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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 08 Hansard (Thursday, 16 August 2018) . . Page.. 3072 ..


Various members in here have said that it is a great disappointment that the issue of states’ rights has been conflated with euthanasia. We have to be very mindful that section 23 of the self-government act is specifically about euthanasia. Someone recently said to me, “What other lawmaking powers do you think the commonwealth should take away from us?” and a few issues were put forward. But all of those issues were established law when the ACT received self-government. So I said to the person I was discussing this with, “At the time of self-government, euthanasia laws were just about inconceivable, and in fact the territory’s laws on euthanasia were among the world’s first.” It was a reasonable thing for the commonwealth to consider whether it was appropriate for territories to make those laws when the issue arose, which is what they did with the Andrews bill.

I tend to take the view that has been expressed here often in relation to euthanasia: that this is a small parliament with very few checks and balances. They are not the checks and balances that you find in large, bicameral parliaments. We are a small parliament. The passage of laws requires a simple majority. Often between the introduction of a bill and the passing of a bill there is a very short period of time and not much time for scrutiny. We do not generally scrutinise bills for their policy content.

All of these things put me in a position where I am comfortable that in this very limited space, on this absolutely crucial issue where there is so much doubt in so many people’s minds, our capacity in this subordinate parliament is circumscribed. These are very difficult issues and there are a multitude of views on both sides. It is interesting to see that the submissions that the end of life committee has received are probably about fifty-fifty in favour and opposed to euthanasia.

There is often a lot said about surveys of voters on this issue, and members of parliament are criticised for not being so-called in step. But legislators often have to look at an issue in a much more detailed and thorough way than somebody answering a survey. Off the top of your head, there would be a lot of people in this parliament who would say yes, they think that voluntary assisted dying is worth considering. And that would be the case across the territory and across Australia. But when you get to the nitty-gritty of having to look at a particular piece of legislation then you have a much more onerous task, and some of those people who thought that, yes, they might be in favour actually find it very difficult to support particular pieces of legislation. So it is not an easy path that we go down in this place.

I want to put on the record my thanks to the people who, probably on both sides of the debate, changed their mind and had the courage to admit that they could change their mind. It was reported, as Ms Cheyne touched on, that there were people who said they initially had a particular view but voted differently. I think it takes extraordinary courage for a legislator to say, “This was my stated position but I have gone away and thought about it and received further counsel,” and to not only change their mind but also be prepared to come out publicly and say that they have changed their mind. That takes great courage, and it does not befit us to denigrate people who have the courage to express a change of view and a change of heart.


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