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Wednesday, 15 August 2018
Page: 4957

Senator MARTIN (Tasmania) (18:33): I rise today to put on record my position on the Restoring Territory Rights (Assisted Suicide Legislation) Bill 2015, introduced by Senator Leyonhjelm. This bill is one of the most important. It quite literally deals with the prospect of life and death. This is not an issue that I or honourable senators can take lightly. Regardless of one's philosophical and emotional views on this issue, such significant changes must be considered with the wellbeing of territorians foremost in our minds. For the record, I am a supporter of an individual's right, when facing the prospect of long and painful suffering with no hope of recovery, to have the ability to choose to end their own lives.

But, like many issues that come before us as parliamentarians, this issue is not black and white. I cannot simply impose my beliefs about voluntary euthanasia on this matter when asked whether or not to support this bill. I would like to recognise the work of former Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, Mr Marshall Perron, in passing Australia's first euthanasia laws some 22 years ago. This was our country's first attempt at giving the terminally ill the option of making an informed decision to end their own lives. However, within two years this legislation became invalid after the passing of the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 by this parliament to amend the Northern Territory's and Australian Capital Territory's self-governing acts to remove those territories' ability to legislate in this area. It is this change, made over two decades ago, that we are now essentially being asked to overturn.

I have sat and listened carefully to the contribution of honourable senators to this bill. I have also watched with great interest the public contributions of the Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, the Hon. Michael Gunner MLA; and the Chief Minister of the ACT, Mr Andrew Barr MLA. They have framed this argument around this debate to be one of the legislative rights of the territories. In fact, thousands of dollars of territorian taxpayers' money was spent by their respective governments on taking out full-page adverts in The Australian to put forward their case. However, I strongly hold the view that such arguments overtook the core function of this bill. The fact is that, if this bill were to pass the Senate and the other place, it would enable territorian parliaments to legislate once again in the area of voluntary euthanasia, and legislate they would. Whilst I acknowledge the passionate contributions of territory senators in this place, particularly that of my Nationals Senate leader, Senator Scullion, this is where my greatest concern with this bill begins.

Whilst considering this bill, I reflected on the debates on this matter in 1996 and, in particular, I reflected on the second reading contribution of the honourable member for Menzies in another place, where he said:

It is not a debate about territory rights;

It is not about the separation of church and state;

It is not about regulating current practice; and

It is not a simple issue of personal autonomy.

I believe that these words of the honourable member for Menzies in the other place are just as applicable to this debate as they were two decades ago.

I would like to place on the record my recognition of Australian territories' rights to make laws for those Australians who call these unique parts of our nation home. However, I cannot in good conscience offer my support to this bill, which will provide the territories the ability to legislate in the area of voluntary euthanasia—certainly not without ensuring that appropriate safeguards are put in place, because the fact is there are no second chances for us as legislators if we get this wrong.

It is a matter of public record that the original Rights of the Terminally Ill Act of the Northern Territory, passed by the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory in 1995, was carried by just a handful of votes in a unicameral parliament, unlike the parliaments of other jurisdictions, with the exception of Queensland, who themselves have instituted a comprehensive committee system. The territories do not have a house of review. There are no other legislators to provide sober reflection on such complex matters, which are literally ones of life and death. The decisions on these matters are left in the hands of just 25 members in a chamber which maintains a government majority. Whilst I do not wish to cast aspersions in any way on the competencies or efforts of the hardworking members of our territory parliaments, I firmly believe that such a final matter should be canvassed by a group of concerned citizens in greater numbers and be subject to substantially more legislative scrutiny. This just further adds to my concerns that the safeguards, as well as the processes, which will determine if and how an individual can choose to end their life, are simply insufficient.

I conclude by saying that, as legislators, we cannot create laws that will cover every aspect of someone's life. We can only put into place laws that, to the best of our knowledge, with consultation and experience, will not only provide freedom of choice but also adequately protect people. Given those concerns, I will not be supporting this bill, and encourage honourable senators to do the same. Thank you.