The federal government will take swift action to give Australian territories the right to comply with their own voluntary death laws.
After years of political debate on the issue of territorial rights, Labor is preparing to empower governments in the ACT and Northern Territory to shape their own die-assistance legislation.
But McBain says the new Labor government has no immediate plans to increase the number of senators for the burgeoning ACT, which has just two representatives in the Senate.
This move removes a 25-year ban on the areas that adopt such legislation. In 1997, the Howard government expressly banned the ACT and NT from passing laws to legalize euthanasia, overturning the NT’s landmark 1995 legislation on the issue.
A 2018 attempt to overturn that federal law was narrowly rejected, but Labor — most notably former ACT chief and now Treasury Secretary Katy Gallagher — argued that the territories should have the right to make their own laws.
McBain said Labor aims to table a bill within the first week of parliament’s resumption in July.
“There will be a bill from a private member or senator to address the issue as soon as possible,” she said.
“If it’s not in that first week of sitting, I think it will come soon.”
Guardian Australia understands that the exact process by which the law would be amended is still under consideration, but Labor politicians could have a vote of conscience on the matter.
Andrew Leigh, assistant secretary of the treasury and member of Fenner’s ACT seat, has previously said he would like to introduce such a bill. Alicia Payne, Labor member for Canberra, previously called for a binding vote on the issue, not a vote of conscience. Who will submit the bill, and to which house, is still under negotiation.
The timing is complicated by newly independent ACT Senator David Pocock, who has promised to introduce his own territory rights bill in the first weeks of parliament.
“There is support in this new parliament for correcting this long-running disparity between states and territories, we must move forward as quickly and collectively as possible. There are people who face these choices at the end of their lives, we shouldn’t keep them waiting any longer,” Pocock said.
“While the Federal Parliament cannot legislate for the Territories, we can give them the freedom to debate and decide for themselves.”
McBain was elected to the Eden-Monaro seat in a July 2020 by-election after serving eight years as a councilor and later mayor of Bega Valley Shire from 2012.
In an extensive interview with Guardian Australia, McBain said she welcomed the Prime Minister’s commitment to involve local government in the national cabinet meeting of state and federal leaders, saying that although it would only be for one meeting a year, that meeting are entirely devoted to local government.
“They deserve a vote in the national cabinet and I am pleased that at that first meeting everyone agreed that one whole meeting would be devoted to the local government sector and that the chairman of ALGA (Australian Local Government Association) there,” she said.
Asked about criticism of the former coalition government for providing grants to grassroots organizations that arguably fell within the purview of local government — such as skate parks, fishing lakes and sports clubs — McBain said the federal government has “a role to play” in financing infrastructure. .
“It is especially difficult for regional, rural and remote municipalities to increase their own revenues, so the federal government should help with community building initiatives. It should help with sports infrastructure and cultural infrastructure,” she said.
“But we should also allow those communities to tell us what they need, rather than having specific tied grants. There is a nice balance between untied and tied subsidy and we have to work on that together with the sector.”
McBain also said that recognizing local government in the Australian Constitution, a reform long-pressed by councils, was a Labour’s priority; but that referendums on the recognition of indigenous peoples in the first term, and an Australian republic in a possible second term, by an Albanian government are the main concerns.
“I think it will be a priority of this government to enshrine local government in the constitution,” she said.
“But our first-term priority is to ensure that the indigenous voice in parliament is recognized in our constitution and that should be an issue in its own right. We don’t want to cloud the waters on that very pertinent issue, so this: [local government recognition] will have to take place on the track.”