SPEECH: Restoring Territory Rights (Assisted Suicide Legislation) Bill 2015

August 14, 2018

Madam Deputy President I rise to speak on this very important debate.

In Yanyuwa Garawa we don’t really have a word for euthanasia in our language. In fact, talking to families in the region over many many years especially around the time of the 1997 conversation in the Northern Territory Parliament around the Terminally Ill Act, people didn’t know what euthanasia meant in our families.

So when you think of how you would explain that in language, when we have over 100 Aboriginal languages in the Northern Territory there was a great deal of difficulty on that level.

But Madam Deputy President this bill goes to the heart of the rights of the people of the Northern Territory to make their decision, to make decisions within Northern Territory Legislative Assembly along with the elected reps of the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly.

And it is the importance of the Westminster system in this country, the importance of your democratic right to speak, your one vote, your one value where you elect people to speak on your behalf in these assemblies.

In 2007 I was the Member for Arnhem and stood in the Northern Territory Parliament to speak on many issues and I was the elected Member for Arnhem from 2005 – 2012.

But in 2007 when the Commonwealth Parliament made a decision to intervene in the lives of the people of the Northern Territory, as a legislator and as someone elected by the people, I had never felt so powerless as a parliamentarian, I had never felt so powerless that as a representative of the constituency of Arnhem and the people of the Northern Territory, I had no voice, I had no say, along with 24 other members of the Northern Territory Legislature.  

That because of the founding forefathers of this country who wrote a constitution that wrote yes imperfect as it is stood the test of time. Section 122 of the constitution which enables this Parliament to overrule, to intervene into the lives of the peoples in the territories still remains an area of debate.

For this Bill to reflect on a law that was made by the Parliament of the Northern Territory and to consider giving that right back to the Northern Territory in order for the Northern Territory to make its own laws is the right thing to do.

I say to the Senators in this house, ‘what makes your conscience, what makes your personal experiences any better or any less than the parliamentarians who stand in the Northern Territory Assembly and the parliamentarians who stand in the ACT Assembly. What gives you the authority, the moral authority, the personal authority to think that your ability is much better and greater than theirs?

This Bill goes to the heart of our country’s democracy, the right for people to make laws, to make mistakes, learn from those mistakes as elected representatives, put there by the people who voted them in.

At the time of the debate here in the Federal Parliament in 1997 to overturn the Northern Territory’s euthanasia bill, the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act, much was said about why is it that 25 people could make a decision on such a very big and important decision. Who did they think they were?

Well, I am going to tell you who they were because I knew and know every single one of them. Who stood in the Parliament and debated for hours in 1995, through Committees across the Territory and then struggled with the decision of the Commonwealth two years later.

The late Maurice Rioli the Member for Arafura; Eric Pool the Member for Araluen; the late Wesley Lanhupuy the Member for Arnhem; Maggie Hickey the Member for Barkly; Lorain Braham the Member for Braitling; Denis Burke the Member for Brennan; Peter Adamson the Member for Casuarina; Marshall Perron, Chief Minister Member for Fannie Bay; Terry McCarthy the Member for Goyder; Richard Lim the Member for Greatorex; Rick Setter the Member for Jingili; Mick Palmer the Member for Karama; Mick Reed the Member for Katherine; Frederick Finch the Member for Leanyer; Neil Bell the Member for Macdonnell; Phil Mitchell the Member for Milner; Noel Padgham Purich the Member for Nelson; Syd Stirling the Member for Nhulunbuy; Steve  Hatton the Member for Nightcliff; Barry Coulter the Member for Palmerston; Shane Stone the Member for Port Darwin; Daryl Manzie the Member for Sanderson; Brian Ede the Member for Stuart; And this, Senators, was what they struggled with.

Mr Perron, “a number of members find themselves in a dilemma over the issue before us. Indeed I find myself among that group, today I will damage relationships that I value deeply. My dilemma is whether to rest my case, and not further bruise those relationships, or press ahead and try to achieve a needed reform that will diminish misery and suffering for a very small number of unfortunate citizens.”

John Bailey “We should amend it to make the best legislation possible. We should monitor it in the future to ensure that there are no problems or loopholes. We should delay the implementation of the legislation, firstly, until we are convinced that the community is fully aware of its implications and the fears in the community, have been discussed and properly canvassed.”

And then, of course, we had the Aboriginal members of the Parliament the late Maurice Rioli, the Member for Arafura. “We heard from Aboriginal people of the Territory that they want no part of this legislation. At Yirrkala, they were saying that for some of their people, they know when they are going to die and they wish to be at home with their family in their own Country, on their own land, listening to and hearing the songs that give meaning, purpose and the strength to endure and to help the life spirit return to its place of origin so that everything will be right in the world.”

And then we heard from another Aboriginal member, the Member for Arnhem, Mr Lanhupuy and he stood on his feet and he said “Mr Speaker in rising to speak to the private members bill introduced by the member for Fannie Bay, I would like not only to address some of the issues that have confronted myself as an individual in the debate, but also to provide information which I have received, information that I ask the people to respect my point of view.” Mr Lanhupuy voted in favour of the Bill knowing that his Aboriginal constituency may not have supported him. But it was his decision. He went with his conscience. He was very capable a speaker of many languages, and yet he could take and stand in that Parliament of 24 other Members and put his case. As they all did Madame Deputy President.

And then they finally came to the vote. After the second reading, ayes 13 and noes 12.

So what makes this Senate and the conscience of the Senate that is here any better than the conscience than the Members of the Northern Territory parliament?

What makes the Senators and Members in the other house so much better, so much more knowledgeable about the decision for the Northern Territory than those members that are elected by the people of the Northern Territory?

I personally have great difficulty with euthanasia, but that is not what this Bill is about.

This Bill is about the rights of the people of the northern territory to make their own decision to make their mistakes, to create a future and a vision where they know the landscape, they know their languages, they know their history, and they know their faults, and they know their problems. So when the Federal parliament makes the decision to intervene it has the most dramatic impact on the lives of individuals and I know, because I speak from personal experience as a parliamentarian, as a Yanyuwa Garawa women from the Gulf Country who has seen ad witnessed time after time after time after time the complete disempowerment of peoples abilities and the complete disrespect of enabling others to make the decision, stand by their decisions and follow it through.

I spoke earlier about how in 2007 as the Member of Arnhem it was the most disempowering moment to stand in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly and have your power removed for no reason, simply because of a Constitutional Act.

But the mental, the physical impact that has on a people is quite profound.

So I call on the Senators here, when you think about your vote, your conscience I ask you to think about the 25 members of that Parliament, who didn’t just rush in to make a decision on such an important piece of legislation without any thought or consideration or angst or division amongst themselves. Those numbers of 13 yes’ and 12 noes, they were not one political party, they were members from all sides, who crossed the floor, who checked their consciousness talked with their families and travelled the length and breadth of the Territory to get a sense of what the people wanted and then they went and voted. According to their conscience.

So I urge members, all members all senators, support this Bill. Support the right for the people of the Northern Territory the people of the ACT to make their decisions, to be empowered, to feel worthy, to feel like citizens of this Country that their planning, their research, their values matter. And that their dignity as people who can determine their livelihoods matters.

We hear in the debate here how the Constitution and the Federal of 1901 brought the states together. There is unfinished business, certainly for the Northern Territory and I had the honour of being the Minister for Statehood from 2008 – 2012. If anything, the next step for us is to be included as full citizens of this Country.

Because right now, we only have half a vote. Any referendum, we are considered as only half a vote. Any decision going forward should be about growing the Legislation capability, the democratic rights and processes for the people of the Northern Territory, if that is what they choose.

Do not diminish their rights any further, enable them to have this back, enable them to choose, to decide to debate, to argue to agree to disagree on a piece of legislation or pieces of legislation that matter to their constituency just as you and the members in the other house do for your constituency.

We are no less in the Northern Territory than any other Australian in that our rights need to be respected. So I urge the Senate and all Senators to support this bill.