The strong support in the lower house on Wednesday for the private members bill to reinstate territory rights offers hope it may also fare well when it goes to the Senate.
The bill, which would give the ACT and the Northern Territory assemblies the right to legislate on issues such as voluntary assisted dying, was passed with 99 votes in favour and 37 against.
Among those who voted in favour of giving territorians the same rights as residents of the states were the Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and his deputy Sussan Ley. Other Coalition members also voted in favour of the bill.
The former prime minister, Scott Morrison, voted against the bill, as did prominent Labor frontbencher Tony Burke. This reflected the decision by both major parties to make the question a "conscience vote" for individual MPs because of their unfortunate conflation of territory rights with voluntary assisted dying and euthanasia.
This is despite repeated attempts by supporters of the bill, including its movers Alicia Payne and Luke Gosling, and newly elected ACT senator David Pocock, to make the point the issues are entirely separate; that a vote in the Federal Parliament to give territory assemblies the power to debate and legislate on sensitive issues is not an endorsement of what they choose to do with that power.
The 37 MPs who opposed the bill are arguably abusing their positions. They are trying to use their votes to exercise a form of coercion over other governments of which they are not members.
They are effectively saying that even though they are not even residents in either the ACT or the Northern Territory, and can't even vote in territory elections, they should be able to dictate policy to those communities on the basis of their personal moral and religious beliefs.
This is particularly objectionable given all of the MPs are from jurisdictions which have already implemented, or are implementing, voluntary assisted dying laws which they lacked the power to block.
The Shadow Attorney-General Julian Leeser's contention that the only right the bill endorsed was "the right to kill fellow territorians" and references to forced euthanasia in Nazi Germany marked the low point of this week's debate.
Following the passage of VAD laws by the NSW Parliament in May, the two territories are the only jurisdictions in the country which don't have such legislation.
This has created a situation which, if left unchanged, means that by late 2024 or early 2025 residents of Googong, Queanbeyan, Jerrabomberra and Yass would have access to VAD while somebody with an ACT postcode would not.
Both the ACT and the Northern Territory have come a long way demographically, economically, and socially since the Andrews bill, which restricted the powers of their governments, was rushed through under John Howard in the mid-1990s. Even then, the intervention was demonstrably wrong, in that it made territory residents second-class citizens in their own country at the stroke of a pen.
While the final outcome of the Senate vote, expected in September, is still far from certain, the departure of high profile territory rights opponents including Zed Seselja and Eric Abetz should make a difference.
That said, when David Leyonhjelm attempted to restore territory rights three years ago, his bill was voted down by two votes after seven ALP senators sided with the conservatives.
While good progress has been made, nothing is certain.
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