While the strong support for giving the ACT and Northern Territory governments the right to make decisions about issues such as voluntary assisted dying in a Canberra Times survey of 227 federal parliamentarians is encouraging, the poor response rate is something else entirely.
The fact only 52 members and senators took the time and the trouble to respond suggests a profound indifference - or an unwillingness to state their position - of those on the hill to what is a serious issue of inequality.
Many of the representatives - who, in addition to their allegiances to their own electorates or states, are obliged to work for the good of all Australians - don't seem to care that Canberrans, Northern Territorians and Norfolk Islanders are second-class citizens.
They don't have the same rights as residents of the states to determine their own destiny. Those were stripped away by the 1996 Andrews Bill, which overturned the Northern Territory government's historic Rights of the Terminally Ill Act (1995).
Territory rights became a hot-button issue again in 2013, when the Abbott government successfully challenged the ACT's Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act in the High Court, on the grounds only the Commonwealth had the power to legislate on marriage.
It was another Liberal prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who presided over the reinstatement of the right to same-sex marriage in the ACT, and its introduction in the rest of the country in 2017, after a national plebiscite. Those federal parliamentarians who stood idly by in 1995 and 2013, and those who missed the opportunity to take a stand on the question of equal rights for almost 750,000 Australians by participating in the recent Canberra Times survey, risk being on the wrong side of history.
It is absurd - given Western Australia and Victoria have already passed VAD legislation and Queensland, NSW, South Australia and Tasmania are well down the road to doing the same - for territory governments to continue to be denied the right to debate and perhaps pass laws that would enable residents in extremis to die with dignity at a time and a place of their own choosing.
Unless the federal government passes national VAD legislation, which is highly unlikely given so many states are going it alone, the situation may soon arise where two people working in the same Canberra office will face very different end-of-life choices, just because one lives in Googong and the other in Moncrieff.
On a more positive note, it is heartening to learn two-thirds of the 52 members and senators who did take the time to respond to the survey favoured equal rights for territorians.
What this means for the likely fate of Country Liberal senator Sam MacMahon's bill to restore the Northern Territory's right to make voluntary assisted dying laws is not entirely clear. That bill, which was to originally include the ACT, had to be watered down after her Senate colleague Zed Seselja said he would not support it.
It is significant, however, that there was strong support for the ACT's cause on the crossbenches in both the Senate and the lower house, with One Nation senator Pauline Hanson joining those who believe democratically elected parliaments should entitled to make laws for their citizens.
Given much has happened since David Leyonhjelm's 2018 attempt in the Senate to have the Andrews Bill reversed failed by just two votes, there is reason to believe Senator MacMahon's bill could get up.
If this were to happen, then the continued denial to the ACT of the same rights enjoyed by all the states and the smaller Australian territory as a result of opposition by Senator Seselja would be patently absurd.
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