For many years DWDACT has lobbied the ACT Human Rights Commission and the ACT Government about the inconsistency of the ACT Human Rights Act and s 17 of the ACT Crimes Act which criminalizes anyone who assists someone to die. The Minister’s letter today is the first letter that I am aware of from the ACT Government that addresses the right of territorians to ‘enjoy their human rights without distinction or discrimination of any kind’. In fact the DWDACT committee was planning to lodge a complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee this year because the DWDACT government had not addressed our complaints in any way at all.
It is possible that now they have written on behalf of territorians on the basis of Human Rights legislation that the ACT Government may be in a position to lodge a complaint against the Federal Parliament themselves to the UN Human Rights Committee if there is no satisfactory response from the Federal Parliament.
The Federal Parliament is under no obligation to ‘restore’ territory rights. The territories only have the laws that the Federal Parliament allows them. When the territories step over the line to make laws that the Federal Parliament thinks are inappropriate the Federal Parliament is free to act under the Australian Constitution, S122 Government of the territories which states
The Parliament may make laws for the government of any territory……and may allow the representation of such territory in either house of the Parliament to the extent and on the terms which it thinks fit.
The letter from the Minister addresses the use that the Federal Parliament made of Section 122 of the Australian Constitution which they were perfectly entitled to do from a legal point of view, however insulting it was to people living in the territories, to enact the 1997 Euthanasia Laws Act which denies territory governments the right to make laws on euthanasia, mercy killing or any form of assistance to die.
I hope this appeal to the Federal Parliament on the basis of our human rights is successful and that the Euthanasia Laws Act is repealed. The DWDACT committee will watch the progress and impact of this letter with interest.
Tara Cheyne MLA
Minister for the Arts
Minister for Business and Better Regulation
Minister for Human Rights
Minister for Multicultural Affairs
Assistant Minister for Economic Development
Member for Ginninderra
4 March 2021
ACT and NT call for restoration of territories’ rights as human rights obligation
The Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory are again calling on the Federal Government to restore the rights of our jurisdictions to legislate on the issue of voluntary assisted dying.
The Northern Territory Attorney-General and I have jointly written to the Federal Attorney General, the Assistant Minister for Regional Development and Territories and the Deputy Prime Minister. In this letter we have emphasised our ongoing concerns about the stark inequity between states and territories regarding voluntary assisted dying. This is clearly demonstrated in that, by mid-2021, all Australian states will have either passed legislation relating to voluntary assisted dying or have a Bill before their parliament – the Tasmanian parliament is debating laws on voluntary assisted dying in this very week – while the territories remain banned from considering legislation of this kind thanks to laws passed by the Federal Parliament more than 20 years ago. It is untenable and indefensible.
We have also drawn their attention to our deep concern that the persistence of this situation is inconsistent with Australia’s international human rights obligations. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Australia is a party, guarantees citizens the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives. By prohibiting the citizens of the ACT and the NT from deciding for themselves— through their elected representatives—whether to legislate in the area of voluntary assisted dying, the Federal Government may be limiting this human right. Further, individuals are entitled to enjoy their human rights without distinction or discrimination of any kind—yet ACT and NT citizens are being denied their right to participate based on being residents of a Territory. It is hard to fathom—and embarrassing—that the Federal Government allows a situation to persist which limits some residents’ human rights in our own country.
We are asking that the Federal Government finally show leadership on this issue and restore our Territory rights. Regardless of one’s views on voluntary assisted dying, there should not be any controversy in allowing the ACT and NT to decide for themselves whether to introduce such legislation, and to allow citizens of the ACT and NT an equal opportunity to legislate on this matter if their communities desire. This is a simple legislative change for the Federal Government to propose and enact which would cost nothing. But it would mean so much to ACT and NT residents—and right a wrong that has persisted for decades. Statement Ends
ACT Legislative Assembly
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Media contact: Kaarin Dynon M 0422 772 215 Kaarin.Dynon@act.gov.au