The Senate and Euthanasia

  On the 18th of August the Senate debated and passed Senator Brown's .  Originally titled the 

Territories Self-Government Legislation Amendment (Disallowance and Amendment of Laws) Act 2011Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Amendment (Disallowance and Amendment Power of the Commonwealth) Bill 2010, the bill was amended to include the Northern Territory during debate (and hence the new name).

What is the Territories Rights bill really about?

On the 18th of August the Senate debated and passed Senator Brown's Territories Self-Government Legislation Amendment (Disallowance and Amendment of Laws) Act 2011.  Originally titled the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Amendment (Disallowance and Amendment Power of the Commonwealth) Bill 2010, the bill was amended to include the Northern Territory during debate (and hence the new name).

The original bill was first introduced in September 2010.  Labor caucus adopted a party position in March this year to support the bill.  A few days later, after concerns from within Labor ranks were raised to the effect that the bill might be a stalking horse for Senator Brown's known social agenda, the party line was scrapped.

The bill was then referred to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee for an inquiry which recommended that the bill be supported with a few alterations.  In mid-August, Labor once again adopted a party line to support the bill.

Beyond the removal of the right of the Governor General to 'disallow or amend' any territories acts (leaving the only avenue of redress being a motion agreed to by both houses of the Federal Parliament), there still remain legitimate questions about exactly what this bill will do in practice.  Liberals on the committee of inquiry rejected the bill as a 'piece-meal' approach to the rights of the territories and their citizens while two Labor members of the same Senate committee rejected it on the basis of inherent inconsistencies.  While it was given mention, no-one rejected it on the basis that it was a stalking horse for Senator Brown's known social agenda — which includes euthanasia.

Reserving comment to euthanasia alone, it is worth noting that nothing in this bill acts to overturn or strike out the amendments to the territories acts of self-government that became part of those statutes by way of the Euthanasia Laws Act 1996 (The Andrew's Bill).  With variations, the substantive clause reads: Subject to this section the power of the Legislative Assembly conferred by section 6 in relation to the making of laws does not extend to the making of laws which permit or have the effect of permitting (whether subject to conditions or not) the form of intentional killing of another called euthanasia (which includes mercy killing) or the assisting of a person to terminate his or her life.

Given earlier posts on this subject, I could be accused of reading this bill wrongly and of making errant conclusions to the effect that should this bill become law, that new euthanasia laws might indeed be raised in the territories.  In my defence, I was no orphan.  Given Senator Brown's known agenda and repeated recent attempts at euthanasia law by Greens MPs in three states, it is, I hope, understandable that we should remain sceptical.  However, this is by no means the end of the matter.

Senator Brown also has a bill on the Senate notice paper entitled: Restoring Territory Rights (Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation) Bill 2010.  This bill seeks to remove the Andrew's Bill amendments from all territories self-government acts.  It has not received any attention in the Senate since October 2010.  At that time it had been assumed that Brown's territories rights initiative was simply a change of tactic to the same ends.

If the bill that just passed in the Senate becomes law, we can be almost certain that Brown will attempt to resume the debate on this euthanasia bill in the near future.

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