like. Bearing in mind that they jumped and made the Northern Territory repeal its assisted dying legislation some years ago, why should the government - any federal government - have any right to do that?

LEIGH: I wish I had a good answer for you Rod. This so-called Andrews bill came in place in 1997 when the ACT Legislative Assembly was just in short pants. It's now 30 years old. It's grown up, left home and set up a place of its own. And I don’t think if anyone looked around the parliaments around Australia, they would say anything other than that the ACT Legislative Assembly is easily the intellectual equal of any other parliament around Australia, and so should have the right to legislate on voluntary assisted dying-

HENSHAW: Can I just. Sorry, you go.

LEIGH: Well, this ought to be a position regardless of whether you support euthanasia or you oppose it. And so when I moved a private member's bill with my colleague Luke Gosling from the Northern Territory, Luke not a supporter of voluntary assisted dying. I'm a supporter. But we both believe passionately in territory rights and we're following there in the footsteps of people from both sides of Parliament. Jon Stanhope opposes voluntary euthanasia, but supports territory rights. Gary Humphries and Kate Carnell took the territory rights approach on different issues when they have the opportunity. It’s just a shame Zed Seselja doesn't see things the same way and stands against territory rights.

HENSHAW: Well, WA is to introduce its version of the laws later this year and Queensland is holding an inquiry into, it seems as a run on to at least having debate on it. Should we, should that be happening here now given the Victorian situation?

LEIGH: I think so. Certainly this is one issue on which parliamentary views are quite out of step with the broader community. Around four in five Australians support voluntary assisted dying with appropriate safeguards. That includes four out of five Catholics, four out of five Anglicans, four out of five people with no religion. A majority of Labor voters, Coalition voters, Green voters, even One Nation voters support voluntary assisted dying. The Victorian laws have shown that it's possible to put in place appropriate safeguards, as indeed have other models – Netherlands, Belgium, Oregon where voluntary assisted dying has been in place for a long period of time.

HENSHAW: It's a very polarizing piece of legislation as we all know and it was in Victoria before it got through, but I guess we can expect similar division here anyway. But as you say, the debate should be had or the conversation should be had at least.

LEIGH: Absolutely. Mary Porter when she was in the ACT Assembly did a lot of important work on this. Tara Cheyne has followed in her footsteps. It is appropriate that thoughtful legislators in the ACT Assembly are able to have the same debates that took place in Victoria and are taking place now in Queensland and Western Australia. The fact is there's no reason that we ought to have the Federal Parliament preventing the ACT from legislating on this important issue. Many of us worry about what would happen to us or to our loved ones if we were to fall ill with a painful terminal illness. We think about how our kids would want to see us at the end of our lives. I certainly respect those who take a different position on this substantive issue, but what I have no time for is people who say that the ACT government is too childish to be given the right to debate this vital issue.

HENSHAW: Yeah. That is a bit condescending, I'll give you that. What's the mechanism needed to overturn the so-called Andrews Bill?

LEIGH: We have to repeal it. That's why Luke Gosling and I moved the private member's bill in the last Parliament and why we're going to seek support from our colleagues to move it again. We need to keep this issue on the agenda, both in the House and the Senate. Katy Gallagher has been a passionate supporter of territory rights and I'm sure we'll be keen to look at other ways of raising this in the Senate. Ultimately it's about putting pressure on the Morrison Government, because they control whether bills come on for debate in the House of Representatives. So we need to have a good bill, but we then also need to make sure that there is enough public pressure on the Morrison Government that they finally yield and do the right thing.

HENSHAW: Any idea what the feeling is in federal Labor towards it at the present time among your colleagues?

LEIGH: We received strong support from our colleagues when we brought it on for debate last time around. I'd be hopeful we were able to do the same thing. I think people recognise that this debate is shifting and that the polls demonstrate that there is strong public appetite for putting in place appropriate safeguards, voluntary euthanasia with appropriate safeguards. But my parliamentary colleagues in the Labor caucus are strong supporters of territory rights-

HENSHAW: Just quickly-

LEIGH: And they see this through that lens first and foremost.

HENSHAW: Sorry, just quickly - what's the next step?

LEIGH: Well, the next step will be for Luke Gosling and I to go our colleagues to seek their permission to move private member’s bill and then to bring it into the House of Representatives. I’d urge any of your listeners for whom this is an important issue to take this opportunity to put pressure on Zed Seselja. Zed ought to be standing up for territory rights, not simply voting an ideological position which reduces the rights the Territory Parliament has, reduces the democratic freedoms of all Territorians.

HENSHAW: We might take that to him on along tomorrow's program. Give it a try anyway.

LEIGH: Please do.

HENSHAW:  Okay, good on you. Good to talk to you, Andrew. Thanks so much for your time.

LEIGH: Thank you.


Authorised by Noah Carroll ALP Canberra.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.