Aaron Bunch Journalist with Australian Associated Press | Collection of published work | + 61 484 008 119 | abunch@aap.com.au

Aaron Bunch
NT and ACT join forces over euthanasia law

The Northern Territory and ACT have upped the pressure on the federal government over a law banning the territories from passing legislation on assisted dying.

March 4, 2021

The Northern Territory and ACT are again calling on the federal government to restore their right to make voluntary euthanasia laws.

NT Attorney-General Selena Uibo and the ACT’s Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne jointly wrote to the federal Attorney-General Christian Porter, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack and Assistant Regional Development and Territories Minister Nola Marino.

They want Liberal MP Kevin Andrews’ 1996 bill banning both territories from passing legislation on voluntary euthanasia to be overturned, saying it conflicts with Australia’s human rights obligations.

“We have emphasised our ongoing concerns about the stark inequity between states and territories regarding voluntary assisted dying,” Ms Cheyne said on Thursday.

All the states have either passed legislation relating to voluntary assisted dying or have a bill before their parliament but the territories are unable to consider such legislation.

NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner said repealing the federal law and restoring the territories’ ability to make their own decisions about important issues needn’t be controversial.

“More than 20 years ago Territorians had some of their democratic rights taken away from them because of some bloke from Melbourne who thought he was better than us,” he said.

“Now that bloke has been dumped by his own party, and the offensive law that he passed should be dumped as well.”

Mr Andrews recently lost Liberal party preselection to stand again for his Victorian seat of Menzies at the next federal election.

Mr Gunner said NT and ACT residents were being treated like second-class citizens.

“The rest of the country isn’t better than us. They shouldn’t get to tell us what laws we can and can’t pass,” he said.

Ms Cheyne said the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights guaranteed Australian citizens the right to take part in public affairs directly or through freely chosen representatives.

“Individuals are entitled to enjoy their human rights without distinction or discrimination of any kind,” she said.

But people in the ACT and NT are being denied their right to participate because they’re residents of a territory.

“We are asking that the federal government finally show leadership on this issue and restore our territory rights,” she said.

The NT in 1995 was the first jurisdiction in the world to pass laws allowing a doctor to end the life of a terminally ill patient at the patient’s request.

The legislation permitted both physician-assisted suicide and active voluntary euthanasia in some circumstances with strict conditions.

This caused a furore nationally and internationally, generating extensive criticism and extensive support from politicians, health care professionals, religious groups, ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ pressure groups, academics, the media and members of the general public.

Mr Andrews’ Private Member’s Bill effectively quashed the NT law, which the Commonwealth has the power to do under the constitution.

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