Senate debates

Thursday, 1 December 2022


Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022; In Committee

5:41 pm

Photo of Jacinta Nampijinpa PriceJacinta Nampijinpa Price (NT, Country Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I move amendments (1) and (2) on sheet 1764 together:

(1) Schedule 1, item 1, page 3 (lines 4 and 5), omit the item, substitute:

1 Subsections 23(1A) and (1B)

Repeal the subsections, substitute:

(1A) The Assembly has no power to make laws permitting or having the effect of permitting (whether subject to conditions or not) the form of intentional killing of another called euthanasia (which includes mercy killing), or the assisting of a person to terminate the person's life, in circumstances where:

(a) the person whose life is to be terminated is under 18 years of age; or

(b) the euthanasia is performed or the assistance is provided solely on the ground that the person whose life is to be terminated has:

(i) a disability (within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992); or

(ii) a mental impairment (within the meaning of the Criminal Code).

(1B) Subsection (1A) does not limit the power of the Assembly to make laws with respect to:

(a) the withdrawal or withholding of medical or surgical measures for prolonging the life of a patient, but not so as to permit the intentional killing of a person who is under 18 years of age; and

(b) medical treatment in the provision of palliative care to a dying patient, but not so as to permit the intentional killing of a person who is under 18 years of age; and

(c) the appointment of an agent by a patient who is authorised to make decisions about the withdrawal or withholding of treatment; and

(d) the repealing of legal sanctions against attempted suicide.

(2) Schedule 1, item 2, page 3 (lines 7 and 8), omit the item, substitute:

2 Section 50A

Repeal the section, substitute:

50A Law s concerning euthanasia

(1) Subject to this section the power of the Legislative Assembly conferred by section 6 in relation to the making of laws does not extend to the making of laws which permit or have the effect of permitting (whether subject to conditions or not) the form of intentional killing of another called euthanasia (which includes mercy killing), or the assisting of a person to terminate the person's life, in circumstances where:

(a) the person whose life is to be terminated is under 18 years of age; or

(b) the euthanasia is performed or the assistance is provided solely on the ground that the person whose life is to be terminated has:

(i) a disability (within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act 1992); or

(ii) a mental impairment (within the meaning of the Criminal Code).

(2) Subsection (1) does not limit the power of the Legislative Assembly to make laws with respect to:

(a) the withdrawal or withholding of medical or surgical measures for prolonging the life of a patient, but not so as to permit the intentional killing of a person who is under 18 years of age; and

(b) medical treatment in the provision of palliative care to a dying patient, but not so as to permit the intentional killing of a person who is under 18 years of age; and

(c) the appointment of an agent by a patient who is authorised to make decisions about the withdrawal or withholding of treatment; and

(d) the repealing of legal sanctions against attempted suicide.

The purpose of the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022 is to amend the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 and the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 to remove the provisions currently preventing the territories from passing legislation which would allow for voluntary assisted dying. The bill would not legalise that in either of the territories but rather would allow the legislative assemblies of the ACT and the NT to pass laws allowing for VAD. Despite what the Labor Northern Territory and federal House of Representatives members have portrayed of me publicly, I do support the bill and am doing my job—which they should note how to better do themselves—in making a bad bill better for the Territory. I'll say this again: I absolutely support the rights of Territorians. The proposed amendments, drafted by the parliamentary clerk, have been developed to ensure that the exact restraints that are currently operative in state law are applied in the Territory, because we have some of the most vulnerable communities and people in Australia.

For those who don't get to see what's going on up in the Northern Territory, in the last week police have disposed of 229 litres of alcohol, and 168 people have been taken into protective custody. The Northern Territory Labor government are too busy protecting their own parliamentary convicted paedophiles to protect life. Alcohol related crime and violence are out of control. The federal Labor members for Lingiari and Solomon should hang their heads in shame. Both have publicly called for the CLP to disendorse me because I'm doing my job in the Senate by making a bad bill better. They are misleading Territorians about my actions on this bill. Not supporting a bill in its current form and proposing amendments that already exist right across Australia is doing my job to scrutinise a bill for the betterment of Territorians. There seems to be so much unease about me speaking the truth on what's going on in the Northern Territory. In relation to this bill, no states across Australia allow access to assisted dying for those under the age of 18. This proposed amendment ensures that this applies in the Northern Territory.

The New South Wales Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2022, part 2, clause 16, states:

(2) A person is not eligible for access to voluntary assisted dying merely because the person has—

(a) a disability, or

(b) dementia, or

(c) a mental health impairment within the meaning of the Mental Health and Cognitive Impairment Forensic Provisions Act 2020.

Those with mental illness and those with disability can still access the schemes if they meet other criteria under state law. So, if it is so good for these other states, why is it not good enough for the territories? There are those that think this might be a radical reform. I can tell you now it's not a radical reform to ensure that children don't have access to voluntary assisted dying. This does occur in some Scandinavian countries, and in Canada a person with a mental health condition and disability can access their assisted suicide scheme even without a terminal condition. Why, you have to ask, does Senator Pocock oppose an amendment that provides additional safeguards for children, those with a disability and mental health conditions? Why is he seeking to erode protections for vulnerable persons in the territories?

The Victorian Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 provisions state:

(3) A person is not eligible for access to voluntary assisted dying only because the person has a disability, within the meaning of section 3(1) of the Disability Act 2006.

In Victoria, voluntary assisted dying is only for people who are suffering from an incurable, advanced and progressive disease, illness or medical condition who are experiencing intolerable suffering. The condition must be assessed by two medical practitioners to be expected to cause death within six months. There is an exception for a person suffering from a neurodegenerative condition, where instead the condition must be expected to cause death within 12 months. Voluntary assisted dying is only available to Victorians who are over the age of 18, who have lived in Victoria for at least 12 months and who have decision-making capacity. To be eligible for voluntary assisted dying they must be experiencing suffering that cannot be relieved in a manner the person considers tolerable. In Victoria, mental illness or disability alone—which is what I have provided for in this amendment—are not grounds for access to voluntary assisted dying, but people who meet all other criteria and who have a disability or mental illness can still access the service.

New South Wales was the last state to pass similar legislation. Some are not confident there are enough safeguards for people with mental health issues, so this is a lesson learnt—that the Australian government does have a responsibility to ensure vulnerable people are protected. The amendment is simply saying that you cannot solely—and I emphasise 'solely' because there are a number of measures that one must meet to be eligible—use the basis of having a disability, like autism, to access the provision of euthanasia or assisted dying.

Again, I don't take my decisions lightly. I come from a part of this country where we have some of our most vulnerable Australians. There is often not enough education and consultation in this area, and I would ask that the Territory government—or whatever territory government decides to legislate for this—do the right thing and do the consultation to alleviate fears on the ground of vulnerable Aboriginal people that if they enter into a hospital and they are unwell they might be given a needle and killed. I can tell you now that there are vulnerable people who think this where I come from. There is a lot to consider with this bill, but my amendments are fairly straightforward, and I hope that I can get the support of my colleagues in this chamber—right through this chamber—for these amendments ensuring that our vulnerable people in the Northern Territory are protected.

5:49 pm

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Minister for the Public Service) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the amendment from Senator Nampijinpa Price, and I accept that you have not taken this decision lightly. I think it's been a very respectful debate in this place, and I'm sure that that will continue as we reach the final stages of this bill.

Before I go to the amendment, I acknowledge in the chamber that we have in the gallery the Chief Minister of the ACT, Andrew Barr; Minister Tara Cheyne; and Marshall Perron, a former minister of the Northern Territory. Thank you for being here. You created history and in a sense set off the concertina of legislation that we are currently here trying to repeal this evening. I also acknowledge Andrew Denton and Dr Swan from Go Gentle who are here as well as some of the supporters of the reform and the repeal of this legislation and a friend of mine, Gina Pinkus, who has lobbied very strongly across the community for this legislation to be repealed.

I'll go to the amendment. I think the senator who moved them identified the issue that we are trying to deal with here, which is that this parliament should not be the place where we are looking for safeguards or putting in place restrictions on the job that we are wanting the territory legislatures to have the power to do. So I am speaking against the amendment, because the bill that is before us is a repeal of a law which prevents those legislatures from determining this matter for themselves. That is the soul, single and only purpose of the legislation before us—to get rid of the constraint on those parliaments from being able to debate that themselves.

I know and I accept that people feel very strongly about this and think the Commonwealth should have some control. I disagree with that, but also the way that this amendment is drafted is extremely broad. That we are trying to place restrictions, for example, on people with a disability, then that is a very broad definition. I think if this amendment was to pass it would render anything that the territory legislatures did ineffective. In a sense it is an anti-repeal amendment. I have no doubt it comes from a good place, but I am trying to explain to you that the bill that's before us tonight is about getting rid of constraints on the territory legislatures and leaving it to them to determine. When you look at the state jurisdictions that have put in voluntary assisted dying legislation, they have safeguards in place. They go through a process of consultation, they have ethics processes, they have oversight and they have safeguards, and it is appropriate that those legislatures do that job.

Our job here tonight is to get rid of the constraint that exists in only two jurisdictions, the ACT and the Northern Territory, whose citizens are currently now not afforded the same rights as citizens of every other jurisdiction, and their parliaments are constrained. They are democratically elected parliaments, they are mature parliaments, they are held accountable by their communities and they face elections. It is more than reasonable that these parliaments be allowed to do this for themselves. So, on the grounds that the amendment effectively tries to anti-repeal a repeal bill, I won't be supporting it. But, even on the way the amendment is drafted, if it got up it would mean that those parliaments would in effect not be able to put in place a voluntary assisted dying regime, which is up to them whether they do that. Our job is to get out of the way and let them have the same legislative responsibilities and powers as the parliaments of New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia.

5:54 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to focus on a phrase Senator Gallagher used in the course of her remarks, and I think everyone listening to this debate needs to carefully reflect on this phrase, and it is 'the amendment is coming from a good place'—and it is coming from a good place. Senator Nampijinpa Price is showing a great deal of courage in moving these amendments and is doing so solely—solely—because she cares about the most vulnerable people in the Northern Territory. Every person listening to this debate should sincerely acknowledge and give respect to my colleague Senator Nampijinpa Price for her stand in relation to this issue. And I dearly hope that when this debate is done and all of us in this place have respectfully put forward our comments that the position adopted in good faith—and sometimes it's very difficult to balance all the competing considerations in this regard—we can move on from this debate. The fact that different views are being expressed in the course of this debate in this chamber makes our democracy strong, and we should then move on and there should be no recriminations. There should be no looking back at the positions people have adopted in good faith. They should simply be respected.

I want to make a few quick points about the amendment. The first is that as a Queensland senator I did read, in relation to the experience in the Northern Territory, and was deeply moved by—and I spoke about this during the second reading debate—an article written by Chips Mackinolty in relation to the laws that had previously been adopted by the Northern Territory. The title of that article is 'Right legislation: wrong jurisdiction?' Senator Dodson has referred to that article in the course of this debate. The fact of the matter is that the ACT is very different from the Northern Territory—extremely different, in many, many respects. I don't presume to stand in this place and say to the parliamentarians in the Northern Territory what they should or shouldn't do. But I have a responsibility as a senator in this place to consider those facts, and I think it is on the record that there are particular issues in relation to the Northern Territory. I dearly hope that whatever direction the Northern Territory takes it reflects on those previous experiences, which did cause me deep concern.

In relation to the issue of disability, I previously raised the point that the United Nations Special Rapporteur in relation to the rights of the disabled has written to the Canadian government raising concerns about their legislation, about the availability of medically assisted dying for people with a disability. I've spoken about the experiences in Canada of people with a disability being approached in hospitals, even by an ethics manager, and being asked to reflect on the cost of their medical treatment. That causes me deep, deep concern, because I think Canada should be seen as an analogue for Australia—an advanced country with a system of human rights recognition. However, that is the reality. I heard the story of a veteran who was suffering from chronic depression ringing a helpline and being told that perhaps he could access medically assisted dying. I dearly hope we don't see those sorts of manifestations occurring in the Northern Territory, the ACT or any other jurisdiction in this country. But the reality is that there are issues with respect to how the law is being put into practice in Canada, and that's why I believe that these safeguards make sense.

As Senator Nampijinpa Price has said, they're adopted in other states. I don't think it's particularly unclear, to be frank. I can see a difference between a person who suffers from an egregious illness like cancer et cetera and someone who has a disability. I can recognise that difference on the face of it. I sincerely do not believe that this amendment, these safeguards, would render any Northern Territory legislation nugatory. I simply don't believe that's the case. So I'm happy to rise and support my good friend Senator Nampijinpa Price, and I ask everyone to reflect on Senator Gallagher's words that this amendment comes from a good place. Once this debate is finished, I dearly hope we can just move forward. Thank you.

5:59 pm

Photo of Matt O'SullivanMatt O'Sullivan (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't seek to detain the Senate long on the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022, because I know we still have a fair bit to get through tonight. Before I continue, I'll say what I said during my speech in the second reading debate: I do respect the way that the Senate has undertaken this debate—that goes for everyone, including what we just had there from Senator Scarr and from Senator Gallagher before him. Everyone has really engaged very respectfully in this debate, and I think that's a real credit to everyone here. I'm very proud to be a senator in this place, with people who are prepared to have a debate like this and with the kind of respect that has been shown.

I support this amendment. In my second reading contribution I spoke about the concern that there are other jurisdictions around the world, like in Belgium, that allow for people with mental health issues to seek out euthanasia. The Netherlands has legislated to allow this for children—people under the age of 18. My concern is that we have been asked here with this bill to make a decision about what legislation will eventually be introduced into the Northern Territory and the ACT about assisted suicide. I feel that we're making a decision here when we actually don't know properly what the ramifications will be and what safeguards will be in place. These amendments go some of the way on this.

Of course, this has really passed the second reading. This is about just putting up some rails so that we can be sure, as the Senate and as the parliament, that safeguards are in place to make sure that we don't allow laws that would enable children or indeed those who have mental health conditions to seek out these services. On that basis, I will vote for these amendments.

6:02 pm

Photo of Kerrynne LiddleKerrynne Liddle (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to make a contribution to the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022. I appreciate that it is unlikely to stop this, but I'd like to put this on the record.

The Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory are so far apart, and not just in terms of distance. It is simplistic to think that the Restoring Territory Rights Bill is about territory rights. This bill only seeks to repeal sections of the act which deal with a single issue: medically assisted dying. The NT population is small, at 233,000, and 44 per cent of its citizens are Aboriginal. Thirty per cent of its population is regarded as 'just visiting'. Average individual income is $267 less than that in the ACT. Compare those figures to the ACT population at just over 454,000, two per cent of whom are Aboriginal. And 20 per cent have more tertiary education than those in the NT.

The Northern Territory federal seat of Lingiari, which covers the NT except for Greater Darwin, has the highest proportion of Indigenous people of any electorate in the country, many of whom live in remote communities, and it has the lowest rate of voter enrolment in the nation. If the NT considers this, it is those people who will be poorly represented in the conversation. Illness and death visit Aboriginal people at uber alarming rates compared with other Australians. I've weighed up the fact that the need to protect the most vulnerable people is necessary. Those who will be impacted differently and disproportionately by this legislation, regardless of cultural, social or economic disadvantage, need greater protection. So I support this amendment.

Legislation is one thing, but its implementation is quite another. I have considered, also, spending millions and millions on improving the high rate of early deaths of Aboriginal people—12 years less for men and 10 for women—only to offer those with multiple, complex chronic illnesses a legal way to bring about an early death. Remember, there is more death much earlier and with much more comorbidity caused by health issues like heart and kidney disease, diabetes, liver disease, chronic lower respiratory disease, cancer—these are major contributors in Aboriginal communities.

This legislation will be significant for the people of the Northern Territory, and they need to have this explained to them to avoid fear and misinformation. I am a senator for South Australia but I was born, raised and still have land, family and community connections in the Northern Territory—in the towns, in remote communities and even in town camps. It is my lived understanding, not a textbook understanding, of these unintended consequences. These are very real issues.

I refer to an assessment of the view of some Aboriginal communities in a study from 1996. Yes, it was some 26 years ago, but nothing of note has been done since. The results, though, couldn't have been clearer. Nine hundred people in 100 communities took part. The result was virtually unanimous; a statistically undeniable 99.7 per cent were against voluntary assisted death. That's almost every Indigenous person interviewed for this research being against it.

Coercion is a very real issue in communities, a very real issue for those who experience it, and must be part of the conversation. This has been highlighted as a key issue in the lively debates about voluntary assisted death. I'm not talking about those who just harass, intimidate and silence; I'm talking about those who simply have busy lives and have difficulty with patience, attention and advocacy demanded of someone who is very ill and demanded of them when someone is very ill. We need to protect those vulnerable to the threat of coercion.

I'm not alarmist to acknowledge that, should the NT move to legalise this, it will make vulnerable people even more vulnerable. Additional safeguards are needed, and they are needed in the Northern Territory. That's why I support this amendment.

6:07 pm

Photo of David PocockDavid Pocock (ACT, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Firstly, I would like to echo the comments about the respectful way this debate has taken place in the Senate. This is a bill that means a lot to the community I represent. I would like to take a moment to thank a number of people here in the galleries this evening: Samuel Whitsed, for his dedication and courage on this to see it through and for lending his voice to get this done; Caitlin Kearley, who has been in and out of the Senate for a while—thank you for your courage; as acknowledged by Senator Gallagher, Gina Pinkas—thank you for your advocacy; Marshall Perron; our Chief Minister, Andrew Barr; the ACT Leader of the Opposition, Elizabeth Lee; the ACT Minister for Human Rights, Tara Cheyne; Andrew Denton and Dr Linda Swan, from Go Gentle; the staff at the Canberra Times, who have never let this matter get out of the spotlight here in the ACT and nationally; the Greens senators who have passionately fought for the rights of the territories to be restored for over a decade now; of course, my territory colleagues in the lower house Alicia Payne MP and Luke Gosling MP, for introducing this bill together; my broader territory colleagues Andrew Leigh, Marion Scrymgour and Senator Malarndirri McCarthy, for your support; and Senator Gallagher, for her advocacy on this issue for a decade or so both at the Legislative Assembly and in this place.

Tonight we finally we get to bring this to a vote. I hope we can continue this debate respectfully until that happens. But I want to take a bit of time to speak to the amendments. As Senator Gallagher and Senator Scarr noted, these amendments come from a good place. However, I would like to point out that the whole point of this bill is to remove the restraints on the territories, to restore our democratic right to debate and legislate on this issue in our local parliaments. These amendments add more restraints and go against the core aim of this bill, which is to allow the territories the same legislative rights and freedoms as the states—the same legislative freedoms of the vast majority of senators in here and the people that they represent in their states.

The self-government acts were always intended to allow this legislative equality. With this simple repeal bill, we go back to that, and I do not believe that these amendments are necessary. Overnight, I sought an opinion from barrister Fiona McLeod AO SC on the substantive amendment from Senator Nampijinpa Price. Her observations were that the definition offered in the Disability Discrimination Act would essentially render this bill ineffective. Under the act, and rightly so, anyone with a terminal illness could be thought of as living with a disability. Therefore, if this amendment were to pass, the ACT and Northern Territory would be unable to legislate the voluntary assisted dying scheme for the terminally ill. On another matter, the definition of mental impairment under the Criminal Code would create more uncertainty. Mental impairment in this context requires consideration of effect and context—in a criminal court case, no less. As McLeod said in her opinion, 'This definition's incorporation into the bill is unwieldy'.

I won't be supporting this amendment. The bill is simple. It is about restoring the democratic rights of the territories. It allows the ACT and the Northern Territory to have the same respectful, considered discussions on voluntary assisted dying as our friends, family and neighbours in other states. This bill is about saying that the ACT and the Northern Territory should have the same right as the states in Australia to consult, to debate and to legislate on this issue that is very important to some in our communities—one that, clearly, involves tightly held and deeply personal views. I think we see that reflected in the way the states have done this, with the extensive consultations they have gone through. As Senator Hume talked about in her very moving speech, the states have significant safeguards in their legislation about who can access this and in what situation. I have no doubt that the territories would undertake a similar process. The benefit of the territories going last is that they have all the learnings from the states. While I accept that, around the world, there may be examples which are potentially shocking, we are in Australia. My sense is that the territories will follow in the footsteps of the states on this issue. So I urge senators to keep that in mind when we vote tonight. This is about people in the ACT and the Northern Territory having the same democratic right to make these important decisions in their own parliaments.

6:13 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

In contributing to this debate on the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022, I want to begin by acknowledging that there is an amendment currently before the chamber which purports to be an amendment for the benefit and protection of disabled people, in relation to a bill that is principally and solely, as Senator Pocock outlined for us, about the repealing of a piece of legislation that prevents the territories from engaging in a democratic discussion about the laws which govern them in relation to voluntary assisted dying.

In responding to the amendment and putting my position to the Senate, I want to tackle, first of all, the reality that many disabled people will be watching the debate tonight. There will be many disabled people across the country who legitimately observe this debate and feel either a sense of concern about voluntary assisted dying or feel support for the amendment offered to the relevant piece of legislation.

I do understand the concerns held by some disabled people in relation to voluntary assisted dying. I had the opportunity a couple of years ago to go with a couple of friends of mine, who are amazing disability activists in Western Australia, to a protest they were holding against a film which had recently then been released, a film by the name of Me Before You. It featured characters one of whom was disabled, and it chronicled the story of an individual who, on becoming disabled, made the decision to fly off to a Swiss suicide clinic and take their own life, because basically they couldn't think of anything worse than living as a disabled person. As a protest to that film, my colleagues were able to obtain permission to rock up in front of the cinema with tables and signs that read, 'Help me go to a Swiss suicide clinic. I am disabled. I don't want to live anymore.' During the course of 2½ hours they were able to raise over $250 from people going in and out of the movie, who not only were willing to give them money to go off to a so-called suicide clinic, but encouraged them to do so and thanked them for their bravery and courage in acknowledging that they were burdens, or were becoming burdens, to their family members.

It's a story that has always stuck with me. I think it reveals the deep ableism that does exist in our community, that is perpetrated by decision-makers and perpetuated by decision-makers in this place. We must acknowledge the realities as we navigate these pieces of legislation. We are doing so in a broader cultural context that often normalises the idea that it is better to be dead than to be disabled. It is important that we acknowledge that.

It is also important to acknowledge that, as has been quoted by other senators during the course of the debate, the UN Special Rapporteur on Disability has made comments to the government in Canada in relation to concerns over the administration of their system and amendments that may be needed to that process. Those things are right and proper to do. What it is not okay to do is to weaponise disabled people's lives and our safety and protection for political purposes. That is not okay.

There are senators in this place who have cited comments given to the Australian government in relation to our compliance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons. They are right to do that. I would remind them also that during the course of the previous government, and the government before that, Australia has been repeatedly told by the special rapporteur that we are in violation of many, many articles of that convention, including, as I will bring to the Senate's attention, the reality that right now in Australia it is legal to forcibly sterilise a disabled person, under the law. The Commonwealth government, under both Labor and Liberal leadership, has repeatedly refused to take action to end that practice. So if we are going to quote human rights recommendations, there is a hell of a lot of work to do in the Australian space when it comes to disability.

I sit here as a disabled person that has many friends who are concerned about voluntary assisted dying. I sit here as a disabled person who will be supporting this piece of legislation, who will be voting soundly in opposition to this amendment. Why? First and foremost, because this bill seeks solely to repeal a preventive legislative measure that is currently preventing the territory from engaging in a conversation around voluntary assisted dying. Once this bill is passed by this chamber it will be up to the ACT legislature, as it has been up to the legislatures of every other state, but not territory, to engage in a consultation process around the safeguard mechanisms which are required. It is incumbent on the ACT assembly that they do this and do this vigorously; in the NT to engage and to do that vigorously; to ensure that there are proper safeguards; and where there are learnings internationally, have them incorporated. Engage the people of the ACT, including disabled people, and of the NT, including disabled people in that conversation, and listen to those concerns. That is the appropriate way to deal with the concerns raised in the amendment.

The proposer talks about the need for consultation. Where was the consultation with disabled people in relation to this amendment? It is totally inappropriate, after the length of this debate, to come in here this evening and propose an amendment basically to block this bill, because it would make it inoperable. That would be the actual effect on this bill. To come in here and masquerade the attempt to block this bill as an attempt to protect disabled people and disabled peoples' lives. It is not okay, and it will not go by tonight without being called out for the cynical political move that it is.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

While I respect utterly the view of my learned colleague Senator Steele-John, who speaks with incredible experience and understanding of disability, I think the standing orders call on us not to, basically, diminish others in the chamber by articulating in your own words what their motivations are. It takes us away from the nature of the debate that we've been having so far. I would ask, on behalf of the mover of the amendment, that that aspersion be withdrawn. I don't think it takes anything away from your excellent contribution, but we care about this, and I would suggest, Chair, that it might be appropriate for withdrawal.

Photo of Penny Allman-PaynePenny Allman-Payne (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Steele-John, I draw your attention to the relevant standing orders.

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm happy to withdraw.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Senator Steele-John, do you wish to continue?

No, I've concluded.

6:22 pm

Photo of Tammy TyrrellTammy Tyrrell (Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie Network) Share this | | Hansard source

I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss this amendment, even though I won't be supporting it. I find it really strange that we are standing here debating whether or not the territories should have the option or not to decide something for themselves. The people in the territories should have the same rights to choose as the states do. It's as simple as that. It shouldn't matter what the topic or issue is. I find it sad that I am being asked to stand here and vote about this, that I as a Tasmanian have the responsibility to decide whether or not territories get to decide issues for themselves. If you hadn't guessed, I am 100 per cent in favour of this bill and I think we should pass it without delay.

People are focusing on the end result of this bill, that the ACT and Northern Territory will legislate voluntary assisted dying. They're opposing the bill based on that, but that's not all this bill is about. It's about the territories' rights to make these decisions for themselves. It's not a surprise that this has become a debate about morals and voluntary assisted dying. I've always said that if I stay true to my moral compass in this place I'll be okay. My moral compass is that there's nothing wrong with making sure people can make their own choice, the one that is best for themselves and their families. They are the only ones who should be able to do this.

I stand here tonight, and I am so proud of Tassie and what we have in place. Voluntary assisted dying has been legal for one month in our state now. I know it is early days and there are still a few challenges to overcome. However, Tasmanians have the right to overcome this as Tasmanians see fit—without interference. I would like to give a shout-out to Mike Gaffney MLC for the amazing work he did on our bill. He spent years working on this legislation, and it was a very long campaign. So many brave people stood up and told their stories, stories about family members who went through so much, and in a perfect world they wouldn't need to. Jacqui and Natalie Gray led the campaign in memory of their beautiful mama. Their tireless efforts did not go unnoticed by the Tassie community. Jacqui and Natalie, from one Tasmanian to another, thank you.

My fellow senators in this chamber have told similar stories. Senator Hume stood up and told her story only a few months ago. It was powerful to hear from someone, who once voted against this issue, who has now gone through that experience and now will vote for this bill. It was an incredibly meaningful contribution to this debate. I thank Senator Hume for her courage and for sharing her story with us.

I can't imagine ever being in a position where I or someone that I love is told that our time on this earth is coming to an end. If I was I would want the option to decide how I go. Spending months or years in pain with no quality of life is not something anyone should be forced to go through.

I understand there are people in this chamber who aren't supportive of this bill or voluntary assisted dying. I respect your right to have that opinion. It's not for me to stand here and tell you what to think or feel. But, my thoughts are this: why does it matter to the rest of us if someone chooses to end their own suffering? This sky isn't going to fall in because John from across the road had the option and chose peace. Voluntary assisted dying should be an individual choice. It doesn't matter what I think, what the Senate thinks, what this parliament thinks, all that matters is that people are allowed to make the choice that best suits them, their family and their circumstances.

This week there have been lobbyists running around the hallways of parliament—no surprise there. They've been lurking in people's doorways demanding them to make changes to the bill. They've been doing the rounds once, twice—maybe even three times for some offices. I don't think these people are even from the territories. I don't think what they've been doing is okay. Who are they to say that people in the ACT and the Northern Territory can't make this decision for themselves? Who are they to try and take away the choice for the ACT and the Northern Territory to decide from themselves when they themselves have that right?

For everyone in the ACT and the Northern Territory, I am sorry that you are being treated as second-class citizens, as if you shouldn't have the same rights as the states to decide for yourselves what is best for you. You have my full support. It has never been a question for me that this is the right thing to do.

6:27 pm

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

Let me start by, first of all, through you, Chair, addressing a comment to Minister Gallagher, because you have conducted yourself in an exemplary way throughout this whole debate. I note particularly the way you accepted and inquired into Senator Duniam's deep conviction but uncertainty in knowing what to do. You allowed that to be talked through. There are people here who are used to the behaviour in this chamber of not trusting each other. I reassured some of them that there's nothing suspicious going on. This bill is passed. The second reading was won. You won that. I thank you so much for doing what you did, in allowing Senator Duniam to speak, and the way in which you did that, Minister. I also want to, through you, Chair, acknowledge Senator Duniam, because something in his gut told him and he really came up and delivered. So I thank you so much for that.

What is different about this debate, I've noticed, compared with most debates in this chamber, is that people are actually listening to each other, connecting and caring. I am in a bit of a conflicted position, because I am strongly in support of states' rights but territories are not states. I uphold the Constitution. I am not going to go there. I have already acknowledged that this bill has been passed through the second reading and it will go through in the third reading.

I sincerely believe that this debate is not about territory rights. It is about euthanasia. As I said, we lost. I accept that. People here who will be with Senator Duniam, Senator Nampijinpa Price, Senator O'Sullivan, Senator Liddle, myself and others are making sure that their deep needs in caring for others are met and that safeguards are in place.

Senator Nampijinpa Price has throughout her career and in her brief time in the Senate demonstrated exemplary integrity. She is a woman, a person, of complete integrity. She, I and others are concerned about children. It deeply saddens me that we have to discuss that. Senator Steele-John has spoken well about people with a disability and Senator Nampijinpa Price has also talked about people with mental health issues. These are vulnerable people. What's next? The aged? The sick? The lonely? That's my concern and that's why I will be supporting Senator Nampijinpa Price and Senator Duniam with this amendment.

I will, though, tack on something. This has worked well, this debate. Even though my position hasn't succeeded, it has worked well, because I haven't heard any talk about parties.

That's not meant as a joke, it was meant sincerely—

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

No, I—

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

I know that, Senator McKenzie. I'm not a woman, but I had the intuition to work out why you were laughing!

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

And then you ruin it with, ' I'm not a woman but I had the intuition'!

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

I wonder what would happen in this place if the Senate sat in state and territory blocks? It's just a thought.

6:31 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

Firstly, I want to acknowledge the widespread community interest in this debate, as there often is in free votes and conscience matters that come before this parliament. As others have reflected, these types of conscience votes do often bring out the best of thoughtful, considered, calm and reflective debate around the chamber. I acknowledge with that the very strong and personally held views around the chamber divide almost every party in this chamber on issues that people care about—be they questions associated with voluntary assisted dying and/or the questions associated with territory rights. People have brought those perspectives to bear here in good faith right around the chamber. I think it is important to acknowledge that. Senator Gallagher acknowledged a number of people who are here observing the debate. Many are in the gallery and many others are paying attention. She also came up to me afterwards, having realised that she had missed noticing the ACT Liberal leader, Elizabeth Lee, in the gallery. So I acknowledge everybody else and, on behalf of all of us, thank you for being here, Elizabeth, along with many others.

I welcome very much the second reading vote that took place. It provided a clear indication of support for territory rights by 41 to 25 in this chamber, following the 99 to 37 majority in the House of Representatives. They were strong, clear endorsements by both chambers for the adoption of territory rights. As I said in my second reading remarks, much has changed since 1997 when the restrictions on the territories were put in place. Though I did not support those restrictions all the way back then, I can understand the sentiment that led to them at that stage—the sense that the Northern Territory was undertaking what was, in a global sense, an element of legislative adventure at the time.

We have come a long way since then in this country, with all six Australian states having now legislated for models of voluntary assisted dying. It is no more a legislative adventure to pursue such a model; it is indeed common practice across Australia and in many other parts of the world. Importantly, each of those six state models around the country presents a model for the territories to consider in their legislative journey, should the restrictions in place be lifted. They present a model that didn't exist in 1997; as sound or solid as the model that Marshall Perron and Territorians legislated at that time may have been, there are now many others to look at and, critically, each of them comes with very extensive safeguards in place.

Senator Nampijinpa Price rightly brings to this chamber an amendment that seeks to address some of the important issues of safeguards. Senator Nampijinpa Price is a proud Territorian. She brings this forward, I have no doubt, absolutely in good faith. She expressed her views in relation to territories' rights clearly, strongly and forcefully, as she does on every matter that she speaks about. As Senator Gallagher, Senator Scarr and others have acknowledged, it is in that good faith that we should consider the questions she has brought forward.

Senator Nampijinpa Price and Senator Liddle, in particular, rightly highlighted the crucial role of effective safeguards, especially in relation to the Northern Territory. We should not be closed to the unique circumstances of the NT and its vulnerable communities. They're right to highlight the paramount importance of having effective safeguards in place. And I trust that through this amendment being tabled and rightly debated and facilitated through this process, their message is loudly and clearly heard in terms of the importance of getting those safeguards right.

However, there are many safeguards to be considered in legislating for voluntary assisted dying. Those contained in the amendments of Senator Nampijinpa Price are about some of those that either territory must consider in terms of legislating a model. That is why I think it is important that if we are restoring the rights to legislate for voluntary assisted dying to the territories, it should not be in a manner where the Commonwealth seeks to part legislate the model of voluntary assisted dying they adopt. We should restore those rights, doing so confident that democratically elected assemblies in those territories will consider all of the safeguards necessary for effective models of voluntary assisted dying.

So I won't be supporting the amendment put forward in good faith by my colleague. I do, certainly—and I'm sure speak for all senators—expect that the territories consider these matters thoroughly and embed these types of safeguards in ways that effectively work for a model of voluntary assisted dying. That is what we should expect of them and that is what has occurred across the six Australian states and the different models that they have deployed and put in place. That is what putting the rights for the territories back in the hands of the territories will enable each of them to do as well.

6:37 pm

Photo of David ShoebridgeDavid Shoebridge (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise on behalf of my party, the Greens, to indicate we will not be supporting this amendment. This amendment, if it were passed, would see the parliament restoring the rights of territorians with one hand and then taking them away with the other. That would be the effect of this amendment.

I do want to acknowledge the lived experience and the truth and the contribution of my colleague Senator Steele-John, and I want to associate myself unambiguously with the contribution that Senator Steele-John made to the chamber. I also want to acknowledge all of the advocates, all of those who have worked for more than two decades to hopefully get us to this point. We should be clear that if this chamber accepts this amendment it will be completely undermining the bill. This process and the decades of work will have failed. That would be the effect of accepting the amendments to this bill.

I note the work of Senator David Pocock and his office in obtaining the advice from Fiona McLeod SC. It's worthwhile reading onto the record what is perhaps the key paragraph from that advice, which is in relation to the definition of 'disability'. It says this: 'Finally, the incorporation of the definition of disability into the bill will render the bill ineffective. A person seeking access to assisted dying will inevitably fall within at least one of the limbs of the definition of disability. By way of illustration, if the amendments are adopted, a person diagnosed with an advanced incurable disease, expected to cause death within months and cause intolerable suffering, the eligibility criteria under Victoria's Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2017 and New South Wales's Voluntary Assisted Dying Act 2022, could not be the subject of a territory voluntary assisted dying law.' There you have it in black and white from a senior counsel. You can't on one hand say you support territories rights and on the other hand accept this amendment, because the amendment fundamentally, comprehensively undermines the bill.

I'll finish with this. This is not the right place to put these checks and balances in, in an amendment that was tabled only hours ago, without the consultation. It's not. I know that because in my time in the New South Wales state parliament I engaged in two separate attempts to put in place voluntary assisted dying. One was in 2013, which unfortunately didn't succeed. It took months and months of debate and consultation and detailed committee consideration with I think well over 100 submissions in that initial phase in 2013. It didn't succeed. Then again in the legislation that finally passed earlier this year. Again these considerations, detailed work with disability groups, the medical profession, the legal profession. That consultation will happen in the territories if we allow them to do it. That's where that consultation should happen. That's where amendments like this need to be considered. We should not kid ourselves: if the Senate accepts this amendment, they will have destroyed the utility of the bill and we will be back at first base.

6:41 pm

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

This bill is precisely about putting the rights back into the hands of territorians. Sadly, this amendment would do the exact opposite. It would effectively render the bill useless. We sit here tonight debating this piece of legislation which territorians have been asking for for 25 years. For 25 years, the Senate has made territorians suffer, because in 1997 this place did the wrong thing. It did the wrong thing by taking those rights away from territorians. Back then, 25 years ago, Australians knew it was wrong. Opinion poll after opinion poll showed that Australians generally, in whatever state or territory they lived, did not support the bill going through. Then, in the days and weeks after that original bill was put in, it was called the Senate's night of shame. Today, tonight, we have an opportunity to right that wrong.

I want to make a short contribution. I know there have been so many eloquent speeches put on the record on this issue for so long. In my contribution I want to pay tribute specifically to the former leader of the Greens, former senator Bob Brown. He was here in this place 25 years ago arguing against the attack on territorians as this bill went through. It was not just the democracy that was under threat but the rights of people to choose dignity; the rights of people to choose to end suffering, to end pain. In his speech on the second reading, back in 1997, Bob called on his colleagues to think about the unnecessary pain and suffering that this place was inflicting on them. I can't be in this chamber tonight without thinking of how many people in 25 years have suffered because this place did the wrong thing on that night. This is about choice. This is about rights. But ultimately this is about human dignity.

It was called the Senate's night of shame for a reason. People were outraged. They were insulted. They were offended. They were hurt. They felt as though their parliamentarians had let them down.

We may all have our own opinions—and we do, deeply held—of what we would do if we were faced with that choice. But Australians by and large have always accepted that it is a personal choice and that just because we are a member of the parliament does not give us a God-given right to inflict unnecessary pain and suffering on somebody else. I know there are a number of important people in the gallery here, and I acknowledge Andrew Denton and Andrew Barr. But tonight I want to specifically acknowledge the long-held fight of former Senator Bob Brown. Year after year after year, since 1997, he stood in this very place asking for us to right the wrong that was done 25 years ago, and it's time that we did.

6:45 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is the sound of democracy—the stridency, the pauses, the hope, the emotion, the respect for difference. Sometimes it concerns me that the debate about democracy calls for beautiful harmony. I like thirds. I love singing. I love the harmony that results when voices come out. But the sound of democracy is not always harmonious, and when it's at its best it's not autocratic; it's not one view over the others, with judgement everywhere. It's a multiplicity of voices. I actually said in one of our committee meetings this morning that the first time I heard the music of Shostakovich I thought: 'This is not the sort of music I'm able to cope with. I'm not able to listen to it, not able to stand it, because there's too much tension in the music.' It didn't sound familiar enough to me. I wanted sweet harmonies from the romantic period. But I learned to love it, as I've learned to love democracy. So, I'm very proud to be sitting in this chamber alongside colleagues who have given serious thought to this issue that's under debate as a matter of conscience and free vote for all of us.

I want to respond to the contribution of Senator Tyrrell, who asked I think a really good question—one of these fundamental democratic questions—'Why am I here as a senator for Tasmania making a decision about people who live in the ACT and the Northern Territory?' Well, you're here because you're a federal senator. We're a federation. And in what we do and what we're referring to here we are actually speaking into the space that's been constructed by our Constitution. It is a fact that the purpose of the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2022 is to amend the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 and the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 to remove provisions that are currently preventing the territories from passing legislation which would allow for voluntary assisted dying. That's what we are doing here, and we are doing it because section 122 of the Constitution provides that the Commonwealth has plenary powers to legislate for the territories.

So, while this bill is colloquially described as restoring territory rights, ultimately it's not giving rights to the territories that are held by states. It's giving a right on one issue. It doesn't resolve the federal-territory relationship completely. This is despite much debate that articulates that this is just about territory rights. This is about one particular right, and it deserves our attention. It is the right to voluntary assisted dying, which in other contexts is called euthanasia. I've made clear in my second speech my particular view on this matter. I know that there was a vote last week when I wasn't here in parliament. I heard the contribution from Senator Roberts about the way in which that was conducted and his curry about how this is going to turn out.

Maybe mine will be a strident voice and not a harmonious one tonight, but I think it is an important night to put things on the record. I won't resile from the fact that I represent here in this place the great Australian Labor Party, and amongst the Liberal Party and, dare I say, the Greens party and independents there are people of faith. They do wonderful things in our community. Their faith gives them action to do good works. They care. Many of our hospitals were first established by orders of faith. So I want to put on the record that part of this debate needs to be profoundly respected, even if you are not a person of faith. There is a faith position not shared harmoniously within each faith—stridently held views—but there are powerful, strong views, and there is tradition, there is dogma, there is thinking and there's a whole literature base about euthanasia and life. That voice, at odds with those who are fighting as wonderful citizens in this country for voluntary assisted dying, is a voice that we need to accept and live with. It is here in the chamber and it is in our community. It should be reflected everywhere. And that will be dealt with with another piece of legislation protecting people against religious discrimination.

We are this wonderful multicultural, multifaith community, so I do not resile from the fact that it is a faith education in wonderful Catholic schools that gives me some confidence in putting on the record my particular view about voluntary assisted dying, which is that there are inherent risks that give me great concern. I want to make it clear that my view is that this bill is about euthanasia, and that seems to be the flavour of the debate that we are having around the chamber this evening.

I also want to acknowledge the contributions of senators not just in the second reading debate over the many months that we been having this consideration but the contributions this evening of my colleague Senator Scarr about 'in good faith' conversations. I will have a couple of questions to both Senator Gallagher and Senator Nampijinpa Price about my concerns with the language that is in the amendment, the concerns that have been raised about the definitional matter. And, if I may ask Senator Pocock immediately, in referring to what Senator Shoebridge said about the advice that has been received from a barrister that you referred to in your own speech, Senator Pocock, that perhaps it might be tabled, because as this bill wraps up this evening—and it will go to a vote—these are resources that become useful to those from the territory, whether it is the ACT or the Northern Territory, in the deliberations that will occur.

I want to acknowledge my colleagues here in this place from the Northern Territory and the ACT in the Labor Party and those who are from the Northern Territory and ACT in the opposition and on the crossbenches. Are there any? Yes, yes—the agitator, the man who has done what he promised and brought this to the attention of a parliament. That is a good thing, because that is democracy in action.

Senator Pocock, are you willing to table the advice from the barrister that you have received that gives you a particular view about the risks inherent in the amendment that is being moved by Senator Nampijinpa Price?

6:54 pm

Photo of David PocockDavid Pocock (ACT, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I table the document requested by Senator O'Neill.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to respond to a couple of points that have been made in the debate, particularly with regard to concerns about coercion. I do bemoan the fact—I'm in agreement with Senator Shoebridge on this matter—that there are things that are being brought before us at the last leg home that deserved greater and more careful consideration. It troubles me that there was not the opportunity for us to undertake a full inquiry. We do so much good committee work here in the Senate. It troubles me that there wasn't a committee charged with the responsibility of perhaps gathering this information and doing the good work that the Senate does before we got to this point on the particular matter that is being moved in this amendment. That's a concern for me about where we are in terms of management. I particularly think it goes to some of the points that have been made about people with disability, and the consultation with people with disability. Those points were very well made by Senator Steele-John this evening.

I don't know if Senator Nampijinpa Price or Senator Gallagher can answer this question, but I am concerned about the commentary from Senator Shoebridge, who has said this evening with great confidence—it must be coming from somewhere; otherwise you would never come into this place and just make bold assertions for grandstanding on a matter so important—Senator Shoebridge has claimed tonight that if the amendment of Senator Nampijinpa Price passes it will render it inoperable and undermine any bills in the territories I'm seeking clarification on that very solid assertion that you've made. Perhaps some of the answers are in what's been received. I understand that that may be in the advice that's received, and that there may be an answer that's possible from either Senator Nampijinpa Price or Senator Gallagher.

6:57 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Indigenous Australians) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the amendment before the Senate and thank Senator Nampijinpa Price for bringing forward the amendment. I know it has been a very difficult time—a very difficult week and a difficult six months—as we all try and dig deep on an issue that requires us to use our conscience and reflect deeply on what matters in why we stand to speak for what we do, to support what we do and to say no to what we don't support. I respectfully say to my fellow territory senator that I don't support her amendment. I do believe, as I said in my previous statements not only in this debate but over so many years that we have raised it here before the Senate, that it is about the rights of the people of the territories. It is about the rights of the people in the ACT and the Northern Territory. To look at this amendment now, in my view, would only repeal what it is that we are here to do.

Senators, it is very clear what the territories are asking us to do tonight. I take this opportunity to acknowledge former Chief Minister Marshall Perron—it's good to see you—and Chief Minister Andrew Barr. Listening to some of the speakers, I think it's really important to point out that yes, we do have a small population in the Northern Territory, but we have good hearts. We have great thinkers. We excel at so many levels.

We only have to look at the COVID pandemic, when we were so fearful for the lives of First Nations people in this country and when we were so fearful for the lives of First Nations people in the Northern Territory. Since the former Chief Minister introduced the bill in the Northern Territory, the Northern Territory has grown exponentially in those skills, that knowledge and the ability to make its own decisions. We have 13 Aboriginal controlled health sectors across the Northern Territory who ensured, through all of those practitioners, that they could go out to each and every Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory, along with the health practitioners of Northern Territory Health.

It was the people of the Northern Territory who put their hand up to support all Australians, and the first planeload that needed help, from China, landed in Darwin. It was our health professionals who carried the load for our country. It was our health professionals, through the AUSMAT team, who reached out to Christmas Island, where the first couple of planeloads went, to treat our Australians who were fearful of having COVID. That in itself, senators, shows the incredible weight that we carry as a small jurisdiction and a small population, and our ability to do what we believe we should do to help others. So why is it that we are constantly told we cannot make any decisions for ourselves—that we cannot have even the opportunity to debate an important decision?

I want to take this opportunity to bring to the debate the voices of two former Indigenous politicians who, in 1995, spoke about voluntary euthanasia. One of them was the late Wes Lanhupuy, the then member for Arnhem. He said in his speech on this debate:

Like other members, I have taken the issue up with many people in my electorate, not only with Aboriginal people but also with communities such as Angurugu on Groote Eylandt whose residents indicated their views to me. If we are to mature and accept responsibilities, such as statehood … I have had close personal experience of terminal illness and I can express a personal view as to its effects and what is involved in that traumatic period when seeing someone undergoing a very hard time in their life and facing a tragic end.

…   …   …

Mr Speaker, I can assure you that, in the 11 years that I have been in this parliament, this is the most difficult bill that I have ever had to examine and ponder on. I have had sleepless nights over it for a whole range of reasons, not the least being my personal feelings towards it because of the personal tragedy that I mentioned earlier. At the time, I expressed my thanks to you, Mr Speaker, the Chief Minister and many others who helped me through that period. It was a very difficult time.

He said: 'I have never had the opportunity to raise those questions in my life.' He went on:

I for one would like to see this bill supported because I believe that I have been given the right to express my view in this case.

That was the late Mr Wes Lanhupuy, the member for Arnhem.

Then you had the late Mr Maurice Rioli, the member for Arafura, who spoke in that debate. He said:

Since the member for Fannie Bay gave notice of his intention to introduce voluntary euthanasia legislation into the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly, people have been polarised in relation to the issue.

…   …   …

I have received nothing but indications of overwhelming opposition to this bill from constituents in my electorate of Arafura which contains 8 major Aboriginal communities and many outstations. Most of these communities have written and spoken to me about their concerns in relation to the bill.

…   …   …   

At Nguiu on Bathurst Island, we heard from representatives that they were brought up by the missionaries. They said that they have strong Christian beliefs as well as their own cultural and traditional beliefs, and that they do not support the bill.

…   …   …

As a Tiwi person, I am all too familiar with death and dying … I understand my stance here today will be seen to be against the rights of individuals, but I cannot walk away from my beliefs or those of my electorate. I do not support the member for Fannie Bay's bill.

Senators, I give you two examples—one for and one against. I give those examples to you because I have heard senators stand up here and speak as though we are incapable in the Northern Territory of being able to have a mature debate on all sides of politics. That is what tonight is about. Tonight is about the Northern Territory saying to the federal parliament: please, do the right thing. Let us make our own decisions. Rightly or wrongly, they are ours. Most jurisdictions in this country have done it, after the Northern Territory had led the way. Senators, I call on you to not support this amendment and please support the people of the Northern Territory.

7:06 pm

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

I join with Senator Birmingham and Senator O'Neill, who very different views to me on the substantive issue and the way we will be voting—different sides of politics in your case, Senator O'Neill. Both your contributions, for me, highlight when this chamber is at its best: it's the rare moments when we get to debate and discuss matters of conscience. It is when senators around the chamber who all have different views, different values and different lived experiences in our nation stand up and respectfully put them on the record and respectfully listen to each other's very different views. I've been incredibly concerned, over recent years, that having different values and views is suddenly becoming a dangerous idea in this fabulous liberal democracy of ours—that divergent views are somehow dangerous and debase us. But I think deriding difference is what debases us. What makes us stronger and more mature as a democracy is to be able to make our way through hard, difficult conversations such as this one in the Senate, because—you know what?—it's a hard and difficult situation and discussion for our communities. To come in here and pretend it's not is debasing difference, is not being tolerant of divergent views and is not democratic. These are deeply held values. They are matters of faith.

With respect to the Northern Territory, I look forward to one day being able to debate and vote for a bill in this place that provides statehood for the Northern Territory and that provides statehood for the ACT. But, as my good friend and always opposing colleague Senator O'Neill put on the record, these are questions that relate to faith. For me, I have been consistent in this place with this particular question whenever it has been before me.

This year we've been talking a lot about respect in the workplace and a lot about how we can all make this workplace a lot more respectful. I don't think we're ever going to make it kinder and gentler; I think politics and the things we debate here need to be done robustly. Look at how we've been debating the industrial relations legislation in this place and the other place this week; we passionately oppose each other's view on this thing. That's why we were elected to do what we do on this side and why you were elected to do what you do on that side. But we do need to do things more respectfully, and when I see the senators who are in my team being disrespected in the chamber for their values and their views then I think it debases us all. I thank you again, Senator O'Neill, for calling that point of order earlier.

I will be voting for the amendments put forward by Senator Nampijinpa Price. I want to thank both her and Senator Liddle for their lived-experience contributions to this place. For too often, I think, we've all debated ideas and issues without actually hearing from those who have the lived experience of how these things play out in the unique and special places that we have in this country. It is absolutely right and proper that this bill will pass tonight. It's heading off to the ACT and the NT legislatures to do with what they will. So in articulating her specific concerns and her careful consideration of the unique situation that is in the Territory, I think it is very, very sound for the senator to stand up and say: 'Do you know what? While you're having that conversation, can you just think about these safeguards for young people, those with mental impairment and the disabled?' The amendments are sound and thoughtfully constructed.

We've seen legal advice tabled here in the Senate that says the contrary, that it will make these bills unworkable in the NT and indeed in the ACT. That's a real reflection on our clerks, because our clerks actually drafted these amendments so that the outcome Senator Nampijinpa Price was seeking, that these very simple safeguards would be part of—

Photo of David ShoebridgeDavid Shoebridge (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

That's outrageous!

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry, I'm asking for a respectful debate, Senator Shoebridge. We can take it outside and you can yell at me all you like. I know you're new here, but the way conscience votes work in this place, in the Senate—

The CHAIR: Senator Polley?

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to raise a point of order. I've been in this chamber for not enough years yet, I might add, but when we have these debates it is so disrespectful to interject. Whether you agree or disagree with the amendment or the substantial motion, Chair, people should be heard in silence and with respect. You can't on one day come into this chamber and talk about respect and then interject when there's a debate like this, which is very emotional. I had chosen not to speak, but I do sincerely hope that people will show the same respect. We have to continue to work together tomorrow, the day after and for years to come, so I ask you, Chair, to remind people of their responsibility to be respectful in this debate.

The CHAIR: I will leave your fine words to the chamber. Senator McKenzie.

Photo of Bridget McKenzieBridget McKenzie (Victoria, National Party, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Chair, and thank you, Senator Polley. I think we've all known enough lawyers to know that you can get an opinion on almost any issue to reflect your chosen outcome. That is not disparaging of the legal profession; it is actually how it works. It's the type of profession which articulates opposing views, and lawyers are very well schooled in being able to argue both sides of any given topic. They're very good at it. So whilst I respect that Senator Pocock has found a lawyer who says that these amendments will make the territory rights bill unworkable in the ACT or the NT, I'm sure we could find an 'opposing view', shall we say, somewhere else in the legal profession.

But I know the clerks of the Senate very well, and I know that when they draft amendments for all of us, or when they draft private senator's bills for us, that they do that to the very, very highest standard. They will have drafted these amendments to ensure that if the Senate chooses to adopt them—and it sounds like it won't—that they wouldn't render the territory rights bill inoperable, because that would be against the intention of the senator who sought their advice.

On that note, I do love the days that we are our very best selves in this place and the way that the friendships that have been developed over a long period of time are able to come to the fore and that we're sitting next to people we never sit next to in our everyday work. And it only works because we do treat each other with respect at work, and I would seek that we have more days like this. Thank you.

7:15 pm

Photo of David PocockDavid Pocock (ACT, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I appreciate Senator McKenzie's contribution to this debate. I would like to point out to the chamber that Senator McKenzie is casting aspersions on someone who is not here to defend themselves. Barrister Fiona McLeod AO SC provided this advice pro bono. This was not something we sought out to get a particular outcome. We were handed this amendment, and we sought advice. So I would just like to clear the record there.

7:16 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I wish to speak against this amendment. The core of this debate that we are having is about restoring territory rights so the territories' can make decisions for themselves. This amendment by Senator Nampijinpa Price would interfere with that. It would mean that a lot of those rights actually wouldn't be restored. Fundamentally, our debate needs to be about the rights of the territories to decide for themselves.

I'm a Victorian and I now live in a state where we have voluntary assisted dying. I haven't spoken in this debate before, and I will put on the record that I am a supporter of voluntary assisted dying. I think the way that it has been managed in Victoria has been exemplary.

But in one way we're talking about voluntary assisted dying, and that's not what we should be talking about here. We should be talking about the rights of the territories to be making decisions for themselves. The fact that the territories have different rights to the states is an anachronism. It's a random facet of our colonial past such that, as a Victorian, I have the opportunity to be part of that decision-making process to elect my members of parliament who made that decision, but people who live in the territories don't. And it's just not appropriate.

This bill that we are debating tonight is going to go some way to restoring that, to say that on this very sensitive issue—on the issue as to whether people have the right to choose to end their lives in a way that they desire, that is peaceful, and how they want to end their lives. They should have the right to do that in the ACT and the Northern Territory just as I now do have as a Victorian.

I don't want to speak for much longer—I do want to get home tonight—but I really felt that it was worthwhile just putting that on the record. I also want to acknowledge the people who are in the gallery: the Chief Minister of the ACT Andrew Barr, Marshall Perron, Andrew Denton and the people that have been following this debate for a long time. The fact that we've got such a full gallery shows what a significant issue this is and shows that we need to be respecting the rights of territorians to be making these decisions for themselves.

7:18 pm

Photo of Penny Allman-PaynePenny Allman-Payne (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I too haven't spoken on this bill but I can't support this amendment and I, along with my colleagues, will not be voting for it.

In 2019 my mother was diagnosed with motor neurone disease. At that time in Queensland she did not have access to VAD. But she told me that she would have liked to have known that she at least had the choice. And I think it would have given her a lot of comfort to know that, as her body degenerated and failed her, that was going to be an option for her.

If this amendment passes then people in the Territory who have a disease like motor neurone disease will not have that choice, because that would clearly fall within the category of a disability. It is an insidious disease. You can't walk, you lose your ability to speak, you lose all of your ability to control your bodily functions and eventually you suffocate from that disease. It is a horrible way to die. My mother was lucky for someone who had that disease. She cardiac arrested before she lost her ability to speak and breathe. Please let's not take away the right from people in the territory to have their government debate and decide whether or not they should have the right to choose and what safeguards need to be included with it. Thank you.

7:20 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to ask a question, but first can I convey my deep sympathy to you, Senator Allman-Payne. This is very, very real for all of us, and there is no judgement. We are best when we respect each other. That's when we're our finest. I'm sure everyone here and those listening would convey their deep condolences to you on your loss.

I'm very appreciative, Senator Pocock, of the tabling of the advice, and I have had the chance now to have a look at that. It is a beautifully written document, as you would expect from a barrister who has given this as a pro bono contribution to our national debate on this issue. Can I just indicate that there are a few words in here that I would be picking up if I was doing some analysis in my year 11 English class, words like 'potentially excluded' and 'potentially affected'. It's a very useful piece of information, and I'm sure that it will be taken on board by the state—the territories, sorry; perhaps I do have an inadvertent desire for you to become a state, as well—by the territories and will become part of what informs their deliberations moving forward.

Nonetheless, I am not convinced by the argument that has been put on the floor this evening that supporting Senator Nampijinpa Price's amendment would be the end of any possibility of responding to the will of the people of the ACT and the Northern Territory. I also acknowledge the incredibly eloquent and beautiful contribution of my colleague from the Northern Territory Senator Malarndirri McCarthy. I wonder if I can again ask that question of Senator Nampijinpa Price: can you clarify for me, can you add anything to the debate this evening about why it is that you believe the word that was put in here by the Clerk—the word 'solely'—addresses the issues of protecting people under the age of 18 and those with a disability from being engaged in the process of voluntary assisted dying.

7:22 pm

Photo of Jacinta Nampijinpa PriceJacinta Nampijinpa Price (NT, Country Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have stated my position. My colleague Senator McKenzie has also, I think, clarified this particular point. It speaks to legislation that has passed in states. It's almost a copy and paste from legislation that has passed in other states, and clearly the legislation has not rendered it futile for those states to carry out voluntary assisted dying and to legislate on voluntary assisted dying. I reiterate that what I propose in my amendment, my intentions that were provided to the Clerk, understood that it is not to attempt to render the bill futile. As I've stated, I am in support of territory rights. I'm also in support of elevating the human rights of vulnerable people. That is probably one of the biggest priorities I have in terms of decision-making in these chambers, and I have the right to do so as an elected senator for the Northern Territory.

I am deeply concerned at the state of the Northern Territory. I have witnessed the Territory government have put back in their hands the responsibility of alcohol availability in the Northern Territory. I have seen the vulnerable individuals lives in their hands and the way in which they have failed in their duty to uphold the human rights of vulnerable people in our communities, because as we speak right now there are children in communities who once upon a time, not that long ago, were able to live lives free of alcohol abuse. Those children are now suffering with alcohol abuse, with violence, with the threat of violence, with the threat of sexual abuse constantly hanging over their heads, and heightened states, because the Territory government—the Fyles Labor government—have failed to uphold their duty to protect the vulnerable to be able to live lives free of alcohol abuse, free of sexual abuse, because of the influence of alcohol in their communities.

I will reiterate, particularly for some of my Greens colleagues in this chamber, that I am putting these amendments forward to elevate the human rights of our vulnerable. It doesn't diminish the right for Territorians to legislate. It provides safeguards that already exist in other states. The Territory is not losing out in any way, shape or form. It will just be enhancing what the Territory is able to do, because all I am seeking is to safeguard the human rights of vulnerable members of the Northern Territory and do it at this stage. Nobody is missing out from this. Nobody is losing their rights. This is about the enhancement of the human rights of the vulnerable in the Territory that I have been elected, as a senator, to represent. It's as simple as that.

The CHAIR: I put the question, which is the question to put the question.

Question agreed to.

The CHAIR: The question before the chair is that the amendments on sheet 1764 standing in the name of Senator Nampijinpa Price be agreed to.

The CHAIR (19:36): I alert honourable senators that Senator Duniam has an amendment to the report, which will be moved when I returned to the President's chair. Senators will be able to debate that.

Bill agreed to.

Bill reported without amendments.

7:37 pm

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Minister for the Public Service) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the report be adopted.

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Environment, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

AM (—) (): Very briefly—I don't want to detain the Senate or those who are interested in this debate for long at all—I think it is important to note that this debate has been a long time coming and that the resolution of it is important to deliver to those who've been banking on it, so I will be very, very brief in my contribution.

I have circulated an amendment around this question, that the report of the committee be adopted. It relates to the administration of rules around access to the medicines used in the administration of VAD, bringing them into line with other medications through the processes available through the Therapeutic Goods Administration and its relevant legislation. It's a very straightforward amendment. Obviously, noting the scope of this legislation, it is something that is, in a sense, outside the scope of the bill that we are going to pass tonight. But I did, as I said last week, want to give voice to the issues that have been raised and that's what I'm doing today. It is important that we make sure we are apprised of all the facts and that all the safeguards are in place, much in the same way as we heard in the last debate about protection for vulnerable people in our community.

Before I conclude my very brief remarks, I also just want to add my thanks to every single senator in this chamber. I'm very proud of the conduct of the debate that took place here. It was sensitive; it's difficult, and everyone has made sure that the views that were expressed were heard in good faith. I particularly want to thank Senator Gallagher and Senator Hanson-Young for so willingly accommodating this and enabling the amendment to be moved. I it added another week, so I'm grateful for your time. If we can do it in this chamber—if we can have a respectful debate in this chamber—I hope that our friends in the Press Gallery can observe what we do and not ascribe motive without understanding why we're doing it. It is important that we are able to do this. As I said, I am proud of my colleagues, who have very different views to my own, for conducting the debate in this way.

With that I move:

The text of the amendment was unavailable at the time of publishing.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the amendment to the report as moved by Senator Duniam be agreed to.