ACT News

Euthanasia submission from Katy Gallagher, Shane Rattenbury call for ACT laws

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher.
ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher. Photo: Graham Tidy

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and the Greens' Shane Rattenbury have called on the federal government to give the territory back its right to make laws on euthanasia.

The pair have  made separate submissions to a Senate inquiry into the Medical Services Dying with Dignity Bill, introduced by the Greens this year. The laws seek to legalise voluntary euthanasia. The Senate inquiry received an overwhelming 663 submissions, plus hundreds more pro forma submissions.

The inquiry isn't considering the rights of the territories to make laws on euthanasia, but Ms Gallagher urged it to push for the repeal of the Andrews Bill, which banned the territories from making euthanasia laws in 1997.

She told the inquiry that the ACT government supported in principle the right for people with a terminal illness to make informed choices about how to end their lives in consultation with doctors. In an interview, she said it was more "nuanced" and complex than voluntary euthanasia alone, with other options, such as refusing treatment and accelerating death, also part of the end-of-life mix.

But she said there was no basis for the Commonwealth to remove Canberra's right to make its own laws on the subject. If the Andrews law was repealed, Ms Gallagher said that while she had no plans herself to draft euthanasia laws, she would support a debate if legislation came forward, as it almost certainly would, given the activism of Labor backbencher Mary Porter on the subject and the support of Mr Rattenbury.

In his submission to the Senate, Mr Rattenbury said the ACT should be treated the same as any other state on euthanasia. He pointed to two Commonwealth moves recently to give the ACT more power over its own affairs – a decision last year to allow the territory to make its own decisions about the size of the local parliament, and a 2011 change that removed the power of the federal government to unilaterally overturn territory laws. 

Mr Rattenbury insisted the ACT would handle a euthanasia regime with "great care" and rigorous safeguards. 

"The ACT's ability to create and manage an appropriate euthanasia scheme is at least as sound as that of  the states," he said.

Mr Rattenbury said he accepted the High Court decision that the ACT's same-sex marriage law was inconsistent with the federal Marriage Act, but euthanasia was a very different situation.

The federal government arbitrarily and unexpectedly intervened to essentially change the goalposts by legislating to remove the territories' ability to legislate on euthanasia," he said. "This of course leaves the territories with uncertainty as to the permanence of its laws, as well as being undemocratic and discriminatory."

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