The architect of Australia’s first euthanasia laws, Marshall Perron, says there should not be a conscience vote on lifting the ban on territories legalising euthanasia, as it is a territories’ rights issue.
Greens senator Richard Di Natale, a doctor, will introduce legislation to the Senate next Monday to wind back a 1997 Kevin Andrews bill that banned the NT, ACT and Norfolk Island from making laws on euthanasia.
Mr Andrews, now shadow minister for families, introduced the legislation in 1996 after the NT passed groundbreaking euthanasia laws. Prime Minister John Howard granted a conscience vote.
Mr Perron told Fairfax the bill was about much more than just euthanasia, describing it as a challenge for the parliament to protect territories’ rights to govern themselves.
”The territories’ rights issue should not be about conscience at all. The issue of the constitutional standing of our self-governing territories and what they should be allowed to do for themselves is quite separate to voluntary euthanasia. And therefore it shouldn’t be a conscience vote it should be party policy that the territories do have state-like powers,” Mr Perron said.
”But on the subject of voluntary euthanasia, that should be a conscience issue.”
Last year a Greens bill to remove a federal minister’s power to override territory law was passed by the parliament. Labor’s support for the bill caused a caucus stoush with some MPs on the Right worried that it may lead to the ACT legalising same-sex marriage and euthanasia.
Senior Minister Simon Crean on Tuesday backed the NT being allowed to make their own decisions. Speaking in Darwin Mr Crean said he had always been a supporter of euthanasia.
”There were two issues there, one went to the right of the Territory to form its own laws – and that I think is a fundamental right – but the principal itself I do support,” Mr Crean said.
”If you’ve moved to self-government, it’s important to properly allow the Territory – especially as they develop and have experience in government, to make decisions that affect them.”
Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s office said that on matters of euthanasia MPs would be granted a conscience vote, while Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s office said as there was currently no legislation before the parliament so there was no position on whether the matter would be a conscience vote. A spokesman said any bill would follow the party’s normal process.
Senator Di Natale has raised the issue with the Greens’ sole ACT Assembly representative, Shane Rattenbury, who was positive about raising the issue in the ACT.
Mr Rattenbury holds the balance of power in the ACT.
When asked about the Greens’ bill Mr Andrews this week said Australians were concerned about the rising cost of living and the carbon tax; euthanasia was not a national priority.