House debates

Monday, 20 August 2018


Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2018; Second Reading

10:34 am

Photo of Andrew LeighAndrew Leigh (Fenner, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Twenty-one years ago this parliament restricted the rights of territorians to have their voices heard through their elected representatives on the issue of voluntary assisted dying. Back then, they said that these parliaments were too immature to be given the power of voluntary assisted dying. They said that no state had done it and a territory shouldn't be the first. Today, those arguments are gone. Victoria has now legislated on voluntary assisted dying. The whole notion that there might be some mass migration of Australians towards a territory that was the first to legislate on euthanasia, that argument is out the window. And parliaments have grown up. Back in 1997, when Kevin Andrews passed his private member's bill, the ACT assembly was just nine years old—just a kid attending primary school. Now it's grown up, left home and shown itself to be a mature debating chamber. Yes, the ACT is a unicameral assembly, but so is Queensland. The ACT has a bigger population than Tasmania. A 30-year-old mature assembly has tackled complicated issues, from light rail to infrastructure investment, from innovation to higher education. This is a parliament that has shown itself to be fit to handle a difficult challenge such as voluntary assisted dying.

Reasonable people can differ on the substantive issue of euthanasia. Indeed, I differ from my own seconder, Luke Gosling, the member for Solomon. But territorians should supporter territory rights. That's what Kate Carnell did in 1997 when she objected to the attempt to strip away democratic rights. It's what Gary Humphries did in 2006, when he crossed the floor on the issue of same-sex marriage. He didn't support the substantive issue, but he supported the territories. It's what Senator Nigel Scullion did when the vote came to the Senate last week. The position of Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, Senator Dave Smith and member for Solomon Luke Gosling, is to have reservations about voluntary euthanasia, but to support territory rights. I can't go without acknowledging my friend and colleague Gai Brodtmann, the member for Canberra, who, like me, supports voluntary euthanasia with appropriate safeguards. We hold this position in common with four out of five Australians, including three out of four Catholics, four out of five Liberals and four out of five Anglicans.

But there is a significant exception to this principle of territorians standing up for territory rights. That's Senator Zed Seselja and the Canberra Liberals led by Alistair Coe. They've taken the approach that they will oppose voluntary assisted dying by any means necessary, even if it means stripping away the rights of the ACT parliament. Their approach is a take your bat and ball and go home approach, an approach that says if you don't think you're going to win the substantive argument, then you should shut it down. Shame, Senator Seselja. Shame for not standing up for your representatives. Shame for not standing up for that assembly in which you served and which you strived to be the leader. Shame for not being there when it counted for territorians—territorians who will judge you and will judge your colleagues at the next territory election. The Canberra Liberals, when it counted, went soft on the issue of standing up for territory rights.

In conclusion I want to acknowledge the enormously important work done by former MLA Mary Porter, by ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, by MLA Bec Cody, and in particular MLA Tara Cheyne, who has joined us here in the gallery today. We welcome you to this place. I also want to thank the 34 senators who voted for Senator David Leyonhjelm's private member's bill in the Senate last week. It did not pass, but it came very close and we territorians will keep up the pressure to have our democratic voices heard.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

10:39 am

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to second the motion. I want to thank my friend and colleague, Andrew Leigh, the member for Fenner, and also my colleagues from the territories, with that one exception that was just outlined by the member for Fenner, which is a great shame because at the end of the day the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2018 is not about euthanasia; it's about the right of the territories—a right that was taken away 21 years ago—to legislate in an area which states can already legislate and in one case have already done so. The result in the Senate entrenches a system that treats Australians who live in territories—territories already underrepresented when compared to other small states—as second-class citizens. In a referendum to change the Constitution, the vote of a territorian is worth less than that of someone living in a state. So this is a bill to correct a wrong, to help correct a system which openly discriminates against territorians.

People living in Canberra, Darwin or anywhere in the territories are just as fit to make decisions for themselves as their counterparts are in Perth or Sydney, Adelaide or anywhere else in our great nation. To quote respected law professor George Williams, 'There is no good reason they are denied the same control over their lives. Their second-class status is an affront to our democracy and an accident of history that should be corrected.' It's now up to the Prime Minister to show whether he cares about territorians. The question is now for the Prime Minister: will he let a vote happen in the lower house? Will he let territorians have their rights restored? I urge him to speak to his cabinet colleague Senator Nigel Scullion about this issue and to listen to the speech given by my friend Senator Malarndirri McCarthy when this issue was debated in the Senate.

If the Prime Minister doesn't allow the bill to come to the House for a debate, what does this say about his view of territorians? Does the Prime Minister view territorians as second-class citizens? What is it about the Turnbull government's collective life experience that makes them think that they are better placed to make decisions for territorians? Are they somehow morally superior to the people of the Northern Territory or the ACT? Let's remember that this bill does not re-enact euthanasia in the NT or the ACT; it simply allows people who live in Australian territories the same rights as 24 million other Australians who live in the states: to legislate for ourselves. I have placed on the record my own reservations about euthanasia, but this bill isn't about what I think or what the Prime Minister thinks; it's about the rights of territorians and listening to what they have to say. This bill is about having a debate in the House about whether the territories should have the right to be on equal footing with the states. So let's have the debate. Let's see where the numbers stand. I urge the Prime Minister and I urge the House to support territorians and bring this bill to a debate.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of debate will be made an order of the day for the next day of sitting.