Page 2213 - Week 07 - Tuesday, 2 August 2022
But the persistence of this legislation has also meant that citizens in one part of the country have different rights, simply by virtue of some citizens living in a territory rather than a state. It is made all the harder to believe when you realise that citizens living in close proximity, a mere 20 kilometres from this very place, have different rights to us. It has always been unconscionable, but it became increasingly untenable as states began legislating for voluntary assisted dying, first in 2017, another in 2019, three in 2021 and then, finally, the state that surrounds us, New South Wales, in 2022.
In all that time, we have raised our voices time and time again, sometimes as individuals but more recently in this place as a collective, and we have got louder and louder. It has been an extraordinary effort from so many and for so long, but persistence does pay off. The issue has gone from something that received the attention of the Senate very occasionally—very, very occasionally—in the last 25 years to an issue that has finally captured national attention.
Indeed, when I first joined the Assembly in 2016, I found one of the greatest challenges was raising awareness that this was even an issue, that our rights had been removed back in the 1990s. People were shocked, and rightly so. Then in 2018—Madam Speaker, you will remember well—the Senate vote on the issue was lost 34 to 36. The next day we made history in this place by passing a remonstrance against the Senate, and soon after you, Madam Speaker, the Chief Minister and I joined with our Northern Territory colleagues in delivering that remonstrance and meeting with the then President of the Senate. Madam Speaker, I think you and the Chief Minister were very polite at that time, but I could not hide my face and my sheer embarrassment at what was occurring in his response. If you want a definition of ‘paternalistic’, it was that discussion, when he said to us that he felt he had a certain responsibility as a senator to protect the territories from themselves. Regrettably, Madam Speaker, a member in the House of Representatives today has said the very same thing. It is codswallop. We make our own laws all the time; we are a mature parliament representing a highly engaged community, and we deserve the same rights as any other citizen in this country.
But we were not dismayed and we raised this issue time and time again, including in a joint letter from the Northern Territory Attorney-General and I to the Commonwealth outlining numerous human rights issues that were engaged with the persistence of this legislation, and then a tripartisan motion in this place. But even while attempts were made in the House of Representatives and the Senate to try to get this overturned by numerous members, including our ACT representatives, it was the Commonwealth government then blocking debate or, worse, intervening to exclude the ACT from attempts, like Senator Seselja did. We said it would be an election issue and it was.
With the election we saw a stark contrast to the obfuscation that defined the previous federal government: leadership from the federal ALP, confirmation that a bill, debate and a vote would happen. And the new federal government made good on its promises in its first sitting fortnight, with Alicia Payne and Luke Gosling introducing legislation yesterday. It was an honour for the Chief Minister and I to be there
to witness that momentous day—one, I hope, is the first of a few, as this proceeds
to a vote.