A senior federal government minister backed the ACT to again be allowed to legislate on voluntary euthanasia, saying he saw no "special reason" why it should be denied the same rights as states.
South Australian senator Simon Birmingham confirmed his support for a repeal of the so-called Andrews Bill, and explained his reasons why, in an email to ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and then Labor backbencher Tara Cheyne in December 2019.
Senator Birmingham had some 14 months earlier voted in favour of David Leyonhjelm's bill to restore the ACT and NT's right to legislate on euthanasia - but did not speak during the two-day debate. Marise Payne was the only other minister to back the Leyonhjelm bill, which was defeated by two votes.
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In the email to Mr Barr and Ms Cheyne, which The Canberra Times has seen, Senator Birmingham said he was both a supporter of voluntary euthanasia and territory rights.
"I am of the view that voluntary euthanasia should be an available option for those in the final, painful stages of a terminal illness.
I see no special reason why they should be denied the right to make laws in regards to voluntary euthanasia.Simon Birmingham
"While strong safeguards are essential, I believe with a sensible approach it should be possible to create a safe system that provides a compassionate option for those who wish to exercise it," he said in the email.
"Further to this, the right to legislate in this area should be extended to the territories. The territories have been granted self-government with rights broadly equal to those afforded to the six Australian states and have respective democratically elected legislators.
"Territory legislators are already able to makes laws on a range of other life and death matters. I see no special reason why they should be denied the right to make laws in regards to voluntary euthanasia."
The Canberra Times understands that Senator Birmingham's position has not changed since the 2019 email, meaning he would be expected to vote in favour of a repeal of the Andrews Bill if it was put to a conscience vote.
Senator Birmingham was trade and tourism minister at the time of the email. He has since been handed the finance portfolio and assumed the role of government leader in the Senate.
His position is in stark contrast to his senate and cabinet colleague Zed Seselja, who is strongly opposed to restoring the ACT's right to legislate on voluntary assisted dying.
Senator Birmingham's email came after Mr Barr and Ms Cheyne had asked federal parliamentarians to state their views on the issue.
Speaking at a territory rights forum on Wednesday night, Ms Cheyne praised Senator Birmingham for his position.
"We didn't get a huge response rate [to our emails], but someone who did respond quickly and immediately and did not wait for the party line was Simon Birmingham," Ms Cheyne told the Australia Institute forum.
"I want to really underline how grateful we are that he supports voluntary assisted dying and territory rights. So shout out to Birmo!".
- This story is part of Our Right To Decide campaign. The Canberra Times is advocating for the ACT to have the right to legislate on voluntary assisted dying, like other states.
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