Thursday, 24 November 2022
Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022; In Committee
I do want to make a contribution. This is a significant issue. I want to start by commending all senators for their conduct in this debate. It is so important to so many people on all sides of the debate. I have not witnessed anything that could be described as anything other than respectful.
I outlined my views on the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022 during the second reading debate. I want to also indicate that there were a couple of amendments to this bill in the process of being drafted which haven't been completed. If we proceed to conclude the debate on this bill today there will be no opportunity for those amendments to be considered, so I'm hopeful that we are able to—I'm not seeking to delay the completion of this bill beyond the end of this sitting period. I would like for the committee to be able to consider amendments, once their drafting is completed, as part of the debate on this bill.
That is the reason I've asked for this to come into committee. The amendments are not ready at this stage, but we won't have another opportunity to consider them. No-one here has yet been able to contemplate what they are. I don't have my head fully around the technical nature of a couple of the things that would be contemplated in these amendments. I'm not seeking to detain this. I'm not seeking to prevent this from progressing to its conclusion and enabling laws to be passed by this parliament. That is not my intention at all.
That is the reason I'm seeking a committee stage on this bill. I'd also like to seek an indication from the proponent of this bill on whether that would be acceptable—it being a government bill, or at least a bill moved by the Manager of Government Business—to supporters of the bill. Would we be able, at some point in this sitting fortnight, to contemplate those amendments when they are completed?
I'll clarify. I just outlined for the chamber that the reason I've called a committee is because there are amendments that have not yet been drafted. It would be great if we were able to contemplate those amendments in this sitting fortnight. If we complete debate today, at or before we finish private senators' time, then we won't be able to contemplate them. I'm seeking the guidance of the Chair—
Originally it was listed for next week, and that was what we were working towards. I'm not seeking to derail this at all. In good faith, this is not an attack or anything or anyone. This is an important issue for many. I am seeking to give voice to some concerns that have been raised. I'm not seeking to do anything other than that. I hear many in this place talk about the importance of debate—
I hear many in this place talk about the importance of debate, and I don't know why Senator Steele-John thinks this is funny. I'm being serious here and in good faith I'm making a request of the mover of the bill. Minister, I put it to you to see whether that is acceptable.
Can I say in response to what has just happened, this is a historic moment for the territories. This has been something that I've been fighting for for over a decade, including when I was Chief Minister of the ACT. The Senate has just expressed its will with a vote of 41 to 25 in favour of the territories having rights restored that were taken away from them in 1997. I want to mark this moment and I want to thank everybody for the way that we've conducted this but also for their support for the rights of the territories.
We are in the hands of the Senate. There is a committee process. We are in committee. I think it's the preference that we would be able to move through the committee stage quickly and resolve this matter today if that's able to be done. The Senate does move quickly at times, and we have to be nimble and ready for it. The preference would be to get it done, to get the final vote today. I think the second reading vote indicates the overwhelming support of the Senate to deal with this bill and to reach its conclusion after a long period of time. But the committee process is there for senators to utilise.
SCARR (—) (): I have some questions in relation to the compliance of Australia's obligations with the conventions dealing with the rights of people with disability. In the context of my second reading contribution to this debate I made reference to the fact that the special rapporteur with respect to the convention, the UN special rapporteur, has raised concern with respect to the Canadian legislation and, in particular, the fact that medically assisted dying can be used in situations in a Canadian context. I'll quote the provision so you will understand the concern I am raising. First, where a person has 'a grievous and irremediable medical condition,' and that is defined as including a person having a 'serious and incurable illness, disease or disability'. The concern which the United Nations special rapporteur has raised is that there are material concerns with respect to the Canadian regime actually complying with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I seek advice from the minister with respect to what steps the Australian government has in place to make sure that, when the territory does adopt legislation, Australia does comply with its treaty obligations with respect to the rights of people with disabilities.
I thank the senator for the question. It's a question not related to this bill. This bill is about restoring the rights of territories to be able to debate bills that will deal with the issues that you have raised as they have been dealt with by the states, who have passed legislation to this effect. But I think, in terms of questions about this bill, it's a straightforward repeal bill of the constraint that was placed on the territories that didn't allow them to debate or pass bills. In terms of the controls on the territories, their governments are democratically elected, and the people will judge the territories on how they manage laws, should they proceed with laws that this bill facilitates.
Minister, with respect I understand your political position and your legislative argument with respect to this legislation. The fact of the matter is there are those who have concerns with respect to the fact that this bill doesn't contain any safeguards whatsoever. It simply, as you put it, restores the rights of the territories to implement legislation. There are those of us who have a concern that that does represent a blank cheque, albeit it's got to go through the Northern Territory legislative process. Again, I seek your view with respect to: what processes does the government have in place generally with respect to ensuring that legislation in this space actually complies with Australia's obligations regarding the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? I would expect that the government has some sort of mechanism in place in terms of ensuring that legislation, be it by states or territories, in fact complies with our international obligations and that is something which is fairly and squarely within the domain of this parliament under the foreign affairs power.
I would point out that the territory has quite clear human rights legislation in place. It was passed when I was a member of that parliament. As I said, that's not a matter related to this bill. The Commonwealth works with states and territories around a whole range of matters, but this bill is a simple repeal bill. Should the territory go down any path that they choose—and I imagine they will; they have foreshadowed they will—then that is a matter for the territory parliament and the people that elect them.
There was a request by Senator Duniam to have amendments put before the parliament. They're not drafted at the moment. One Nation has no objection to that whatsoever in light of this bill and the implications it's going to have on the Northern Territory and the people who, for the sheer fact they live in the Territory, don't have the same rights as people who live in the states. They are being dictated to by the federal government. I understand that. It's not their fault; they happen to live in a territory. It's the same for the ACT. I know that it was a conscience vote. I voted for the bill, and my colleague Senator Roberts voted against it. It is a personal decision we made after listening to constituents and people, not just in our own state but across the country, say how important this bill is.
We must, therefore, get it right. I know it was a resounding 41 to 25, but surely, on such an important matter, is it really going to put an impost on this parliament and the people here representing all Australians to make sure that we get it right? Is it really going to cause a lot of problems for this parliament to keep it open in committee so that we can see what the amendments are and then make a final decision on that, based on what we think is right? I agree. I have no problem with keeping it in committee. Let's see what amendments are drafted. Let's make sure we get it right on an important matter like this.
I want to put the position of the Australian Greens on the record. This is a crucial bill that has been 20-odd years in the making. We were very pleased to see the vote just now allowing territories to make decisions about their own issues. That is a crucial point of democracy.
But we're now in a highly unusual situation where we're in a committee stage with no amendment before the chair. It's not like we didn't know this bill was listed and it was coming on. We feel that it's highly procedurally unusual to now be asked for the stage to be talked out whilst amendments get drafted. If you're not well enough organised to deal with something that was scheduled on the program, I don't think you should really be getting any favours. We are ready to vote and pass this bill. It's been 20 years in the making. We will now sit down and not make further contributions, with the idea of getting it done.
I think as some colleagues have already indicated, originally, under the hours motion that was considered by the Senate, it was scheduled for completion next Friday, and that was the basis on which work was being undertaken. This is not in any way to detract from the result of the vote that just occurred. It was, as Senator Hanson said, a comprehensive decision made by this Senate on behalf of the communities that senators represent. I'm not seeking to take away from that. I voted one way and others voted another, and I respect that.
I am sorry, but please don't characterise this—I heard someone say the homework's not done. We're not seeking to just talk it out. The reality is I have just asked whether there was a willingness on the part of the proponent of the bill to allow us time to consider this. I know it's inconvenient and I'm sorry that I am now asking for that, but I have got to get this done on behalf of others that have sought this—volunteer and community groups that have reached out in relation to these issues—and I don't think that's an unreasonable thing. I want to make sure that the Leader of the Greens understood that this is not some exercise to detract from a decision that is going to be made by this parliament.
It's clear that the numbers mean that this will be legislated and that the territories' rights will be restored. I understand it's frustrating, but there are important considerations. I accept what Senator Gallagher has said; this bill is a straightforward repeal of legislation that's already in existence. But there are flow-on implications for that in relation to so many other areas. In her contribution she referenced the territory's own human rights protections, which I gather are enshrined in legislation. There will be other flow-on implications for those sorts of protections in the community in each of the territories once a repeal is made, so just having the capacity to consider amendments around that would, I think, be helpful.
I'm not seeking to frustrate debate; I'm not seeking to take up time to change people's minds. Minds have been made up, and it has been 20 years in the making. As Senator Waters said, these are important issues, and I just want to make sure that we do have the time to be able to get these amendments completed and put before the committee.
I too rise to raise a question in relation to providing this Senate with the opportunity to bring forward these amendments. We were all expecting this bill to come on for a vote next Friday. We all obviously scrambled, with very little notice, into the chamber this morning when this came on unexpectedly.
Like Senator Duniam, I absolutely respect the will of this Senate. I am not seeking to alter or amend or delay in any way what is the obvious will of the Senate, but I do pay particular tribute to Senator Hanson, who, whilst voting yes and supporting the repeal of the enacting legislation, recognises that there are proper and legitimate bases for bringing forward amendments. Just imagine what would transpire if this bill were passed today and sound and proper amendments that perhaps hadn't been properly considered were not brought before the chamber. I think that would be an absolute travesty. So, again, this is a really genuine plea to Senator Gallagher and to the government: there may well be things whereby all senators—or some senators—irrespective of how they vote today, might actually see some good cause to support or at least consider these amendments.
I know as well that the Senate Procedure Office is absolutely flat out at the moment. I sent something to the Senate Procedure Office yesterday. They are literally working around the clock. I think I received something back from the office last night. Also, to support the Senate Procedure Office, which is really under the pump, I think this would be the right thing to do; I think it would be the respectful thing to do. Assuming that the will of the Senate is to support this bill, which evidently is the case now—frankly, I don't see that changing—it would validate the decision of the Senate if all senators were to be given a proper opportunity to consider any amendments.
I don't mean to jump in in front of Senator Pocock—he'll make a contribution—but I'll just briefly respond to Senator Henderson and Senator Duniam. We are in the hands of the Senate. I can see what's going on here: you've got to get to 10 past 10. We are not in a position to stop the committee stage, nor would we try to stop the committee stage. I think what would be interesting, and perhaps the best use of the next 20 minutes—if this is going to kick over—is if the amendments that are being drafted were foreshadowed in regard to what they are. Perhaps someone could stand up and elaborate on what the amendments to this bill are, because it is a straightforward repeal bill, so I'm struggling to understand what amendments actually would relate to this bill. It's a yes or no: should the bill be repealed? It would be unusual, unless you were going to stray into trying to legislate some other kinds of protections or you were creating another bill, because this bill just gets rid of a bill; that's the point of it. I'm happy to hear what the amendments might be, but I also acknowledge and I would like to put on the record the fact that we have two ACT senators voting for the first time in favour of territory rights. I think that's a very significant moment for the territory, and I acknowledge the work and commitment of Senator Pocock in that regard.
I just want to put on the record—when you said, 'I can see what's going on here'—that I have had no discussion with any other colleague in this chamber. There's no strategy. There's nothing other than a genuine proposal to ask the question, with the greatest of sincerity. I don't have any amendments to bring forward but, if any senator has amendments to bring forward, then it's right and proper that they be considered. So I want to really strongly put on the record that there's nothing going on here. There's no plan. In fact, I will say that Senator Pocock and I had a discussion earlier on, and he asked me whether I was happy for the vote to occur today and I said yes—and Senator Pocock can vouch for me on that—but now that I know that there are senators in this place who want to bring forward amendments, in absolute sincerity, Senator Gallagher, I just want to put on the record that I think the right and proper thing to do is to allow those amendments to be brought forward.
I want to take this opportunity to thank Senator Gallagher for her work on this for well over a decade now and for the leadership she has shown at the Assembly and in this place. I want to acknowledge and recognise the people who have been working on this for a very long time. I also want to thank the dozens and dozens of people and groups that I have met with on all sides of this debate. I acknowledge that this is something that is deeply personal to many. I fully respect the views of Senator Duniam and others when it comes to this bill, and I do not begrudge you voting the way you vote.
I would like to point out that we've known that this bill was coming for quite some time now, and I'm really concerned about process here. If, on other bills, we're able to enter Committee of the Whole and then have senators request that a vote be delayed while we draft amendments, I have concerns about that. As to what the amendments could be, as Senator Gallagher pointed out, this is the simplest of bills. This is about restoring territory rights. I would remind Senator Henderson that the people she represents have had the right in their state to debate and, ultimately, legislate on this.
I plead with the committee. People have been able to put their position on record. I understand that not everyone is comfortable with this, but this is about territory rights. This is about recognising that the territories are mature enough to debate and legislate on issues as sensitive as voluntary assisted dying. I urge the committee to deal with this matter. There's a huge amount of other legislation before us. This is incredibly important. but, in the scheme of things, it's quite a simple yes or no.
To give a bit of information about the proposed amendments that are in the process of being drafted, there are three that were requested. The first one relates to the scope of schemes enabling voluntary assisted dying in all states and territories—
I take the interjection from Senator Green. I understand very clearly what Senator Gallagher has said: the bill is a straight-out repeal of existing legislation. But, as I said before—and I don't think it's an unreasonable point to make—there are consequences to any bill that is passed. This enables, as Senator Pocock has said, the territories to legislate in respect of this issue. Even though it's not the subject of the bill, it is the issue in contemplation in the territories. I'm not seeking to prevent that from becoming law, despite having voted a certain way based on the principles I outlined in my speech. But to Senator Green's interjection, yes, I know what the bill is about, but there are consequences to everything we pass. In this one the first amendment relates to the schemes in all states and territories as it would be post the passage of this legislation and the scope in particular of access to voluntary assisted dying to people under the age of 18, so there is an amendment proposed around what scope there would be for provision of VAD in all states and territories relating to VAD being administered to children.
There was also a proposed amendment relating to the TGA review of the medications utilised in the administration of VAD and the approval process and exemptions that are granted under the regulations that exist in relation to this particular medication. That is a relatively straightforward amendment.
There was also a third amendment relating to the imports of the medications that are utilised in the administration of VAD in all states and territories. So it's just in relation to what will inevitably be consequences to the passage of this legislation. It isn't about overturning the effect of the bill. It is in relation to the scope and some of the other technical issues that have been raised. These are issues that have been raised. It's not about trying to deviate from what has been or will be achieved by this parliament. I think, as I have just outlined to the committee, they're not spurious nothings; they are significant issues that I wanted to foreshadow now.
I think it was a very fair request by Senator Gallagher, who sought this extra information around what they might be, and I have put that on record. I hope that gives some clarity about what was being proposed. They're not extraneous. They're not unrelated. They do relate to the consequences of the legislation and how its passage might, in effect, be administered on the ground in all states and territories that will have the capacity to legislate on this issue into the future.
Can I explain why we just voted no to that procedural vote? That is, under the rules in the Labor Party conscience votes cannot be guillotined or cut short. We allow everybody to have their say, and that is how the conscience vote system operates. It shouldn't be a reflection on my individual view that we should deal with this vote today, but it is representative of the rules in the collective decision-making that we have taken under our party processes.
Just briefly and in response to some of Senator Pocock's remarks: obviously as a Territorian senator I can understand your very strong views on this issue. However, and I say this with all genuineness, I was fully expecting to speak on this bill next Thursday. I was fully expecting to speak on this bill. When I got up to speak on this bill this morning, I had no notes prepared. I had done very little thinking about it to be perfectly honest. I had thought about the general issue obviously, but in terms of this particular bill I was fully thinking that as the government put time aside in the program next Thursday—in fact, an open-ended debate next Thursday. It is important those listening to this debate understand this: that next Thursday is an open-ended sitting to deal with this bill. Clearly the government, in putting its program together, and all of those in the chamber were expecting this bill to be dealt with next Thursday and not this morning. The accusation has been made that people weren't adequately prepared, but the fact is that, up until last night, I was expecting this bill to be considered and debated—and any amendments to be proposed—next Thursday. I think that was the genuine case for many in this place.
I just want to express support for the sentiments made by Senator Gallagher in relation to the attempt to close debate. Whilst I too have been a very strong and public supporter of this bill and its predecessor bills for a long period of time, it is the convention in this place that we do enable time for these sensitive, conscience and free-vote matters to be fully debated. I understand fully the position expressed by Senator Gallagher, and it's one shared by the coalition parties. I hope to see the matter resolved as quickly as possible.
I do understand the sentiment of colleagues who have a different opinion and had been expecting the debate to occur next week. I hope and trust that we will see amendments prepared as quickly as possible. I want to make it very clear that it is the full expectation, and will have my full support, for this bill to be concluded in the sittings and there is no intent to see any dragging out of that. I think in good faith Senator Duniam has made clear that is not his intent either in terms of wanting to have these amendments dealt with.
I want to make that crystal-clear, in case it has been misunderstood. My intention is—however these are to be drafted—for the drafting process and these amendments to be completed and be back for dealing with as soon as possible and indeed for this bill to be dealt with in finality by this chamber as soon as possible as well next week. I don't seek to frustrate or delay this for any reason other than I want to give these a shot. I understand Senator Pocock's frustration with that in particular, but I had the good-faith belief that we would be dealing with this in an open-ended debate at the end of next week.
That being said, I've put all of that on record and outlined in brief the terms of the amendments I seek to have put before this committee. I think I have made the case that they are not extraneous or unrelated. They are very straightforward. I just want to express support for what has been said about getting this bill done and making sure that these issues are dealt with as well.
I certainly do support what Senator Duniam is seeking to do, to allow some time for the procedure office to come back to us with the requested amendments so that we can properly consider them in a fulsome way. In Western Australia euthanasia laws were passed. The voluntary assisted dying laws went through the parliament. That parliament went through quite a marathon exercise to be able to get to the position that they did and pass the laws they have. I voted at the second reading against this, but one of the things that were put in place as a result of the debate in the consideration in detail of the legislation that went through in Western Australia were necessary protections to ensure that you don't have the very worst examples that we see around the world of where euthanasia is used in other jurisdictions around the world—for example, in I think the Netherlands they allow for people to have euthanasia for psychological conditions, not just physiological health issues I don't think anyone in Australia would be contemplating that, but we can't know. We're making a decision here about legislation with an outcome that we don't fully know what the make-up of it would be.
Because of the process that the Western Australian parliament went through, they very clearly laid out what the limitations of their bill would be and the protections that would be in place. Some of the amendments that Senator Duniam has foreshadowed would go some of the way—and I appreciate that this is just a repeal bill—towards ensuring that some protections could be in place to make sure that we can't find ourselves in a situation where we are going down the path of other jurisdictions. In fact, some jurisdictions around the world allow for children to engage with euthanasia. I don't think that's something that Australians want to see contemplated, but we can't know. We're the ones who will ultimately make the decision here about a law with an ultimate outcome that will be in the territories when we can't be sure what they will be legislating and what protections they will put in place. So some of the amendments that Senator Duniam was foreshadowing go towards ensuring that there are at least some protections. I certainly ask that the Senate allow time to consider those. I don't think it would take very long to go through those very simple proposals and maybe put in place some protections in this bill to ensure that we can't have those unintended consequences.
I'm a senator for the Northern Territory. It is very important to understand that we have the Northern Territory as well as the ACT. The Northern Territory is a very unique place in comparison to places like the ACT. While I can respect the way in which this parliament is likely to vote on this particular issue, there have been very little in the way of safeguards with regard to some of our most vulnerable members of this country who reside in the Northern Territory, where I'm from.
This is not just a matter of repealing a bill to allow for territories to make decisions. Being a representative of the Northern Territory, I also recognise some of the very dire decisions that the current Territory government have made with regard to the lives of some of the most vulnerable. I think my colleague the member for Lingiari, in the House of Representatives, has also expressed some of her deep concerns with regard to some of the decisions that the current Territory government have made.
In the Northern Territory, death is something that occurs on a regular basis. It's certainly featured heavily in my life, from when I was a child. So I see it as my responsibility as a senator for the Northern Territory to do everything that I can to save lives. I think it's very important not to disregard my colleagues' request in terms of taking into consideration these amendments going forward. It's not a flippant, last-minute decision to try to delay the decision on this particular bill, the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022. It is actually about considering what those safeguards might look like, particularly for vulnerable Australians, who are often unheard and often disregarded because they're often out of sight and out of mind, certainly for this place here in Canberra and for other parts of the nation.
We hear platitudes of acknowledgement and respect for vulnerable Aboriginal Australians all the time. We hear it constantly. But, having spent only a short time in these chambers, I feel we never really, deeply take consideration of those very vulnerable people in those communities. That is why I am here.
I hope you can understand this, Senator Pocock: our circumstances are very different from your territory to my territory. I hope that my colleagues in these chambers can understand what I am trying to convey, not just with this particular issue but with other issues that are going to have consequences for some of our most vulnerable people in this nation.
I cannot stop the outcome of the vote on this bill. What I can do is support this chamber considering the amendments that have been foreshadowed by my colleague in order that we might have some level of safeguard going forward. That's because I do recognise that, in the Northern Territory, we have a government that is not listening—that has allowed for the destruction of vulnerable people. I field calls every single day about alcohol-fuelled violence, because they respect the rights of drinkers and perpetrators who act out violently, as opposed to the rights of vulnerable victims in those communities, who are fleeing the communities—children are being taken out of school right now.
I do not trust that the current government can make the right decisions for some of our most vulnerable. We need to consider these amendments so that there might be some level of safeguard.