IT’S TIME PARLIAMENT GAVE THE TERRITORIES BACK THEIR POWER TO LEGISLATE ON VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA
MONDAY, 24 MAY 2021
*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***
That this House:
(1) notes that:
(a) the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 (known as the Andrews Bill) amended the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 and the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 to deprive these two legislative assemblies of the power to make laws relating to euthanasia;
(b) the Government of Prime Minister Howard justified this at the time as a constraint on young jurisdictions that were seen to be moving ahead of the broader public mood;
(c) when the Andrews Bill curtailed the right of territories to make laws relating to euthanasia, no other state or territory legislature had conducted a debate on similar laws;
(d) polls of public attitudes to doctor-led voluntary assisted dying suggest that support was in the high sixties in the 1980s, in the mid to high seventies in the 1990s, and in the low eighties in the past two decades;
(e) in recent years all state legislatures have debated legislation around voluntary assisted dying, with Victoria and Western Australia legalising voluntary assisted dying, and New South Wales and South Australia rejecting legalisation, while Queensland and Tasmania have processes ongoing;
(f) the anachronistic Andrews Bill means that a quarter of a century since it was passed, 700,000 Australians who live in the Northern Territory or the Australian Capital Territory are still unable to participate in a democratic process to resolve community approaches to euthanasia;
(g) repealing the Andrews Bill would return to territories legal powers that are held by other Australian jurisdictions; and
(h) restoring territory rights does not direct that either territory legislature should consider legislating on euthanasia, it merely allows them to do so if their properly elected representatives decide it appropriate;
(2) acknowledges that:
(a) in each of the last two terms of parliament the Government has blocked debate on private Members' bills that would restore territory rights; and
(b) while senators have debated and voted on related legislation, members of the House of Representatives have been prevented from expressing their views on this issue; and
(3) calls on the Government to:
(a) explain why, in 2021, two mature legislative jurisdictions are still singled out as unworthy of legislative self-determination;
(b) commit to introduce legislation into the House of Representatives that would grant territorians legislative equality with Australians in other jurisdictions; and
(c) restore the right of territories to determine their own laws on euthanasia.
Yesterday I met with Katarina Knowles, who lost her father, Nebojsa Pavkovic, to Parkinson's disease.
At the end of his life, he knew he was going to go, but he was unable to avail himself of voluntary assisted dying in the ACT, so he went through the extremely painful process of a five-week hunger strike. It was agonising for him and for his family. But Katarina isn't alone; many other families have seen their loved ones suffer at the end of their lives unnecessarily.
Voluntary assisted dying is now supported by 87 per cent of Australians, including 79 per cent of coalition voters, 77 per cent of Catholics and 78 per cent of protestants. It has been legalised in three of the six states—Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania—and is being considered in other jurisdictions. Many European nations have legalised voluntary assisted dying. At least eight US states and the District of Columbia have also legalised voluntary assisted dying.
The world is a very different place from when in 1997 this parliament determined to take away the power to legislate over euthanasia from the ACT and the Northern Territory. Those jurisdictions were young then; they are mature assemblies now. Back then, no state had moved. Now, half the states have moved. This is an important point, as it goes to some of the arguments that were made for retaining the Andrews bill. Frank Brennan asked the rhetorical question: ‘Should the Commonwealth parliament overturn a territory law?’ and said, 'Only in very rare circumstances: where no state has similarly legislated'. That is now palpably no longer the case. As the editors of the NT News have said, ‘Give us back our rights’.
Territorians should have the right to have this issue debated by their parliamentarians. In the ACT, Mary Porter has led much of the work around the safeguards that would be necessary for voluntary assisted dying laws. That work has been picked up by Tara Cheyne in recent times. I'm pleased to see the entire Liberal caucus within the assembly has supported overturning the Andrews bill so that the ACT Legislative Assembly can debate voluntary assisted dying. But not all elected Liberals in the ACT support removing this undemocratic bar. Shamefully, when the issue was debated in the Senate, Senator Zed Seselja did not vote to remove the bar on the ACT legislating on euthanasia. Gary Humphries, his predecessor, would have done so. Zed Seselja chose not to, and that speaks volumes about his inability to stand up for Canberrans.
We know that this is a challenging topic for many, but regardless of where you stand on the merits of euthanasia, it is untenable that the territories should be prevented from debating an issue which is being debated in every Australian state. There have been multiple attempts to change the law within Australian states—some successful, some unsuccessful. They've been allowed to have that conversation, guided by thoughtful advocates such as Andrew Denton from Go Gentle and guided by the stories of many people, such as Katarina Knowles, about suffering at end of life.
I remember a good family friend who had the experience, when her husband was suffering a terminal illness, of getting assistance to administer drugs which were not at that stage legal. She administered the drugs.
He asked her then to go home, so she wouldn't be there when he died. She came back the next morning; he had vomited them back up and they had to go through the entire process all over again. It was deeply painful for both of them. This is not a choice that should be faced by people at the end of their lives. All of us should have the autonomy, if we are faced with a terminal illness, to set in place euthanasia, guided by the appropriate safeguards. The repeal of the Andrews bill shouldn't re-enliven the Northern Territory law, as it then was, but the Northern Territory parliament should be required to re-enact a law that contains appropriate safeguards. The Andrews bill must go. The territories must have their democratic rights to debate euthanasia, as the states already can do.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra