The Senate appears set to pass landmark laws to abolish bans on the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory making their own laws on euthanasia, with a potential late-night sitting session next week likely to overturn the 16-year-old federal bar.
Close to half the Senate has already declared its support for the change, with more support from new senators expected to see the bill pass. Luke Gosling, member for the NT electorate of Solomon and one of the MPs who introduced the bill into the lower house, said he was confident of success.
“I think we’ve been able to convince the majority of senators that we deserve to have our own rights and it’s not up to someone from New South Wales, Victoria or anywhere else to decide these issues. They’re for Territorians to decide,” he told ABC radio on Wednesday.
The bill would abolish the so-called “Andrews laws”, which ban the NT and ACT from making their own laws on euthanasia. The last time such a bill was considered by the Senate was in 2018, when then senator David Leyonhjelm’s proposal was narrowly defeated 34-36.
In 2022, at least 12 senators across the political spectrum have already spoken in support of the latest bill, including David Pocock; Labor’s Katy Gallagher, Malarndirri McCarthy, Jess Walsh, Catryna Bilyk, Louise Pratt and Carol Brown; the Coalition’s Perin Davey, Simon Birmingham, Andrew Bragg and Jane Hume; and the Greens’ David Shoebridge, who committed his party’s 12 senators to backing the change.
Jacqui Lambie, Tammy Tyrrell, Ralph Babet and Pauline Hanson have previously expressed support for the bill, but have not yet spoken on it. That would take the number of declared supporters to 27, out of the 76-seat Senate.
Labor’s Pat Dodson, who voted against Leyonhjelm’s bill in 2018, said he would abstain in the final vote this time.
If other senators who voted for territory rights in 2018 maintain their stance – including Anthony Chisholm, Jenny McAllister, Marise Payne, Glenn Sterle, Anne Urquhart, Murray Watt and Penny Wong – there would be at least 34 senators backing the change. With Dodson abstaining, a majority in the Senate would be 38 votes.
Since the 2018 vote, a number of new Labor senators have joined parliament, including Tim Ayres, Tony Sheldon, Nita Green, Fatima Payman, Jana Stewart and Linda White. Government sources said at least several of those would back the change, nominally giving enough votes for the bill to pass.
Just nine senators have so far spoken against the bill, including Labor’s Deborah O’Neill; Coalition members Matt O’Sullivan, Paul Scarr, Jacinta Price, Alex Antic, Andrew McLachlan, Jonno Duniam and Matt Canavan; and One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts. It’s understood Coalition senator James Paterson will also vote against the bill.
The trade minister, Don Farrell, and Tasmanian senator Helen Polley, the other Labor senators who voted against Leyonhjelm’s 2018 bill, have not spoken on this bill. Farrell told Guardian Australia at a brief doorstop that he was “looking at the issues deeply” and noted it was a conscience vote.
“The debate is still going. I’m listening to all the debate,” he said.
Polley’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Senators Slade Brockman, Michaelia Cash, Richard Colbeck, David Fawcett, James McGrath, Jim Molan, Linda Reynolds, Anne Ruston and Dean Smith also voted against the change in 2018. Hume, who voted against the Leyonhjelm bill, told the Senate she will now support the change.
The Senate could be in for a long night next Thursday, after the government passed a motion on Tuesday to keep the upper house sitting indefinitely until it deals with the territory rights bill.
The Senate will sit extended hours this week and next to deal with a backlog of key legislation. Next Thursday night, the only matter on the agenda will be the territory rights bill.
ACT senator Pocock, who has championed the territory rights bill, had already secured a commitment from the government to deal with the bill this year, but said he didn’t “want it caught up” in the industrial relations debate, where the government needs his vote. The bill was originally scheduled for debate on 2 December, but the government later brought it one day earlier.
Gallagher, the finance minister and manager of government business, told ABC Radio National on Monday that territory rights would be dealt with.
“That is a clear commitment from us,” she said. “This is something I’ve been fighting for for 10 years. The House of Representatives dealt with the bill in a timely way. It was overwhelmingly supported there. We will sit until that bill is resolved.”