A bill to restore the Northern Territory's right to legislate on voluntary euthanasia should be broadened to include the ACT to avoid creating a fresh form of discrimination against Canberrans, legal experts have told a parliamentary inquiry.
While the majority of submissions to an inquiry into Country Liberal Senator Sam McMahon's bill have backed its passage through Federal Parliament, some faith-based groups - including the operators of Calvary Hospital - are strongly opposed.
The publication of the submissions came as ACT Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne told the Morrison government there "should not be any controversy" in allowing the two territories to again make their own euthanasia laws.
A parliamentary committee has been tasked with examining Senator McMahon's proposal, which would lift the near quarter-century ban on the NT parliament legislating on voluntary assisted dying. The bill also includes provision relating to land acquisitions and workplace laws in the NT.
The ACT has been controversially excluded from the draft bill after Zed Seselja signalled to his Coalition colleague Senator McMahon he wouldn't support her proposal.
That means if Senator McMahon's bill passes, one territory would be free to make its own assisted dying laws but not the other.
Professor George Williams, an expert in constitutional law at UNSW, wrote in his submission there was "no justification" in lifting the ban only for the NT.
"The same issues of self-government and democratic rights apply with respect to the ACT, and so the equivalent clause in its self-government act should also be repealed," his submission read.
"Without this, this bill would introduce another invidious form of discrimination, this time between Australians living in the Northern Territory and the ACT."
Queensland University of Technology professors Lindy Willmott and Ben White also called for the ACT to be added to the bill as a "matter of principle".
Legal experts Wendy Bonython, Bruce Baer Arnold and Jane Diedricks used their submissions to call for McMahon's bill to be rejected because of the ACT's exclusion, which they described as an "inappropriate example of statutory particularism".
The trio said the Federal Parliament should instead repeal the so-called Andrews Bill, which would lift the ban on both territories and mean all jurisdictions had equal rights when it came to legislating on voluntary assisted dying.
The Canberra Times has since late July been calling for the Andrews Bill to be scrapped as part of its Our Right to Decide campaign.
While Senator McMahon has maintained she won't adjust her bill to include the ACT, she has publicly and privately encouraged ACT Labor Katy Gallagher to do so on behalf of Canberrans.
But Senator Gallagher has rejected that idea, arguing the "only way" to restore the territories' rights would be through a repeal of the Andrews Bill.
Among the more than 50 submissions published online by the committee include a number which argue strongly against Senator McMahon's bill, in most part due to opposition to voluntary euthanasia.
Little Company of Mary Health Care Ltd, which operates Calvary Hospital, feared allowing the NT parliament to pass voluntary euthanasia laws would "disproportionately affect vulnerable groups", including Indigenous communities and the elderly.
It said assisted dying laws were among the most serious considered by parliaments, and it was therefore "appropriate" for the Commonwealth to have oversight of the two territories given they were small jurisdictions with single-chamber legislatures.
"Calvary believes rather than weakening current protections we should instead be talking about how we best support the dignity and personal needs of those reaching the end of their life, in addition to their families and make sure that care is available and accessible to all," its submission read.
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"If nothing else the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us how precious life is. Many have suffered so much in order to keep as many alive, safe and well as is humanly possible."
Meanwhile, Ms Cheyne has used the passage of voluntary euthanasia laws in Queensland to again call on the Morrison government to repeal the Andrews Bill.
Ms Cheyne said in a letter last week to Attorney-General Michaelia Cash the Commonwealth was still yet to respond to correspondence she sent it six months ago, which outlined the serious human rights concerns the ACT and NT held in relation to the euthanasia laws ban.
She said the Morrison government had also not acknowledged a tri-partisan motion, which passed the ACT Legislative Assembly earlier this year, pushing for a repeal of the Andrews Bill.
Three states - Tasmania, SA and Queensland - have passed assisted dying laws since the letter was sent.
"Regardless of one's views on voluntary assisted dying, there should not be any controversy in allowing the ACT or Northern Territory to decide for themselves whether to introduce such legislation," Ms Cheyne said in last week's letter to Senator Cash.
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