Labor Leader Anthony Albanese has backed moves to restore the rights of the territories, saying democracy in the ACT and Northern Territory should be respected while insisting the territories were mature enough to debate the issue of voluntary euthanasia.
It comes amid a renewed push to restore territory rights and after nationwide polling by The Australia Institute showing a clear majority of Australians - 68 per cent of 1004 people surveyed - supported the restoration of territory rights.
In an interview with The Canberra Times, Mr Albanese has, for the first time as party leader, fully articulated his support for moves to repeal the Kevin Andrews Bill which, in 1997, nullified the Northern Territory's assisted dying scheme. Last month, the opposition leader indicated support while attacking ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja in a speech to the ACT Labor conference, labelling the government minister a, "roadblock to the territory's right to legislate".
Speaking while in COVID-19 lockdown in Canberra - and paying tribute to the Labor chief ministers of the ACT and the NT - Mr Albanese said it was time for the territories to make their own political decisions.
"Yeah, I think that they should, unless there's some overwhelming reason over a national security issue or around the national capital here, obviously there's particular things in the parliamentary triangle," he told The Canberra Times.
"I think that democracy is something that should be respected and democracy in the ACT has gone from strength to strength. I think that Andrew Barr and Michael Gunner are both doing outstanding jobs."
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Voluntary euthanasia has become law across most of the Australian states. NSW is expected to soon debate proposed assisted dying laws. The ACT and the NT are unable to introduce or debate such legislation.
The ACT Liberal opposition and some federal government MPs and senators are part of a renewed push to restore territory rights, with NT Country Liberal Senator Sam McMahon introducing a private members' bill to restore only the NT's rights.
The ALP is yet to form a party position on territory rights related to voluntary assisted dying.
It was an issue of conscience and also of the ACT's maturity, Mr Albanese said.
"I argued that when Kevin Andrews had his legislation," he said.
"I think that the issue of voluntary euthanasia is a complex one and is a moral one. And I absolutely think that issues like that should be subject to a conscience vote.
"I've consistently been a supporter of more conscience votes, not less, and I have always argued that whenever anyone has asked for conscience votes on issues that are appropriate, I've argued for conscience votes."
But was addressing territory rights something for this term of Federal Parliament as Australia grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic? Or something that should wait until after the next election?
Mr Albanese said that was a question for the Morrison government, noting the mood within government was changing.
"We will wait and see, but they're the government," he said.
"Now there is agitation from people, government members, who say that they're going to take action on it. We will wait and see what happens.
"The problem for this government is, beyond the pandemic, people will look at the time of the next election and say, 'What was the point of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government except for a law of diminishing returns applying to the leaders of a three-term government'? Where's the legacy on economic, social or environmental reform?"
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