Federal debate begins on territory rights

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A “simple but long overdue” proposal to restore land rights has been presented to the Federal Parliament.

NT MP Luke Gosling presented the proposal in conjunction with ACT MP Alicia Payne that would allow territorial governments to legislate voluntary assistance in dying.

During the introduction of the bill, Mr Gosling asked his colleagues to support the simple but long-awaited proposal.

“For too long Australians living in the territories have been treated like second-class citizens,” he told parliament on Monday.

“This private member’s bill restores the democratic rights of citizens of the Territories by removing a constraint on the legislative authority of their elected representatives that does not exist anywhere else in Australia.”

The NT government passed the world’s first law to legalize euthanasia in 1995.

But the so-called Andrews Bill – named after former Liberal MP Kevin Andrews who introduced it in opposition to the legislation – passed the federal parliament in 1997, invokes a constitutional power that allows the federal parliament to overrule territorial laws.

While every state government has since passed laws allowing terminally ill adults to decide how to end their lives, the ACT and NT have been prevented from doing so.

Ms Payne urged her state colleagues to support the proposal.

“For Canberrans and the Northern Territories, it’s personal and it’s urgent,” she said.

“It’s an incredibly important debate that we’re not allowed to have just because of where we live.

“We should give all Australians the right to have an equal right to discussion.”

Previous attempts by the Federal Parliament to strike down the Andrews Bill have failed, but Gosling hoped this would be the last time the Federal Parliament would have to debate it.

“Support for this bill does not automatically confer support for medical assistance in dying,” he said.

“We are not legislating for this, we are simply righting an old wrong and ensuring that all Australians have the same democratic rights.

“It is our job to ensure equity at all levels for all citizens, whether they live in a state or territory.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will allow Labor MPs a vote of conscience on the issue.

A recent attempt to repeal the Andrews Bill in 2018 was defeated, with several Labor senators voting against it.

Mr Gosling said it would be a disappointing prospect if the new bill did not pass Parliament.

“I hope they will come to the same conclusions as us. Even someone like me who has reservations about medical assistance in dying, that’s not what’s at stake here,” he said. told reporters.

“The Territorians demand that they be represented here by people who will not tolerate our being treated like second-class citizens.”

While NT Senator Jacinta Price expressed concern about the bill, Mr Gosling said it was important that all senators and MPs in the territory are on board.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the presentation of the Bill was an important day.

“This time it’s different, there’s a lot more optimism about the likely success of this private member’s bill,” he told reporters.

“If we got that democratic right, we would deal with the issue in a sensible and measured way.”

Mr Gosling said there was renewed optimism about the bill, given that all states have now debated and legislated voluntary assisted death.

“Increasingly, senators and members of the House of Representatives understand that these sensitive issues can be handled properly by legislatures,” he said.

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