Australia’s territorial governments have suffered a blow after the federal government rejected their bid to make their own laws on voluntarily assisted dying.
- The NT and ACT governments wrote to the Commonwealth in March calling for an existing ban on voluntary assisted dying laws lifted
- Today, Attorney General Michaelia Cash wrote to reject the request
- Both governments condemned the decision
In 1997, a ban on the legislation was introduced after the Northern Territory two years earlier introduced the rights to the Death Sick Act.
The ban applied to both the NT and the ACT, preventing the territories from legislating on assisted dying.
In March this year, both jurisdictions wrote to senior Commonwealth ministers requesting that it be repealed, and today the request was denied by Attorney General Michaelia Cash.
While the decision was not surprising, the decision came as a disappointment to proponents of the laws in both areas, who say they should have the same rights as the states.
New South Wales is the only Australian state that has not enacted such legislation, but the government will soon consider a bill in which NSW Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet confirms that a conscience vote will continue.
‘How dare they?’
For Darwin’s resident Judy Dent, Mrs Cash’s response has aroused a sense of indignation and loss for decades.
Mrs Dent’s husband Bob, who had a terminal cancer diagnosis, was the first to make use of the NT’s voluntary euthanasia law before it was repealed.
Sir. Dent died on September 22, 1996, but the conversion of the law has since been a source of pain for his widow.
“It is certainly unconstitutional to treat people differently because of where they choose to live,” Dent said.
“That’s what they do – they make people in the territories second-class citizens.
She said the territories were being treated like “very naughty children” for trying to address the issue of euthanasia.
“People in the Northern Territory and the ACT are prohibited from having voluntary euthanasia,” she said.
“How dare they.”
Dent said the feeling of disappointment was one she had become accustomed to since the 1990s, when her husband first started campaigning for the bill.
But that feeling had become more difficult in recent years.
Commonwealth attitude ‘a sideshow’
The debate over territorial rights in Australia has been going on for some time.
For nearly a quarter of a century, the federal parliament has banned the territories from making laws on several “moral” issues – the result of legislation enacted by federal Liberal MP Kevin Andrews.
The fight for assisted dying laws is just the latest iteration in that amount.
In her letter to the two governments, Ms Cash said the federal government had no plans to lift the ban.
“The government believes that people should have access to high-quality palliative care and relief of pain and suffering, and that people, where possible, should be able to choose the range of active medical treatment they receive,” she wrote.
Northern Territories Liberal Party senator Sam McMahon, who presented a private member’s bill to restore legislation this year, said the response was “not surprising”.
“This has been the federal government’s consistent approach to both persuasions over the past 24 years,” she said.
“The government has no plans to introduce legislation. Of course they do not need it, because I have done so.”
Senator McMahon said the federal attorney general was “well aware” of her private member’s bill aimed at lifting the Commonwealth’s ban on euthanasia in the NT.
“This is not a battle at all – it’s a side show,” she said.
“[Senator Cash] has just stated the government’s position. ”
The ACT’s human rights minister, Tara Cheyne, described Mrs Cash’s response as “pathetic”.
“[We are] more than disappointed, “Cheyne said.
“It is disrespectful to our parliaments, and it is disrespectful to our citizens.”
A proposal was moved in the ACT Legislative Assembly today condemning the Commonwealth’s response.
Mrs Cheyne said Mrs Cash’s letter did not consider human rights implications.
“It ignores the very real concerns of the ACT and NT citizens and of our government,” she said.