Religious conservatives have long used federal laws to prevent members of parliament, representing 700,000 citizens living in the ACT and Northern Territory (NT), from passing voluntary assisted dying (VAD) laws their constituents have long sought.
The NT first legislated VAD in 1995, but it was overturned by a private members bill from conservative backbencher Kevin Andrews.
A bill to overturn the 25-year ban on the ACT and the NT legislating VAD was introduced into parliament on August 1 by Labor MPs Alicia Payne from Canberra and Luke Gosling from Darwin. It passed the House of Representatives 99 to 37 on August 3 and now heads to the Senate.
The federal Labor government will give its MPs a conscience vote, as well the Liberal-National parties. But with the most diverse cross-bench in Australia’s history, conditions are favourable for the territories’ rights to be restored.
Vice President of Dying With Dignity (DWD) NSW Shayne Higson, told Green Left that she is optimistic about the territories’ laws changing. “We are pleased that the new Labor government has indicated that this can be dealt with in the near future and we are confident that a majority of MPs will support Territorians’ rights.”
However, after the long and bruising state campaigns for VAD, most recently in NSW, advocacy organisations such as Go Gentle Australia and DWD are taking nothing for granted.
“Dying with dignity organisations around the country are calling on their supporters to encourage their federal MPs to support proposed legislation that would restore the Territories’ right to debate and hopefully pass voluntary assisted dying laws,” Higson said.
The long fight for the restoration of Territory rights enjoys significant support in the 47th Parliament.
Independent senator David Pocock promised that, if elected, he would make the right for Territorians to legislate VAD a priority.
Other cross benchers indicating their support include the Jacque Lambie Network, Pauline Hanson and Andrew Bragg.
President of DWD NSW Penny Hackett said in a recent email to supporters: “Now that VAD laws have been passed in every state, we simply must make sure that Territorians are not denied access to this safe and compassionate law.”
If Territory rights are restored, the ACT and NT will be able to debate their own VAD laws.