Unlike the states in Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory do not have their legislative powers guaranteed in the Australian Constitution. Instead, the Australian parliament has enacted legislation which enables the two territories to be able to govern themselves: the Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 (Cth) and the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 (Cth). The territories thus derive their legislative powers from these federal Acts.
It is rare, but the Australian parliament can limit, reduce or repeal powers in the territories. Below is a brief timeline of how the territories’ rights to legislate for voluntary assisted dying were taken away – and the efforts taken to restore them.
Northern Territory legislates for voluntary euthanasia with the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995.
Federal MP Kevin Andrews introduces the Euthanasia Laws Bill 1996. This Bill inserts provisions into each of the territories’ Self-Government Acts which bans them from being able to legislate for voluntary assisted dying. It specifically repeals the Northern Territory’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995. It passes the House of Representatives 88 votes to 35.
The Euthanasia Laws Bill passes the Senate 38 to 33 votes. The Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 comes into force on 27 March 1997.
From here on, neither the ACT nor the Northern Territory can legislate for voluntary assisted dying.
Senator Lyn Allison introduces the Euthanasia Laws (Repeals) Bill. It is never debated.
Senator Bob Brown introduces several Bills to repeal the Euthanasia Laws Act. One goes to a committe for inquiry, where they determine it should not proceed. One is debated but not voted on.
Senator Richard Di Natale introduces the Restoring Territory Rights (Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation) Bill. The Bill is not debated.
Senator David Leyonhjelm introduces the Restoring Territories Rights (Assisted Suicide Legislation) Bill.
Senator Di Natale and Senator Katy Gallagher introduce the Restoring Territory Rights (Dying with Dignity) Bill. The Bill is not debated.
A second-reading debate begins on Senator Leyonhjelm’s 2015 Bill.
Senator Leyonhjelm’s 2015 Bill is restored to the Notice Paper. The second-reading debate continues.
Victoria becomes the first state in Australia to pass voluntary assisted dying laws.
The ACT Legislative Assembly establishes a select committee to inquire into End of Life Choices, including voluntary assisted dying.
The second-reading debate on Senator Leyonhjelm’s 2015 Bill continues.
The Senate agrees to proceed with debate on the Bill on 14, 15 and 16 August 2018.
On 15 August following considerable debate, the question of the Bill is put before the Senate. It is defeated 36 to 34.
On 16 August, the ACT Legislative Assembly passes the only remonstrance motion in the history of its parliament, protesting the Senate’s rejection of the Bill. The remonstrance debate can be viewed here. The text of the remonstrance is here. Media coverage of the debate is here.
On 20 August, ACT MP Andrew Leigh and NT MP Luke Gosling jointly introduce the Restoring Territory Rights Bill 2018. It lapses at the dissolution of that term of parliament in 2019.
On 13 September, the Speaker of the ACT Legislative Assembly formally presents the remonstrance to the President of the Senate.
The ACT Legislative Assembly select committee tables its report into end of life choices, with chapters 8 and 9 devoted to voluntary assisted dying.
In June, the Victorian legislation for voluntary assisted dying comes into effect.
On 27 November, the following motion is passed unanimously in the ACT Legislative Assembly:
In November, the petition to restore Territory rights is launched.
In December, Western Australia becomes the second state in Australia to pass voluntary assisted dying laws.
2020 (Present Day)
Tasmanian MP Mike Gaffney intends to introduce a private member’s Bill to legislate for voluntary assisted dying at end August/early September.
The situation in the ACT and NT remains unchanged: federal legislation persists which bans us from legislating for voluntary assisted dying.