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Friday, December 1, 2023

Liberal senator’s NT and ACT euthanasia rights push stalled

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A contentious bill to give territories the right to legislate on voluntary euthanasia has been brought before the Senate after a rare move from Labor to give up a debating spot to a coalition senator.

Northern Territory Senator Sam McMahon moved a bill to overturn the legislation passed by the Howard Government in 1997 which overrode territory laws.

McMahon said the territories were capable of making their own laws and governing their own people.

“How can you expect someone who lives in Melbourne, Sydney or Canberra to know what is best for those people?” she asked the Senate on Monday. 

The NT passed world-first laws on voluntary assisted dying in 1995, under which four people undertook the procedure before the Commonwealth stepped in.

“I understand that people (in parliament) went, ‘well, clearly they are all mad, they cannot make decisions for themselves … so we are going to step in and look after those poor people in the Northern Territory’,” McMahon said.

“But that was 25 years ago and time has moved on and the world has moved on.

“It is time for the Commonwealth to get out of the way of the territories. Territorians don’t want, and certainty don’t need, voluntary assisted decision making.”

McMahon’s bill only covers the NT but Labor had planned to move amendments to include the ACT, a move supported by the senator.

ACT Labor Senator Katy Gallagher said the prohibition was “a discriminatory regime … (and) fundamentally unfair”.

The former ACT chief minister said Labor was happy to forego a timeslot to move private bills and give Senator McMahon the floor for such an important issue.

The Federal Government previously snubbed the outgoing senator to move debate on her legislation, choosing to instead bring on for debate a One Nation proposal to overturn vaccine mandates.

“It is outrageous that (this law) has remained on the statute book for a quarter century,” Gallagher said.

ACT Liberal senator Zed Seselja, who is opposed to voluntary assisted dying, spoke against the bill, saying it would lead to extreme euthanasia laws.

Seselja said the fact the ACT does not have an upper house to conduct checks and balances means there would be less scrutiny on any legislation.

“The only check on territory power is this Commonwealth parliament,” he said. 

Both territories have unicameral parliaments, as does Queensland, which has legalised the procedure.

Every other state has passed voluntary assisted dying laws, except for NSW, where a bill recently passed the lower house.

Seselja also took aim at underfunding in the ACT’s health system.

Greens senator Larissa Waters claimed the Government’s opposition to having the bill voted on, after it put up roadblocks to having it debate, was a political decision to avoid another vote loss in parliament.

“It is about the prime minister not ending up with egg on his face after losing a vote in the (lower) house last week,” she said.

Debate was interrupted due to time constraints.

It is likely the bill would have passed if put to a conscience vote with the support of McMahon, Labor, Greens and crossbench senators.

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