Australia

Laws preventing ACT, NT debating voluntary assisted dying lift after 25-year battle

Key Points
  • The Senate has voted to repeal a 25-year ban on the ACT and NT debating voluntary assisted dying laws.
  • The Commonwealth introduced the ban in 1997 after the NT passed voluntary euthanasia laws in 1995.
  • The ACT parliament will hold a vote at the end of next year or start of 2024 on legalising voluntary assisted dying.
The ACT and Northern Territory will be able to make laws about voluntary assisted dying for the first time in a quarter-century in what’s being hailed as a historic moment.
Senators cheered in the chamber on Thursday after legislation was passed to repeal a 25-year-old law put in place by Liberal MP Kevin Andrews.
celebrated the bill’s passing after months of advocacy and negotiations to bring it on for debate.
“This is on the back of a lot of advocacy, it’s a historic moment,” the independent senator said.
“People in our communities who have terminal diagnoses know this is unlikely something they’ll have the choice to use, but they want other people in the future to have that.

“That’s an incredibly brave thing to do, to come forward and tell your story.”

Finance Minister and ACT senator Katy Gallagher branded it “a really significant and historic moment and one that a lot of people have fought a long time to witness”.
Former and current territory leaders also heralded in the vote at Parliament House.
“The arc of history bends toward justice,” ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr said, quoting Martin Luther King Jr.
“We are humbled. It’s been a long journey to get to this point,” he said.

Mr Barr said consultation on legislation in the ACT will begin early next year, with a vote on the issue to be held at the end of 2023 or the start of 2024.

Former NT chief minister Marshall Perron oversaw the legalising of voluntary euthanasia in the Top End in 1995, sparking the federal bill that overrode the territories’ right to do so.

End to ’25 years of democratic inequality’

Mr Perron said he was reflecting on the 1,000 to 2,000 NT residents who had been denied access to voluntary assisted dying while watching the legislation pass.
He said the passing brought an end to “25 years of democratic inequality motivated by religious zealots”.
Coalition senators Jonno Duniam and Jacinta Nampijinpa Price had tried to amend the bill to ban voluntary assisted dying for people under 18, as well as review the types and regulations of medication used.
“My intention … is not to render the bill futile. I am in support of territory rights,” Senator Price said.

“I’m also in support of elevating the human rights of vulnerable people. I am deeply concerned at the state of the Northern Territory.”

Senator Gallagher said it was a simple repeal bill, nullifying the legislation which upholds the ban.
She said any safeguards surrounding how voluntary assisted dying would be administered would be a matter for the territories’ Legislative Assemblies.
“Their parliaments are constrained. They are democratically-elected parliaments; they are mature parliaments … it is more than reasonable these parliaments be allowed to do this for themselves,” she said.
Every state in Australia has .
Readers seeking support and information about suicide can contact 24 hours a day online and on 13 11 14. Other services include the on 1300 659 467, and  (for people aged five to 25) on 1800 55 1800.
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