Aussie PM avoids stoush over euthanasia rights

Malcolm Turnbull
Malcolm Turnbull
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has avoided a potentially divisive stoush on the right of the ACT and Northern Territory to make euthanasia laws after the Senate voted against it.

Liberal Democrats senator David Leyonhjelm's private member's bill to restore their rights to legislate on assisted dying was narrowly defeated in the upper house on Wednesday.

The bill's defeat means Mr Turnbull avoids pressure from both sides of the passionate debate to allow the issue to be debated and voted on in the lower house.

It also heads off the chances of the legislation causing divisions within the coalition party room ahead of the federal election.

Despite Senator Leyonhjelm's confidence he had the numbers for the bill to pass, senators voted 36-34 against.

He had accused the prime minister of reneging on a deal to allow the bill to be debated on in both chambers of parliament in return for voting in favour of re-establishing the construction watchdog.

Cabinet ministers were divided on the issue after both major parties were given a conscience vote.

Government Senate leader Mathias Cormann opposed the legislation, while fellow senior ministers Simon Birmingham and Marise Payne voted in favour.

Labor was also split with a number of Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees' Association-linked senators voting against the bill, as did Pat Dodson.

Senator Leyonhjelm said public opinion was in favour of legalising voluntary euthanasia.

"The fact we don't have assisted suicide in this country shows a serious flaw in our democracy," he told parliament.

But he praised the tone of the debate, saying it was a demonstration of individual honesty not seen in parliament for some time.

There was a number of emotional reflections, referring to the deaths of terminally ill loved ones.

While some remembered painful farewells and wished assisted suicide had been an option, other senators believed the risks of allowing voluntary euthanasia were too great.

A handful of senators insisted the issue was purely about giving territories the same rights as the states to make laws.

NT Opposition Leader Gary Higgins said he was extremely disappointed the bill was lost.

"I had hoped the federal senators would have voted in favour of Territorians and the Northern Territory enjoying the same rights as the other 24 million plus Australians," the Country Liberal Party leader said.

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