The push to restore the ACT’s right to legislate on voluntary assisted dying could reach the Federal Parliament as soon as Monday, under a shock Labor plot which threatens to stir further disruption in the Coalition in the final sitting week of the year.
The Canberra Times can reveal Labor wants to take the rare step of forfeiting a slot allocated to one of its pieces of legislation to allow debate on Coalition Senator Sam McMahon’s bill to let the Northern Territory once again make assisted dying laws.
If the debate goes ahead and clears key early hurdles, Labor’s Katy Gallagher will attempt to amend the bill to include the ACT.
Senator McMahon chose to controversially exclude the ACT from her legislation after local senator and assisted dying opponent Zed Seselja signalled he wouldn’t support it.
The chances of Senator Gallagher having the opportunity to amend the bill – let alone it reaching a final vote in the Senate on Monday – are small, given time constraints.
But a debate would at least help to flush out where parliamentarians stand on the contentious issue.
“The government should support this debate to occur and Zed should be standing up for his constituents and at least allowing the debate to happen – even if he remains opposed to the bill,” Senator Gallagher told The Canberra Times.
The government has to agree to Labor’s surprise request, raising the prospect of more controversy on the floor of the Senate if it blocks debate on its Country Liberal colleagues’ bill for the second time in two weeks.
Senator McMahon was angered by the decision, accusing the One Nation leader of hijacking the government’s agenda with her threat to vote against all of its legislation unless it allowed debate on her bill.
The NT senator, who will exit federal politics at the next election, had earlier been considering crossing the floor if her own bill was snubbed.
She eventually made good on that threat when it came to the One Nation bill, siding with four of her Coalition colleagues to vote against the government’s position.
It was a preclude to a chaotic week for the Morrison government, which saw seven Coalition members cross the floor over various pieces of legislation.
The government’s decision to overlook the territory rights bill for debate last week seemingly ended all hope that it could be put to a vote before the looming federal election.
But that was before Labor’s surprise intervention.
Labor caucus had resolved to oppose Senator McMahon’s bill, although that was before she dumped the provisions it opposed related to land acquisitions and workplace laws.
The federal Opposition has promised to prioritise debate on a repeal of the 1997 laws which block both territories from making assisted dying laws, if it wins the next election.
The Canberra Times has this year been calling for a repeal of the so-called Andrews Bill as part of its Our Right to Decide campaign.
But the Labor frontbencher’s position has softened.
“If the Morrison government really cared about territories’ democratic rights they would have listed their own senator’s bill in their allocated slot last Monday,” Senator Gallagher said.
“As we are nearing the end of this parliamentary term and as Senator McMahon is leaving the Senate at the election it made sense for two territory senators to work together to progress the debate on territory rights.”
The Morrison government has previously indicated it had no plans to repeal the Andrews Bill.
The Canberra Times understands Senator McMahon spoke up during last Tuesday’s Coalition party room meeting to push for a conscience vote on her bill.
She did not respond to The Canberra Times‘ requests for comment on Labor’s latest plan.
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