Senate debates

Thursday, 24 November 2022


Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022; Second Reading

9:02 am

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

BROCKMAN () (): I rise today to make a short contribution on the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022. Matters of conscience are always those in this chamber where we do hear very heartfelt contributions. Certainly, as I have considered whether or not to speak on this bill, I have read the contributions from colleagues right around the chambers. There is obviously a depth of feeling about this issue that reveals why it is a matter of conscience, and I think it's important that we do put our positions on the record in matters of conscience.

To me, this very much comes down to a question of the structure of our Constitution, the roles and responsibilities of various levels of government and the way in which this parliament should deal with such matters, particularly in relation to the territories. It is important when considering matters—particularly matters of life and death—that we do consider the structure of the Constitution and the responsibilities that that gives to states on the one hand and territories on another.

Territories do fall into a different category in our constitutional arrangements. That is for a very particular reason, and it is something that we in this place cannot, and should not, ignore. When we are considering legislation that involves life or death, states obviously have the capacity to make those decisions under our Constitution, and no-one in this place has tried to alter the arrangements, say, in my home state of Western Australia or in other states around Australia, on issues such as euthanasia. However, with the territories, we are in a different category. Territories are smaller jurisdictions; they send a different number of members to this place, for example. The arrangements are different and are reflected differently.

The Northern Territory considered the matter of statehood at a point in the past and rejected it. There may come a point in the future when statehood is desired by either the Northern Territory or perhaps even the Australian Capital Territory, in which case the pathway would be open to a different set of powers and responsibilities. But in that case—and with all due respect to my friends in Queensland—if statehood were embraced, we would want to see a much more robust, democratic framework. I personally am a believer in two houses of parliament: a lower house and an upper house, like the Senate or the upper houses in most of the other states, which provide the checks and balances. In territory jurisdictions, we do not see the same level of democracy operating.

This is not to take anything away from the self-governing rights of the Northern Territory or the ACT. However, what we have here is a piece of legislation already on the books at Commonwealth level. The history of the bill has been addressed a number of times, and I'm not going to traverse that area again, but we now, in all good conscience, have to make a decision on whether we will change those current arrangements that are in place. In all conscience, and looking at the situation around the world and in Australia where these laws—whether you want to call them euthanasia laws or voluntary assisted dying laws—have been put in place, we cannot guarantee that mistakes are not made. As a parliament and as a chamber, we have to consider that fact in moving to change the current arrangements. That is why I will not be supporting this bill.

9:06 am

Photo of Claire ChandlerClaire Chandler (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

The Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022 presents a difficult and a complex mix of issues, principles and considerations. I've weighed and deeply considered these issues and the competing principles and concerns over the last few months. I do have sympathy for the argument that the citizens of our territories should have the same rights as the citizens of our states in regard to their parliaments being able to make laws in relation to the same issues that state parliaments are able to. I do have sympathy with that. However, there is no escaping the fact that, under our Constitution, the territories are not, in fact, directly equivalent to the states. Self-government is granted to the territories by acts of the federal parliament. That being the case, we in this parliament bear a level of responsibility for the governance of those territories. This is a responsibility that, for the vast majority of matters, we effectively delegate to the elected parliaments of the territories, but it is our responsibility nonetheless.

The responsibility we are asked to discharge in our consideration of this bill—the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022—is a heavy one. The inevitable impact of this bill before us, should it pass the parliament, is that another parliament will enact laws authorising the practice of euthanasia. I recognise that there are many divergent views on the practice of euthanasia and many legitimate concerns regarding its practice. One of those concerns, which is always at the forefront of my mind in the consideration of this issue, is the possibility of the misuse of such a scheme, whether it be by negligence, incompetence, ignorance or, even worse, deliberate ill intent. We here in this place are in a unique and invidious position. We are being asked to pass a law when we know that the effect will be the ending of human lives. Yet, unlike representatives of state parliaments when making the same decision, we here have no ability whatsoever to put in place, or have any oversight of, safeguards to protect citizens from the potential misuse of those laws. We would be, in effect, making a decision that will result in the ending of human lives but washing our hands of any responsibility for the consequences, and I do not find myself able to support any such action in good conscience.

This is, without a doubt, one of the more complex and troubling decisions that I have had to make in my time in the Senate to date, and I do not take it lightly. I've considered the principles behind this bill and weighed the consequences closely. After having done so, I'm not able to vote in the affirmative, so I will be voting against this bill.

9:10 am

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Restoring Territory Rights Bill. Like Senator Chandler and Senator Brockman, I respect and appreciate the heavy burden that is on each of us in making this decision of conscience. This bill does present complex issues because, in being asked to support this bill, we are being asked to differentiate between the way that the states and the territories—the Northern Territory and the ACT—are constituted. This, for me, is a bill that I cannot support. I cannot support this bill because it's deeply offensive to me that one of the principal objectives of this bill is to give the territories the right to pass laws which would end human life. I understand and appreciate that everyone has very deeply felt convictions in relation to this issue.

For me, this is very personal. I lost my mum and my dad, both of whom spent a considerable period of time in palliative care at a young age. I have seen firsthand what families go through as they deal with loved ones reaching their end of life. For me, this bill, because of its inevitable consequence. is a statement that we in Australia are prepared to kill our most vulnerable, sometimes under circumstances when it becomes too difficult or perhaps too expensive or too inconvenient to allow them to live.

I think Senator Chandler has made a very sound point in this debate. We are being asked to pass a law—to change the current arrangements—to, essentially, give the territories the right to pass euthanasia laws, under circumstances where all of us in this place can't even be certain as to the safeguards that would be put in place if such laws were passed. I have consistently argued against euthanasia. For me, this is just inherently wrong. It represents state sanctioned killing, and it is a very poor reflection on a society which cannot look after their most vulnerable, particularly those who have a terminal illness.

A number of years ago, I advocated very strongly for a change in the law which currently allows the vile, evil organisations like Exit International to send suicide kits through the mail. I find it abhorrent that Australia Post and other parcel delivery companies may be unwittingly facilitating the end of someone's life by reason of allowing these kits to be mailed throughout Australia and facilitating mail going in and out of this country. For me, I've been a consistent worrier against the notion that any state should permit the deliberate killing of a life.

There's been a particular concern raised about Indigenous Australians. There are deep concerns in Indigenous communities that should these laws be passed, particularly, of course, in the Northern Territory, that these laws would be used to facilitate the end of the lives of Indigenous Australians. I think this applies across the board to all vulnerable Australians, and, while there may be some who are adamant that they want to end their own life, I also believe that the prospects of misuse of any law, including the laws that have been passed by the states, remain high.

When Victoria passed its voluntary assisted dying laws I described that day as a very black day for Victoria. I hope that we are able to change the law in Victoria. I hope that we as a society are able to drive more investment in palliative care, to respect the dignity of life and to reflect on the fact that even the most vulnerable deserve the dignity of life until the very end of their life.

One of the reasons I fought so hard for Anam Cara hospice, which was proudly supported by our government to the tune of more than $7 million, is because I wanted to make sure that in the Geelong region there would be a place of dignity where people who had a terminal illness would get the greatest possible care in their darkest days.

I'm only going to make a few brief remarks on this bill. Again, I reiterate my deep understanding of the complexity of this bill. I respect the fact that there are many who believe that the Northern Territory and the ACT should have complete autonomy when it comes to passing their own laws. But, at the end of the day, the Commonwealth, by reason of our constitutional arrangements, bears a great deal of responsibility. For that reason, knowing that one of the principle objectives of this bill is to facilitate laws which would lead to voluntary assisted dying or euthanasia being permitted in both the ACT and the Northern Territory, I cannot in all good conscience, from the bottom of my heart, support this bill.

9:18 am

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I oppose this bill because, as the previous speaker has just said, it's about euthanasia and not about states' rights. I oppose the concept of euthanasia because there's nothing more important than the sanctity of life.

I also want to thank my party leader, Pauline Hanson, because she's allowing a conscience vote, and that's the way we deal with things in One Nation. We embrace differences; we don't shut people down.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Roberts, I understand from the table staff that you have already spoken on this bill.

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Not that I recall, but I'll take their word for it.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

It was on 28 September, I understand.

(Quorum formed)

The Deputy:

Does any other honourable member wish to speak on the second reading? I intend to put the question.

The question before the chair is that the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022 be read a second time.