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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 3478

Senator CROSSIN (11:09 AM) —As the Chair of the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs I present the report of the committee on the Rights of the Terminally Ill (Euthanasia Laws Repeal) Bill 2008 together with the Hansard record of proceedings and documents presented to the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator CROSSIN —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

On behalf of the members of my committee I present this report on the Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill. Firstly, you will notice from the outset that there is not a majority or minority report providing comments from the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee to this report. Why is that? That is for a number of reasons. We did that because, in presenting this report, it would have been much more balanced to have provided and reflected on the views of the members of the committee rather than seek to have a majority or a minority view. So the report is structured in a way that we have made comments on legality and on the terms and clauses in the bill. We have chapters for and against the issue of euthanasia and a chapter that is simply titled ‘Statements and summaries of views of members of the committee’. I want to put on record my view about this legislation in relation to this report as chair of the committee, and my views are supported by Senator Kirk and Senator Marshall.

From my point of view, the legislation that was produced by Senator Brown went to two issues. The first issue for me was whether or not the territories, and in particular the Northern Territory, should have the right to legislate in every area but particularly, of course, in the area of euthanasia laws. The second issue, which people on the committee and certainly a number of submissions concentrated on, was whether or not there should be euthanasia in this country at all, let alone in the Northern Territory. During the inquiry I found myself focused not so much on what sort of legislation a territory government would introduce on any subject, but on whether or not a territory should have the right to do it. It is true that under section 122 of the Constitution, the Commonwealth has the power to make laws for the government of any territory. In the last 12 months we have seen that occur a number of times in relation to this parliament. But back in 1995 when the then Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, led by the Hon. Marshall Peron, put through laws in relation to euthanasia, their ability to be able to do so was tested. Those laws were passed and, as I said, their ability to do that was challenged.

In the Northern Territory Supreme Court in 1996 a majority of the full bench of the Supreme Court upheld that the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly did in fact have the power and that the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act was a valid law of the Northern Territory. An appeal was lodged in the High Court, but it was not heard and did not come to fruition because Kevin Andrews introduced the Euthanasia Laws Bill in 1996.

During the inquiry we heard that the Territory was not mature enough to determine its own destiny. A number of very significant national lobby groups argued that, because the Territory had a population of fewer than 250,000 people, a legislature of only 25 and no upper house, we had no capacity to make laws on such a significant matter as euthanasia. I totally reject that argument. We have the capacity to make laws in every manner available to us under the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act. If you look at the conscious, emotive issues of life and death, the Northern Territory does have laws in relation to abortion. For me it is inconsistent to think that we should not also be able to have laws in respect of euthanasia. We have laws in relation to assisting people who are terminally ill and in relation to abortion so, for me, it does not equate that we would not have the maturity to deal with laws in relation to euthanasia. I totally reject that argument. I believe that the rigorous processes of the parliament in the Northern Territory are as rigorous as anywhere else. The deliberations of the members of the Legislative Assembly are as serious and as complete as anywhere else, and we do have the maturity to pass laws in this regard. (Extension of time granted) Therefore I have come to the conclusion that Senator Brown’s bill should proceed but in an amended form. It should be amended to give back to the Northern Territory the power to create laws in relation to euthanasia; however, as it has been 13 years since the Rights of the Terminally Ill Bill was passed, I uphold the view of the Northern Territory government that Bob Brown’s bill should be amended to not re-enact the Rights of the Terminally Ill legislation. Therefore, what we should see is the Territory being given back its powers and then determining its destiny on the issue of euthanasia.

In summing up, the one way to solve this problem about the Commonwealth’s obsession with overriding Territory laws when it believes it ought to and not when it is good policy is to consider in this house of parliament a bill that would give statehood to the Northern Territory. In that respect I totally support the Northern Territory government’s submission on this bill, and my comments as chair reflect that.