Federal and local politicians have once more called on the government to restore Territory rights to vote on euthanasia, following the legislation of voluntary assisted dying in Tasmania this week. The Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 (the ‘Andrews Bill’) prevents the ACT, the Northern Territory, and Norfolk Island from passing laws permitting euthanasia.
Labor MP Dr Andrew Leigh believes these laws should be amended, so Territorians can determine their own laws on euthanasia.
“It’s time for the Andrews Bill to go,” Dr Leigh said. “It’s time to restore democratic freedoms to the ACT.”
Labor MLA Tara Cheyne was appointed Human Rights Minister last year, charged with advocating for the right to determine laws on voluntary assisted dying. She called the Tasmanian decision “another stark reminder that the ACT and Northern Territory cannot even debate legalising voluntary assisted dying in our parliaments”.
Voluntary assisted dying is already legal in Victoria and Western Australia; Queensland could legalise it later this year; and NSW and South Australia, which once opposed it, will debate it this year.
The Northern Territory had legalised euthanasia in 1995, by the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995. The 1997 Andrews Bill amended the ACT (Self-Government) Act 1988 and the NT (Self-Government) Act 1978, repealing the NT euthanasia act.
“We are now at a stage where three out of six states have passed voluntary assisted dying laws, and yet the territories are even forbidden from even debating the topic,” Dr Leigh said. “This makes no sense whatsoever.”
In 2018, he and Luke Gosling OAM MP, Labor member for Solomon (NT), introduced a parliamentary bill to repeal the Andrews Bill.
“The government would not bring it on for debate,” Dr Leigh said. “They are scared of Australian public opinion. They know that Australian public opinion is strongly favour of euthanasia and is strongly in favour of territories having the right to debate this issue in the manner in which states have done so already.”
Dr Leigh pointed to a Vote Compass survey in 2019 which found that 87% supported the statement ‘terminally ill patients should be able to end their own lives, with medical assistance’, up from 75% in 2013.
Support for voluntary assisted dying included 94% of Australian Greens voters, 90% of Australian Labor Party voters, 79% of Liberal-National Coalition voters, 84% of One Nation voters; and 95% of people with no religion, 78% of Protestants, 77% of Catholics, and 71% of people with another religion.
Switzerland, Belgium, and the Netherlands have legalised voluntary assisted dying, and a handful of US states have enacted it.
“ACT and NT residents deserve the same chance as citizens in the states to have our say on this important issue, too,” Ms Cheyne said. “But federal legislation continues to ban our parliaments from doing so.
“The ACT Government urges the Federal Government to restore our Territory rights – and end this needless, senseless treatment of citizens within its own country as second-class.”
Last month, Elizabeth Lee, leader of the Canberra Liberals, said her party supported the ACT Legislative Assembly being given the power to legislate on this issue, but would continue to treat euthanasia as a conscience issue. Liberal Senator for the ACT Zed Seselja has said he was open to discussing territory rights, but not if put in the context of a conscience vote on euthanasia.
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