Voluntary Euthanasia: New Push to Allow NT and ACT to Legislate Voluntary Euthanasia

Two Australian territories may regain the right to legislate on voluntary death assistance as debate begins this week to lift the 25-year ban.

On Monday, Labor Party supporters Luke Gosling and Alicia Payne will introduce a Private Members Bill to repeal the Howard-era law.

If successful, the bill would repeal the Euthanasia Laws Act of 1997, which prohibited territories from enacting voluntary death assistance laws after North Carolina became the first jurisdiction in the world to sign it in 1995.

But over the past two decades, every state has passed a law allowing terminally ill adults to choose when they die.

Mr Gosling, though personally opposed to euthanasia, told Parliament he speaks on behalf of the “overwhelming majority” of people in the territories who want the “long overdue” legislation passed.

“For too long, Australians living in the territories have been treated like second-class citizens when it comes to passing laws on matters that affect their own lives,” he said in the lower house.

The NT MP made an impassioned plea to his colleagues that it was not the responsibility of the federal government to legislate on this issue, and pleaded with MPs not to consider this a “proxy vote for or against voluntary death assistance.”

“It’s not our responsibility. That responsibility lies with the NT and ACT legislators if they decide to develop a bill on this issue,” he said.

Ms. Payne acknowledged the work of MPs and senators before her who had previously tried to lift the ban.

“For Canberrans and residents of the Northern Territories, this is urgent. This is an incredibly important debate that we are not allowed to simply because of where we live,” she said.

“I urge my colleagues to support this, let it be the time that we correct this historic mistake.”

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr was in the public gallery when the bill was introduced. He later told reporters that it was a “simple proposal” to consider.

“All this great democratic tradition of active Australian parliamentary debate will take place in the ACT Legislative Assembly and I am sure in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly as well as in six states. Basically, it’s equality,” he said.

Last week, the Labor caucus agreed to give MPs the right to vote on this issue.

It is clear that the bill must be passed by the House of Representatives, and the vote is expected this week. But the number in the Senate will make it much more difficult to pass the bill.

Tasmanian senators Jacqui Lambie and Tammy Tyrell supported the demand for territorial rights. The bill is also expected to be supported by the Greens, whose number in the Senate jumped to 12 after the election.

He will also be backed by Senator David Pocock, who has campaigned extensively for the ACT to have the power to legislate for voluntary euthanasia.

Parliament was last asked to vote on the territory’s rights in 2018. Several Labor senators voted against the bill, including Patrick Dodson, Don Farrell, Deb O’Neill and Helen Polley.

Responding to a question about Labor senators being able to quell an onslaught from their peers, Gosling said it would be “very frustrating” but ultimately the vote is up to each individual.

“We will continue to be ready to talk to all senators on this issue, so hopefully they will come to the same conclusion as we did,” he said.

Coalition Senator Jacinta Price is the only North Carolina representative to oppose the bill.

Mr. Gosling said he wrote to her in the hope that deputies and senators could present a united front.

“It would be great if all the territorial senators and members of the House of Representatives united on this issue, and I believe that there is an opportunity for this, but also I will not and never will speak on behalf of another federal representative.”

Originally published as One group of Australians are being treated like ‘second-class citizens’