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Thursday, 26 June 2008
Page: 3483


Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (11:30 AM) —I will be proceeding with the Rights of the Terminally Ill (Euthanasia Laws Repeal) Bill 2008, but it will be in the form of restoring the rights of the territories, if it were to pass both houses of parliament—and I am confident that it will pass both houses of parliament. I thank Senator Crossin, all members of the committee and all people who have helped with it, including those who have made submissions. The committee has cleared doubts about the way in which the bill should proceed, and that is the function of a committee. It shows the Senate working well, and I will move to progress the bill, adopting the recommendations that Senator Crossin has put forward. They are, effectively, to restore the rights of the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory to legislate for death with dignity, because the peoples of those territories and their elected representatives ought not to have had that right taken away from them—it should be restored.

The legal evidence to the committee, including that from the Northern Territory Law Reform Commission, was that had the bill proceeded as I had brought it to the Senate, it may, in fact, have entrenched the euthanasia laws in the Northern Territory, without the assembly having the ability to rescind it. My primary intention here is to give the territory the right to make the determination either way, and the same for the Australian Capital Territory. I will amend the bill accordingly, if the Senate permits, and it will proceed to be debated in the Senate and the House of Representatives in the coming months.

There is a lot of structured confusion about the content of the legislation—euthanasia and the rights of territories to legislate, which is the primary intent of the bill. I want to talk about that for a moment. Senator Barnett and his fellow Liberals said that the bill should not proceed under any circumstances. What an extraordinary statement; that the Senate should not have a discussion about the rights of territories, let alone euthanasia. What an extraordinary prospect, coming from those three senators, that this Senate should be not be debating any matter brought before it by a senator, or any piece of legislation. That needs to be treated with the contempt that it deserves.

The proposal from Family First went one step further, and I note Senator Fielding is going to speak next. It took up with the Australian Christian Lobby, which is not related to any church but has that name. It said that the territories, which represent relatively small numbers of people, should not pass laws on such contentious issues as euthanasia. Really? When you look at the argument that is brought forward, Family First believes the Australian parliament does have a legitimate role in overturning the Northern Territory’s euthanasia laws and in preventing the territories from making laws on euthanasia. Of course, the logic is that it has a legitimate role in reversing that. But we get a denial on that matter from the four senators who have a different position.

The argument is that the Senate or the parliament should not force the availability of legal euthanasia on all Australians; it should not force options. What an extraordinarily dictatorial, antipublic point of view this is. Let me, again, make this very clear: this bill will proceed. I will move it to be amended according to the chair’s suggestion so that we can debate in this parliament the rights of the territories to legislate in this matter. Separately, I also intend to look at the matter that Senator Bartlett is talking about—that is, the wherewithal of the Commonwealth vis-a-vis the states and territories to legislate for the option of euthanasia to be brought to the Australian people. The last poll showed that Australians want the right to have the option of death with dignity by 80 per cent to 14 per cent. Senator Bartlett said that all Australians deserve dignity, but then inherently says that he withdraws that right of Australians when it comes to their dying process.

Like the Netherlands, like Belgium, like Oregon and, indeed, like the Northern Territory back in 1995, that is an option that ought to be available to Australians. It is inevitable. There is legislation before the Victorian parliament at the moment that has great legitimacy. The Australian people want this, but here we have senators saying that it should not even be debated in this parliament. It shows timidity, a failure of logic, and an insecurity in the ability to be able to argue both the matters of territory rights and euthanasia in this great parliament. That is the role of this great parliament, and this bill will proceed to be debated in this place and, hopefully, in the House of Representatives.