29 November 2021


Senator McCARTHY : I rise to stand and support Senator McMahon's Ensuring Northern Territory Rights Bill 2021 for territory rights for the people of the Northern Territory and for the people of the ACT. I'll just put on the record though what a load of rubbish some of the words that came from Senator Seselja were.

Senator McMahon's bill would not have come before the Senate if it had not been for the Australian Labor Party pushing for it to come before the Senate. Why? Because the federal government, the coalition government, the Prime Minister himself, has intervened to stop Senator McMahon from being able to bring anything to this Senate, which is absolutely outrageous. It is systemic of this government to bully, to intimidate, to antagonise and to stop the rights of people having their democratic say—in particular here in the parliament of Australia to be able to have their rights to speak in the House, to speak here in the Senate.

Senator McMahon brought this bill on with great sincerity on behalf of the people of the Northern Territory. This bill should've been listed well before this government was forced to bring it in five minutes before the bells rang this morning. Why did they do that? They did it because they had no choice. They knew that there was support for Senator McMahon's bill because in the Northern Territory parliament and the ACT parliament we want to see the ability for those members in those parliaments to debate these laws. Why is it that the people of the Northern Territory and the ACT are second-class citizens? Why is it that nearly every other state parliament in this country can debate laws for end of days? Why are we afraid to enable the people of the Northern Territory and the ACT to do exactly that?

For me personally, I don't support voluntary assisted dying. It is not something that I would want to see. But I support very much the right of the people of the Northern Territory and, indeed, the Northern Territory parliament to debate itself—the democratic right where they can argue, where they can speak passionately about issues impacting or possibly affecting their very own constituents who put them in there. Why do we think we have to be the big brother or the big sister, stopping the people of the ACT and the Northern Territory being able to debate what happens at the end of life for their families—their brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers—and them being able to speak to the medical fraternity, being able to speak to the aged-care providers and being able to talk to the churches? Why are we afraid to enable them to do that?

We expect the people of those territories to do everything else this parliament says. As Senator Gallagher pointed out, the Prime Minister keeps throwing everything back to the state and territory premiers—'You're responsible for quarantining. You're responsible for putting people in hotels.' It's interesting, isn't it? I think Senator Waters raised that point. This parliament likes to dictate what can and can't be done in the territories. Here we have a very courageous government backbench senator who has not only stood up to her colleagues in both the Nationals and the Liberals for the people of the Northern Territory on this bill coming forward today but also fought with me to save the seat of Lingiari so that we could have two seats in the Northern Territory and not revert to one.

The bullying and harassment that went on to prevent Senator McMahon from even doing that is absolutely outrageous. These are the reasons people do not stand for politics. These are the reasons why women in particular think twice about standing for politics. It's an absolute disgrace that members on that side have not given the Territory senator for the Country Liberal Party the support she needed to get this bill here in the Senate and the support, respect and dignity to be able to speak.

There are only two of us, for goodness sake. There are 12 senators in every state, all bullying one on your side. Is that an indication of what you think of the people of the territories? That's the only thing we can take away from that. If this is how you treat your senator then it's no wonder the people of the Northern Territory and the ACT think they don't matter and that their voice is not important. That is the only image you give when you do that not only to this bill but to the senator who has tried to bring it forward. I commend Senator McMahon for doing this.

As I've said, I do not support voluntary assisted dying. I have my personal reasons for that. I will fight vehemently for the rights of the Northern Territory and the ACT parliaments to be able to debate it most passionately, with great maturity and with great compassion. I urge senators here today to realise the significance of this moment in this parliament this year and the fact that the Labor opposition had to force this private senator's bill to the floor this morning.

Next year it will be 100 years since the Northern Territory was able to have its first member in the Australian parliament. That was one seat. We've got only two seats—Solomon and Lingiari—so our voices have not grown significantly at all. Do not diminish us just because you can. Do not silence us just because you can. Do not bully us just because you think you can, because that will not be tolerated.

With the Ensuring Northern Territory Rights Bill 2021, we'd certainly like to see the amendments come forward in terms of the two aspects that Labor does not support. That is not because we don't support a Territory rights bill. We have had this discussion with the senator opposite. The Australian Labor Party has concerns about the fair work rights aspect of it and obviously the aspects around the land. I understand that when Senator McMahon does move those two amendments we will absolutely be supporting this bill wholeheartedly. Certainly Senator Katy Gallagher will be moving to include the ACT.

I think it's really interesting to observe Senator Seselja's comments around this. Senator Katy Gallagher was in no way at all reluctant to see this bill come forward. In fact, it's her private senators' bill that's been removed completely from today's debate. We are not sure when we'll get it back on again. Are we coming back after these parliamentary sittings? Will we be here before the next election? Who knows? But Senator Gallagher has willingly given up her spot on her very important senators' bill to enable this debate to take place. Whatever Senator Seselja has to say on it really gives little comfort at all, if any, as to whether he's had any willingness to support the territories to have their rights empowered again in these parliaments so that that discussion and debate can take place. Shame on you, Senator Seselja, for trying to bring to this Senate such disrepute in saying that you brought this bill on this morning, that it was the government. No, it wasn't—not at all. This was us. This was completely the Labor Party and this was done because we fairly believe in the sincerity of Senator McMahon's bill to improve the rights for the people of the ACT and the Northern Territory.

One of the things that I'm acutely aware of is that, should this bill pass, there will be passionate debate, in particular in the Northern Territory. Given the over 100 Aboriginal languages there, I know the importance of communication and the importance of being able to understand what the ability to debate this in the Northern Territory parliament would mean. It would come back to the 25 members of the legislative assembly in the Northern Territory to discuss and debate, and I have no doubt that each and every one of those 25 members of the Northern Territory assembly will have to dig deep and find out where they stand on this issue of voluntary assisted dying.

It has been over two decades since the Northern Territory led the way, and I have to agree with Senator McMahon's comments that it was the Northern Territory that courageously brought this forward well ahead of its time. Were we mad? Were we crazy? Were we all these things? Let's have a look at the state parliaments around the country who have now had their own debates. No doubt every single parliamentarian in each of those states that have debated end of life have dug deep to find out what it means for them, their conscience, their family, their Christian beliefs and their ability to sit comfortably or uncomfortably with it. But that's because we're a democracy. Isn't that what we pride ourselves on as Australians? Isn't that the one thing that really does hold us together—the belief in our ability to speak respectfully? I have to raise 'respectfully', because there are many views of late that shouting at people, threatening people and bullying people is democracy. Well, that's not democracy. It's not the democracy I want; that's for sure. Democracy is the ability to stand up and agree to disagree. It's the ability to listen respectfully but also know that in this particular instance it's about the Senate, the House of Reps and parliamentarians at the Australian government level realising that sometimes democracy is also about letting go. Let go of the power you hold onto so fiercely in this place, and let the peoples of the Northern Territory and the ACT make up their own minds and have the right to do so.