This is the Rationalist Society of Australia’s submission to the Senate Standing Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee on the inquiry into the Ensuring Northern Territory Rights Bill 2021.
The Rationalist Society of Australia is Australia’s oldest freethought group, promoting the use of evidence and reason in public policy since 1906. The RSA bases its policies on universal human values, shared by most religious and non-religious people. We support the democratic ideals of freedom of the individual, equality before the law, and a secular society that neither privileges nor discriminates against people because of their religion or belief.
This Bill is mis-named. The Bill is not just about the Northern Territory.
The Bill would repeal the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 (Cth), which took away part of the legislative power granted to the legislatures of the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory by the Northern Territory (Self-Government) Act 1978 and Australian Capital Territory (Self-Government) Act 1988 respectively. In other words, the Bill would restore the legislative power possessed by those territories before the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 (Cth).
Because the Bill has the effect of restoring the territory legislative power of both the NT and the ACT, the title of the Bill should be changed to reflect its actual effect. A suitable name might be the Ensuring Self-Governing Territories Rights Bill or Restoring Territory Legislative Power Bill.
The Bill should be passed.
There is no justification for limiting – or continuing to limit – the legislative power of self-governing territories on a single subject-matter. The Euthanasia Laws Act 1997 (Cth) was a private member’s Bill introduced by a politician from Victoria for the purpose of ensuring that particular politician’s religious views were imposed on the peoples of the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory. In other words, the ability of the peoples of the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory to govern themselves was taken away to assuage an outsider’s religious views. This is not consistent with democratic territory self-government.
Whatever one may think about the issue of voluntary assisted dying, whether a self-governing territory should or should not adopt voluntary assisted dying laws is an issue that the elected representatives in the legislatures of the self-governing territories should decide.
Full self-government should be restored to the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory.
Dr Meredith Doig
President, Rationalist Society of Australia
25 August 2021