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 the 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.

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