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Territories decision looms

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Bill opponents say euthanasia laws will affect vulnerable Indigenous communities. PHOTO: FREEPIK.COM

Bill paves the way for legalisation of euthansia in ACT and NT

The debate over the Restoring Territory Rights Bill has begun in the Senate, bringing the introduction of euthanasia in Canberra and the Northern Territory one step closer.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr told The Canberra Times he was “cautiously optimistic” the Bill will pass, giving the NT and ACT the right to pass their own euthanasia laws.

Parliamentarians have been given a conscience vote on the Bill, with support and opposition for euthanasia cutting across the major parties in both Houses.

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Labor Senator Deborah O’Neill spoke firmly against the legislation in terms similar to those reported in The Catholic Weekly from Shadow Attorney-General Julian Leeser, the leading opponent of euthanasia in the House of Representatives.

She noted that the small size of the Territories, their dependence on the Federal government and their lack of upper houses meant the Bill needed to be debated carefully.
Like other opponents of the Bill, Senator O’Neill made reference to how euthanasia laws will affect vulnerable Indigenous communities in the NT.

“If this legislation passes, as it appears it will, it’s important going forward that this very important constituency, which doesn’t yet have a voice to this place, is taken very much into account when the debate is considered in the Northern Territory,” she said.

“I think that goes to issues of resource capacity as well. It’s one thing to think about what enacting voluntary assisted dying laws, or euthanasia laws, in the ACT might look like.

“It’s an entirely different matter to look at it in the context of the Northern Territory with its very dispersed population with incredibly different levels of access to services, including health services—mental health services, physical health services and palliative care.”

Senator O’Neill also said the Bill should have been referred to a Senate committee to hear evidence on the impact euthanasia laws would have in the Territories.

Coalition Senator Simon Birmingham, the Opposition’s leader of government business in the Senate, said the 1997 “Andrews Bill” that prevented the Territories legislating for euthanasia should never have been passed.

It’s an entirely different matter to look at [euthanasia laws] in the context of the Northern Territory with its very dispersed population with incredibly different levels of access to services…” – Labor Senator Deborah O’Neill

“It was always anachronistic for the Commonwealth to have decided that the one limitation on the territories compared with the states would be on the questions of voluntary euthanasia or voluntary assisted dying,” he said.

“For me, personally, the right to voluntary assisted dying, and to access that, has always been one that humane societies should make available.”

Greens Senator David Shoebridge spoke on behalf of his party, calling the “Andrews Bill” “deeply cynical, inappropriate and undemocratic”.

As The Catholic Weekly went to print, the Senate debate had not progressed beyond its first day, on 4 September, and was not expected to be debated again this week.

Prior to the Senate debate, progressive think-tank The Australia Institute released poll results showing high levels of support for voluntary assisted dying/euthanasia, including among Christians.

The poll of 1005 Australians was broken down by Christian denomination and showed that the majority of Australians agreed Territory governments should decide whether euthanasia should be legal in their jurisdictions (78 per cent).

Catholics and Anglicans both polled slightly higher than the national average, at 79 per cent and 82 per cent respectively.

Only 10 per cent of Catholics opposed the question being returned to the Territories, with 11 per cent saying they weren’t sure.

“Other Christian” denominations had the lowest level of support for Territory rights, at 60 per cent.

Related:

Social shift led to euthanasia law

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