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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1240

Senator GALLAGHER (Australian Capital TerritoryManager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (16:42): I rise to speak in support of the Restoring Territory Rights (Assisted Suicide Legislation) Bill 2015, and I do so in my role as an ACT senator as well as a former chief minister of the ACT. At the outset I would like to make it clear that my support for this bill relates to my concern at the level of interference the so-called Andrews bill represents as to the appropriate level of responsibility that should be afforded by territories in relation to their capacity to legislate on behalf of their constituents. I do not want to canvass any moral, philosophical, ethical or social issues regarding the rights of the terminally ill, as I believe that these issues, while of high importance, are not the focus or the intent of the bill before us today. But I should put on the record that I am supportive of the rights of those individuals to die with dignity.

I believe the appropriate focus of the debate on the bill is and must be the restoration of the democratic rights of the territories to pass laws in the best interests of their citizens, which were trammelled so thoroughly in 1997 when the Andrews bill, or the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, was passed by the federal parliament. It has been 20 years now since this legislation was passed. Both territory parliaments legislate as mature jurisdictions in our nation. There are some 630,000 people who live in the ACT and the Northern Territory, and their governments are responsible for running hospitals, schools, child protection, jails—multimillion-dollar economies. Much is made of the promise of the development of the Northern Territory and the knowledge economy of the ACT. But at the moment both jurisdictions are barred from debating or legislating for the rights of the terminally ill. That is wrong, in my view, and it is timely that we revisit this, which is allowed through this legislation. We have now had the opportunity to reflect, with the benefit of 20 years hindsight, on what has changed in relation to our view of the democratic rights of the territories and, hopefully, have come to a view that it is time to remove the constraint, embedded in the Andrews bill, on the right to debate and legislate on an equal basis with the states about euthanasia.

In turning to my comments on the bill itself, I would like to put on the record my appreciation for Senator Leyonhjelm in bringing this bill to the Senate and for his initiative, which gives us the opportunity for our actions to match our words in support of parliamentary democracy. As for the detail of the bill, it reduces the extent of Commonwealth interference with the laws of the ACT and the Northern Territory; it contributes to competitive federalism by encouraging states and territories to legislate, refine and improve law-making; it recognises the right of the ACT and the Northern Territory to legislate on euthanasia in their respective jurisdictions; and, finally, it allows the Northern Territory parliament to revisit, at a time of its own choosing, new legislation which addresses in a similar vein the rights of the terminally ill as originally contemplated in the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act.

But let's be clear: this bill is about restoring democratic rights to the ACT and Northern Territory to legislate in relation to euthanasia on their terms, in their words and on behalf of their citizens, if they choose to do so. It does not compel these parliaments to legislate; it merely restores their right to do so. It is up to them to legislate, not the federal parliament on their behalf. In supporting this bill, I am merely recognising that these two jurisdictions should and must have the right to legislate on their own behalf. I would like to challenge senators who believe that this legislation should be opposed because it could lead to either or both territories legislating to allow euthanasia to stop and consider what I believe is the overriding argument in favour of supporting this bill. The people of the Northern Territory and the ACT should have the same rights as every other Australian citizen, whether they live in Alice Springs or Tuggeranong, or in Sydney, Melbourne or Adelaide. I would suggest, if you vote against this bill, that you are in effect saying to all territorians, whether they are an SES officer in Forrest or a stockman in Katherine, that they are second-class citizens in your view, that the federal parliament wants to continue to treat them in a paternalistic way, that they are not full citizens and that we know best what to let them and their elected representatives do in regard to the rights of the terminally ill.

As a proud Canberran and a former Chief Minister of the ACT, I will always stand up for Canberra, unlike the other senator, Senator Seselja, who this morning voted to remove jobs from Canberra. That is not something I will ever do, and I will always stand in this place to support the rights of the people of the ACT.