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Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2016 Tabled

17 November 2016

Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2016

[11.21 a.m.]
Ms GIDDINGS (Franklin - Motion) - Madam Speaker, I seek leave of the House to move that so much of Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent this matter from being debated forthwith. 

This is a matter I raised this morning with the Leader of Government Business. It is not a motion I understood I had to move because of precedence in this Parliament in regard to bills being presented under two names, but the Clerk has informed me this morning that the current Standing Orders do not allow for a bill to have two names. Therefore in order for the bill to be tabled today I am now seeking to suspend Standing Orders for that purpose.

[11.22 a.m.]
Ms O'CONNOR (Denison - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, I support seeking of leave to suspend Standing Orders so Ms Giddings and I can table together the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2016. In my experience in this place there is plenty of precedent for the co-sponsoring of legislation. In relation to this legislation, members are aware that this issue is one of significant public interest. There is enormous public support for this legislative reform and we would encourage the House to support us in tabling this bill together as co-sponsors.

[11.23 a.m.]
Mr FERGUSON (Bass - Leader of Government Business) - Madam Speaker, this is highly irregular. It has only ever happened once before in this House's history. As Ms Giddings has shown by her comments, there has been a sense of amnesia by members opposite who not long ago were members of this House in government together. They seem to have forgotten the Standing Orders have not, do not and have never sustained more than one member's name being on a bill. The sessional orders passed by the previous Labor-Greens government allowed only for the period of that parliament for a bill to be co-sponsored by more than one member. It was a fiddle then and it is a fiddle now. It is Labor and the Greens again joined at the hip.

The Government was astonished to hear it was left until today for the Labor Party and the Greens to realise they had made a fundamental error in thinking they could bring a bill to the Parliament with more than one member's name on it, which is almost without precedent. It was only allowed when the Labor-Greens government combined to allow Ms Giddings and the Leader of the Greens, Mr McKim, to co-sponsor a bill and manipulate the sessional orders to allow for that to happen. It is poor that Labor has forgotten that is what they did. No reference has been made in relation to this matter to the Standing Orders Committee for any consideration of whether this is proper and good practice. There was no use yesterday of Labor's or Greens' private members' time where they could have visited this matter, but they were not organised. They have failed to be prepared and have obviously had poor advice. 

Having said that, the Government would not be supporting any move to change the Standing Orders in relation to this matter but if Labor and the Greens again want to present a co-sponsored bill to show they are still joined at the hip, the Government will not stand in their way.

Leave granted.


SUSPENSION OF STANDING ORDERS

[11.26 a.m.]
Ms GIDDINGS (Franklin - Motion) - Madam Speaker, I move -

That so much of Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2016 from being introduced by more than one member forthwith.

While some of those comments from the Leader of Government Business shows he was a little reluctant to support the position today, I note that he and the Government have agreed to suspend Standing Orders. For that I thank him and members of this Parliament. 

This bill is a conscience bill. It is a private members' bill, not a party bill. It is a bill that is largely based on a bill that came to this Parliament in 2013. It is a bill that has been improved following work in Victoria with a very thorough parliamentary inquiry that came out in favour of voluntary assisted dying legislation being introduced in that state. It also follows a Supreme Court decision in Canada, which actually made a stronger case for voluntary assisted dying than the legislation 
that has subsequently been adopted by the Canadian parliament. Nevertheless the Canadian parliament has brought in substantial laws that enable Canadians who are suffering intolerable pain the right to choose the timing of their own death to end their suffering.

This is a very important bill that this Parliament needs to debate again. It is an issue that will not go away while there are Tasmanians who continue, and will continue, unfortunately, to suffer intolerable pain due to their medical condition.

We know that palliation helps most people and we support palliation very strongly. We also know that there is a very small percentage of patients who will never end their suffering and their pain through palliation. There is strong evidence from the palliative care sector showing that not every patient they treat has their pain and suffering ended through palliative care and treatment.

It is that very small percentage of people who we aim to assist. People who have no alternative, people who under this bill must pass a very high test to even be permitted to enact the powers that we would hope this Parliament would support. You must have a medical condition that is in its advance stages, which is incurable and irreversible. You must be experiencing persistent suffering that is intolerable. There must be no other treatment or palliative care option that could relieve that person's suffering that is acceptable to the person and there is no reasonable prospect of a permanent improvement in their condition. They must be competent and understand their condition.

These are all absolutely critical to ensure that we are not talking about providing open slather for people, but we are talking about helping people who are suffering intolerable pain to have a choice about the timing of their own death. You only have to look at the work of Andrew Denton and the Go Gentle Australia group and the publication they have released. Read the stories of family members who have watched loved ones die a painful and terrible death, or read the stories of those who are living with that awful pain and want but cannot get relief through modern medicine, cannot get relief through palliative care, and you understand how they desperately want to have that choice.

Around the world where people do have a choice only a very small percentage ever take up that option. Most of us want to live every minute that we possibly can. We do not want to leave our loved ones, we want to be with them. For some people what they are doing is putting their own loved ones at risk. They are committing suicide in fact if they do not have any other option. We only have to read the coroners' reports from Victoria to see that that is exactly what is happening. So why should we be leaving Tasmanians in a position where they choose suicide in circumstances that are horrible, without loving care and attention, without medical supervision, without family around them in a supportive environment so that they can end that awful pain and suffering?

We have deliberately tabled the bill today to allow members to look at it carefully and to consult with people in their electorate over the parliamentary break. We are open, Ms O'Connor and I, to talk with members about the bill and any issue or concerns they may have.

We do not see this as opening up a debate about whether you have a voluntary assisted dying process or not, but here is a legal framework. We want to work with all members of parliament to ensure that should this become a historic moment in this State we provide the most robust legal framework we can to enable people to end their intolerable suffering and see them have a peaceful death in an otherwise very difficult circumstance.

I welcome the role Ms O'Connor has played in helping to work through this bill. I also note the presence of Margaret Sing and members of the Dying with Dignity group. Margaret has been an absolute gem during work on this legislation. We have been able to bring improvements to the bill that was presented back in 2013 based on further research and further knowledge gained from other jurisdictions, particularly the historic work of the Canadian government and the Canadian Supreme Court. It is time that politicians, that governments, that the people had a proper legal framework to enable decisions to be appropriately made, appropriately supported and within a legal framework.

I appreciate that the Government has supported the tabling of this bill to this point and we look forward to debating the bill in 2017. I hope all members will be offered a conscience vote in this House on the bill. We will see, as we have seen in the past, some of the strongest and most memorable debates in this House when we confront such a significant issue as this one.

Time expired.

[11.33 a.m.]
Ms O'CONNOR (Denison) - Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague Ms Giddings, shadow attorney-general, for the enormous amount of work she has put into developing and reworking the original legislation from 2012. It has been a relatively long process but we are here today with legislation which we believe is a safe and strong framework for allowing people who are experiencing intolerable and unrelievable suffering to make their own choices about their lives.

Ultimately, this is a fundamental human rights issue. It is about individual autonomy. Our right to make choices and to decide about our lives. If we are in a situation where we have been diagnosed with a condition that is going to cause irredeemable, unrelievable suffering then individuals should be able to make a choice, because ultimately who is the state or any person to tell a person who is in agony and suffering that they cannot make the choice about how their lives will end. I do want to thank Ms Giddings for her advocacy on this issue going back a number of years now.

I also thank the wonderful Margaret Sing from Dying with Dignity Tasmania who has been an absolute champion. I remember the joint standing committee in 2008-09 where both Houses examined dying with dignity legislation brought forward initially by the then leader of the Greens, Nick McKim. Margaret's work and tireless advocacy for this important reform is much appreciated by us, and for everyone in Tasmania who recognises this is a reform for which the time must come.

Time after time, in public polling, you see the level of support for the right to choose, should you be diagnosed with an illness that causes irredeemable, unrelievable suffering, is very high. It generally sits at around 80 per cent of public support. This is an issue that goes to people's sense of autonomy and their right to make decisions about their own lives. In South Australia, at about 3.30 a.m. this morning, their assisted dying legislation was voted down by a single vote, when the Speaker cast a deciding vote.

That is one setback. Our advocates for reform, who recognise this is a matter of human dignity and compassion, are well accustomed to the steps this reform takes. Sometimes you feel as if you are going backwards. This change will come. There are now 13 jurisdictions where voluntary assisted dying is legal. Two more have voted to implement voluntary assisted dying in the United States - Oregon, Washington, Montana, Vermont and California - with Colorado and Washington DC soon.

Momentous changes took place in Canada. One of the most critical elements of successful introduction of a dying with dignity framework in Canada was the willing participation of the Canadian medical fraternity in developing a structure, working with government and the Parliament, which respected the Supreme Court's decision and had significant safeguards.

We would love to have a member of the Liberal Party with us on this legislation. We believe this legislation should not be made political. The Leader of Government Business in the House is wrong to say this is Labor and the Greens. It is not, this is a corresponsive private member's bill. Ms Giddings and I decided to work together on this issue, because we recognise this is reform people want. It is a private member's bill. Every member in this House, when we bring the debate on, will have an opportunity to contribute.

As Ms Giddings said, when we have conscience debates that this place is at its best. The invitation is open to any member of the Liberal Party room to join us in this legislation so that there is a tripartisan approach to this. I think people in the community would receive that very warmly. We respect people have strong views on this issue, in this place and out in the community. This is about making sure the law in Tasmania protects people in agony, who are suffering, and for whom palliation does not provide relief. We know those people are out there, to this very day.

During the 2009 debate a magnificent human being was in here, Robert Cordover. Robert Cordover was suffering from motor neurone disease. He was desperate for this legislation to pass. Ultimately, in order to save his family from the risks associated with assisting him, Robert Cordover took his own life. This is happening every single day and week, in Tasmania and around the country. People who are not protected by the law, as it is, are forced to make the most horrible choices, sometimes on their own, without a doctor present. Every single day, in this country, doctors are making decisions about people's lives. Involuntary euthanasia is being practised in this country for the best of reasons, through compassion. 

Thank you to the Government for agreeing to suspension of Standing Orders in order to allow this co-sponsored bill to go forward. We encourage everyone to treat this matter seriously, and represent their constituents.

Time expired.

[11.40 a.m.]
Mr FERGUSON (Bass - Leader of Government Business) - Madam Speaker, in addressing the motion, and I do this on behalf of the Government, I note the motion before you as Chair is to suspend the Standing Orders purely in relation to Standing Orders that require a single member's name be placed on a bill. We are currently resolving this. I have indicated the Government will not stand in the way of that occurring. I stand by everything I said previously. 

I rise to speak on this matter on behalf of the Government. In doing so, I recognise there may potentially be a range of views in an environment of a free vote. For that reason, I will not attempt in any way to represent those views. This is a motion about the suspension of Standing Orders to allow joint sponsorship of the bill. Comments have been offered in this current debate, which I note Madam Speaker has comfortable with members making.

Madam SPEAKER - Given the nature of it. If it is being questioned I can explain to the House that it is important to allow members the opportunity on a matter of conscience.

Mr FERGUSON - I am not questioning that. I will wish to do the same. This question before us today will be one that is not specifically about palliative care, euthanasia, mercy killing, or assisted suicide, but the suspension of Standing Orders. The Community Development Committee, at the instruction of this House, currently has an inquiry under way, and has a reference to examine end-of-life care. It includes a number of references, which go to matters very relevant here. That was at the instigation of the member for Denison, Ms Ogilvie.

The Government takes all matters around end of life care and end of life legal rights very seriously. That includes me as Minister for Health, and the Attorney-General, in relation to members of the community's rights to have their wishes understood by family members, for example, in the area of advanced care directives. We take that very seriously. We were very supportive of those areas of law being given fresh eyes by the Community Development Committee. That Community Development Committee, which is chaired by Mrs Rylah, has not yet reported. I do not know when it will report. It does not have a reporting date, but we anticipate the report of the committee being presented back to members of this House. When it does, it will inform a very considered debate that inevitably can and should occur.

Although we have not seen the bill yet, but if the bill is anything like the previous bill presented in the previous parliament, there may be issues to be considered. It was not long ago this bill was voted on by this House. I think it was three years ago and also note very openly that this is a new Parliament and there are new members of this House who have not had their position on this matter tested or considered.

We respectfully anticipate future debate on this. The Government free vote or conscience vote is not relevant, the Government will look at the bill as a matter of prudence and good public policy. The Liberal Party affords a free vote to members of its Party in relation to life and death decisions. This case will be no different, if and when the bill is brought on for debate.

[11.44 a.m.]
Mr LLEWELLYN (Lyons) - Madam Speaker, on the issue of suspension of Standing Orders, the Leader of Government Business made note of the fact that Standing Orders do not contain a provision, and that the previous government introduced sessional orders that provided this. This needs to be referred to the Standing Orders Committee because there may be issues of this nature in the future. There should be a provision that allows co-sponsored submissions to be introduced into this Chamber. There are a number of other issues in the Standing Orders that also need to be addressed. I urge the Government to consider this matter in the Standing Orders Committee in future. 

Standing Orders suspended.


VOLUNTARY ASSISTED DYING BILL 2016 (No. XX)

First Reading

Bill presented by Ms Giddings and Ms O'Connor and read the first time.