EXCLUSIVE

Senate chaos looms amid confusion on Senator Sam McMahon's territory rights bill on voluntary euthanasia

Country Liberal Senator Sam McMahon. Picture: Keegan Carroll
Country Liberal Senator Sam McMahon. Picture: Keegan Carroll

The Morrison government faces the prospect of losing another vote in the Senate if a bill to restore the Northern Territory's right to legislate on voluntary euthanasia isn't put up for debate.

NT Country Liberal Senator Sam McMahon is understood to be considering taking the dramatic step of withholding support for the government if it blocks debate on her territory rights bill.

The step would only be taken as an absolute last resort, and is only being contemplated amid confusion over whether the bill was mistakenly, or deliberately, omitted from the draft program for next week's sittings.

It would be among the final acts as a federal politician for Senator McMahon, who will exit parliament at the next election after losing a Country Liberal preselection contest.

Coalition senators Gerard Rennick and Alex Antic have already threatened to withhold their votes in protest over various vaccine-related issues, setting the scene for a chaotic final sitting fortnight of the year for the Morrison government.

One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has also promised to cause "mayhem" and vote against government legislation unless it takes action to oppose vaccine mandates.

The threats mean the government faces an uphill battle to pass any legislation that isn't supported by Labor - such as the contentious voter identification bill which the Coalition wants to pass ahead of the next election.

Senator McMahon wrote to MPs and senators earlier this week urging them to back her proposal to again allow the Northern Territory parliament to make its own voluntary assisted dying laws.

The NT's world-first euthanasia laws were overturned in 1997 by a bill passed through the federal Parliament. The so-called Andrews Bill also blocked the two territories from legislating on the issue in the future.

In the letter seen by The Canberra Times, Senator McMahon confirmed she had dumped sections of her bill related to land acquisitions and workplace laws after they were criticised by Labor.

Senator McMahon excluded the ACT from her bill after local Liberal senator Zed Seselja signaled that he wouldn't support it, but she has left the door open to the capital territory being added at the last minute.

Labor Senator Katy Gallagher says the "forces of conservatism" in the Coalition have blocked debate on Senator McMahon's bill. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong.

Labor Senator Katy Gallagher says the "forces of conservatism" in the Coalition have blocked debate on Senator McMahon's bill. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong.

With NSW Parliament currently debating euthanasia laws, the two territories could soon be the only Australian jurisdictions where assisted dying was not legalised.

"I urge you to consider the importance of democratic choice when so many rights of individuals are being clipped," Senator McMahon said in the letter.

"I ask for your support in ensuring that all Australians have freedom of choice - not just those who live in certain parts of Australia."

Senator McMahon sent the letter this week in anticipation of her bill being debated when parliament returns next Monday.

But the status of the bill has since become mired in confusion and controversy.

It wasn't listed to be debated in the draft program for next week's sitting, which was published on Thursday.

The private members slot was instead allocated to legislation on regional forestry agreements, which Nationals minister Bridget McKenzie introduced when she was a backbencher.

ACT Labor senator Katy Gallagher seized on the omission of Senator McMahon's bill from the draft program, claiming that it guaranteed the proposal wouldn't be debated before the next federal election.

But in a further twist, Senator McMahon believes that her bill was omitted by mistake and would be included when the program was finalised.

"There are discussions, and I am optimistic it will be [on the program]," she told The Canberra Times.

A government source has said Senator McKenzie's bill wasn't incorrectly listed, but stressed the program was only in draft form and could change before Monday.

Senator McMahon would not comment on what might happen if it turned out her own side had blocked debate on her bill, but TheCanberra Times understands that crossing the floor remains an option.

Senator Zed Seselja has accused Senator Gallagher of lying about his involvement in assisted dying laws. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Senator Zed Seselja has accused Senator Gallagher of lying about his involvement in assisted dying laws. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The NT senator is understood to be extremely reluctant to take that step, but believes it is important to fight for the rights of her constituents.

If it's not debated in the coming fortnight, the territory rights bill has next to no chance of being put to a vote before the federal election.

An election is due before the end of May.

Senator Gallagher has used the omission of Senator McMahon's bill from the draft program to push the argument that territory rights would only be restored under a Labor government.

The Canberra Times has been calling for the repeal of the laws as part of its Our Right to Decide campaign.

The Opposition was planning to oppose Senator McMahon's bill, however that position was set before she dumped the non-assisted dying provisions.

Senator Gallagher said "forces of conservatism" within the Coalition - which included ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja - were to blame for stopping debate on the McMahon bill.

"They won't even allow debate, all of these people who carry on about free speech," she said.

Senator Gallagher has previously accused Senator Seselja of deliberately blocking the ACT's inclusion in Senator McMahon's bill - a claim the Morrison government minister and euthanasia opponent vehemently denies.

Senator Seselja told The Canberra Times that he had no involvement in choosing which private senators' bills were listed for debate.

"This is another example of Senator Gallagher lying to Canberrans about my involvement with assisted suicide laws," he said.

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This story Senate chaos looms amid territory rights bill confusion first appeared on The Canberra Times.