We territorians deserve to have our democratic voices heard - Speech, House of Representatives


House of Representatives, 20 August 2018

I move that this bill be now read a second time.

Twenty-one years ago this parliament restricted the rights of territorians to have their voices heard through their elected representatives on the issue of voluntary assisted dying. Back then, they said that these parliaments were too immature to be given the power of voluntary assisted dying. They said that no state had done it and a territory shouldn't be the first. Today, those arguments are gone. Victoria has now legislated on voluntary assisted dying. The whole notion that there might be some mass migration of Australians towards a territory that was the first to legislate on euthanasia — that argument is out the window.

And parliaments have grown up. Back in 1997, when Kevin Andrews passed his private member's bill, the ACT assembly was just nine years old—just a kid attending primary school. Now it's grown up, left home and shown itself to be a mature debating chamber. Yes, the ACT is a unicameral assembly, but so is Queensland. The ACT has a bigger population than Tasmania. A 30-year-old mature assembly has tackled complicated issues, from light rail to infrastructure investment, from innovation to higher education. This is a parliament that has shown itself to be fit to handle a difficult challenge such as voluntary assisted dying.

Reasonable people can differ on the substantive issue of euthanasia. Indeed, I differ from my own seconder, Luke Gosling, the member for Solomon. But territorians should supporter territory rights. That's what Kate Carnell did in 1997 when she objected to the attempt to strip away democratic rights. It's what Gary Humphries did in 2006, when he crossed the floor on the issue of same-sex marriage. He didn't support the substantive issue, but he supported the territories. It's what Senator Nigel Scullion did when the vote came to the Senate last week. The position of Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, Senator Dave Smith and member for Solomon Luke Gosling, is to have reservations about voluntary euthanasia, but to support territory rights. I can't go without acknowledging my friend and colleague Gai Brodtmann, the member for Canberra, who, like me, supports voluntary euthanasia with appropriate safeguards. We hold this position in common with four out of five Australians, including three out of four Catholics, four out of five Liberals and four out of five Anglicans.

But there is a significant exception to this principle of territorians standing up for territory rights. That's Senator Zed Seselja and the Canberra Liberals led by Alistair Coe. They've taken the approach that they will oppose voluntary assisted dying by any means necessary, even if it means stripping away the rights of the ACT parliament. Their approach is a ‘take your bat and ball and go home’ approach, an approach that says if you don't think you're going to win the substantive argument, then you should shut it down. Shame, Senator Seselja. Shame for not standing up for your representatives. Shame for not standing up for that assembly in which you served and which you strived to be the leader. Shame for not being there when it counted for territorians—territorians who will judge you and will judge your colleagues at the next territory election. The Canberra Liberals, when it counted, went soft on the issue of standing up for territory rights.

In conclusion I want to acknowledge the enormously important work done by former MLA Mary Porter, by ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, by MLA Bec Cody, and in particular MLA Tara Cheyne, who has joined us here in the gallery today: we welcome you to this place. I also want to thank the 34 senators who voted for Senator David Leyonhjelm's private member's bill in the Senate last week. It did not pass, but it came very close and we territorians will keep up the pressure to have our democratic voices heard.

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.