Liberal Democratic Party Senator, David Leyonhjelm, passed a motion on 27 June 2018 to proceed with his private member’s bill, Restoring Territory Rights (Assisted Suicide Legislation) Bill. Debate in the Senate is expected from 14 to 16 August.
If passed, the Bill will NOT revive the Northern Territory’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 but will allow the Northern Territory (NT) and Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Parliaments to again pass voluntary assisted dying laws, if they wish.
(See below for a summary of the history of voluntary assisted dying law in the NT.)
Restoring Territory Rights (Assisted Suicide Legislation) Bill has the backing of Labor, the Greens and crossbenchers, including Pauline Hanson, Derryn Hinch, Brian Burston and Tim Storer. Malcolm Turnbull has given a private assurance that Coalition MPs will be allowed a free vote on the Bill.
The current Federal law discriminates against Australians on the ground of geography. Both the NT and the ACT have been unable to seriously debate end-of-life options since 1997.
On 1 July 2018 the people of the NT celebrated 40 years of self-government on ‘Territory Day’. However, the 660,000 Territorians who happen to currently reside in the Territories cannot elect MP’s who have the same powers to legislate on end-of-life issues as the citizens of Australian States. The issue really is one of Australians being treated equally. Leyonhjelm’s private member’s bill is an opportunity to change this.
ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay told the ACT End-of-life Choice Parliamentary Inquiry hearing on 12 July that while their government had not actively considered legalising voluntary assisted dying, however, he told them that “For that right to be denied to the ACT citizens speaks of two classes of Australian citizens when it comes to democracy, two classes of jurisdictions, two classes of governments. All 400,000 citizens of the ACT are affected by this because our society is treated by the Commonwealth parliament as a second level jurisdiction and that impacts on the way that all of us live.” – see The Canberra Times article ‘ACT wouldn’t rush through euthanasia laws, if Andrews Bill scrapped‘ 12 July 2018 for more.
History of voluntary assisted dying law in the Northern Territory
The NT was the first jurisdiction in the world to explicitly legalise voluntary assisted dying (VAD). The Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 (NT) entered into law on 1 July 1996. During the following nine months, four terminally ill people used the provisions of this law to have a medically assisted death.
In 1996 a private members bill, The Euthanasia Laws Bill, sponsored by Liberal MP Kevin Andrews and known as The Andrews Bill, was narrowly passed by Federal Parliament. This law had the effect of changing the NT’s Constitution (The Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978) to strip the NT Parliament of its ability to pass any laws permitting VAD. The Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 then extended the restriction to the ACT and Norfolk Island.
The drivers of The Andrews Bill were a group of hard core religious politicians who were appalled that the NT had dared to become the only place in the world where VAD was legalised. Twelve jurisdictions around the world have since legislated for VAD, including Victoria. Not one of the 218 federal politicians (across both Houses of Parliament) who voted for The Andrews Bill in 1997 were electorally responsible to Territorians. They were safe from electoral backlash in their position.