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Monday, 5 September 2022
Page: 641


Senator WALSH (Victoria) (11:09): I rise to speak on the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022. First, let me be clear that this is not a debate about voluntary assisted dying, because this is not a bill to legislate voluntary assisted dying and nor should it be. This bill is about restoring the democratic rights of territory residents: the right to self-government and the right to debate and consider their own laws on this matter in the same way that residents of every state have done. It should not be we in this chamber who take those decisions on behalf of territorians, and it's time for Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory residents to be treated equally with their state counterparts.

Twenty-five years ago, the Howard government passed the Andrews bill, which significantly restricted the democratic rights of residents in the ACT and Northern Territory. The bill overturned the Northern Territory parliament's decision in 1995 to become the first jurisdiction in the world to legislate voluntary assisted dying. This decision had been debated by residents of the Northern Territory and, ultimately, had been decided by those residents through their elected representatives. It was a democratic process that was unfairly ignored by the federal parliament at the time. The Andrews bill limited the lawmaking powers of the territory parliaments. It removed their ability to even consider laws related to voluntary assisted dying.

This bill will return those powers to these jurisdictions, giving the territories back their democratic right to debate these laws. It is absurd that the lawmaking powers of these jurisdictions have been restricted by this very parliament when the same is just not true for the states. The elected representatives of these territories should have the right to debate the same laws that a state parliament can, and the residents of these territories deserve the chance to have their voices heard in these debates. That's what this is really about.

My home state of Victoria was the first to introduce voluntary assisted dying laws to the parliament in 2017. As my friend the Hon. Jill Hennessy said in her parliamentary speech: 'The laws are uniquely Victorian and have been developed recognising the diversity of Victorians.' This was only true because Victorian residents and their representatives had the right to participate in a debate; they had the right to participate in the discussion. They had the right to share their stories and help shape the laws that would impact their own lives, making sure that Victorian laws reflected the stories and the experiences of Victorians—Victorians like Amanda, who bravely shared her story about her father's struggle with myelofibrosis. At the time, Amanda shared how, after several years, her father's entire body was shutting down and the medication he used to slow the passage of his illness no longer worked. There was nothing left that the medical professionals could do to ease his pain and his suffering. In the end, Robin took his own life, alone. And there are the stories of Victorians like Greg, who shared his story of living with HIV and watching his life partner die in the end stages of that same disease. He spoke of the pain of nursing his partner and the fear for his own future.

Amanda and Greg had the courage to share their stories and those of their loved ones in the debate about voluntary assisted dying in Victoria. Territorians should simply have that same right to share their own stories, to have their voices heard, to meet with their parliamentarians and tell them what they think, and just to have their say. For Amanda and Greg, once the debate had concluded and the law had been voted on, they were secure in the knowledge that their voices could not be shut down by the federal parliament: that Victorian stories would shape the Victorian laws about voluntary assisted dying. These laws in Victoria and in every other state allow people to make what is, of course, a deeply personal choice to relieve their suffering and die with dignity. Every death is a tragic loss, and in this parliament we should respect that the laws that give this deeply personal choice to so many people must be decided by the residents of each state and territory, not by us here in this place. I want to acknowledge Dying With Dignity Victoria for their participation in the community discussion towards the Victorian legislation. In particular, I thank Vice President Jane Morris for speaking with me about the bill before the chamber today.

I want to repeat that this bill does not seek to legislate voluntary assisted dying for the territories. It seeks only to restore the voices of Australians living in these places, giving back to the people—people just like Amanda and Greg—their right to contribute to the laws which affect them. Every single state in this country has had the opportunity to debate voluntary assisted dying laws without the interference of this parliament, and we need to return the right for the ACT and Northern Territory to do the same. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.