Dec 9, 1996

Euthanasia Laws Legislation


9 December 1996

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (3.53 p.m.) —I rise to support the amendment moved by the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair). I am surprised that this amendment cannot receive the support of everyone in this chamber, because it does a number of things. It says that the issue here should be about whether you support or oppose voluntary euthanasia; it is not an issue of states rights. It says that, if it is good enough to intervene in one area of this country, it should be good enough to intervene on a national level. I would have thought that was a position which everyone in this House could support.

How can the Andrews bill that is currently before the House be supported when it clearly is discriminatory? It clearly says to the residents of the Northern Territory, `We give you democracy, but it’s conditional democracy. It’s conditional upon you doing and acting as we in the national parliament wish.’ That is something which does not apply in other states and territories.

To me, as someone who is not a states righter, this amendment moved by the right honourable member for New England is also very attractive for other reasons. It makes the point very clear to those who argue that the national parliament does have a responsibility on this issue, and I think, frankly, there is an argument to be had that the national parliament does have a responsibility.

I do not oppose the Andrews bill because of the issue of states rights. I oppose it because I support voluntary euthanasia and I have got the guts to say it. People should debate the substance of the issue. That is what the right honourable member for New England’s amendment would actually show.

The amendment would also allow for there to be a proper debate. It is ironic that we are going to have more speakers in this House on [start page 8006] the amendment moved by the right honourable member for New England than we had on the bill. On the bill we had only six speakers—three from each side.

What we are seeing now is what should have happened from the very beginning and it is a pity it did not occur, because the reality is that there was not a gallery of people listening in sideshow alley. We have not been able to have a gallery of people listening to the debate, such as is occurring now with the debate in this House. There has not been the focus there should have been because such critical debate did not occur in this main chamber of the House of Representatives.

I think it is a tragedy that, at the beginning of this debate, we spoke about consciences and conscience votes. But those on the other side were whipped into line—with one notable and courageous exception—to vote in favour of this bill being debated in sideshow alley. It is a pity—

Mr Slipper —On a point of order: Mr Deputy Speaker, would you advise the House whether it is disorderly to refer to the Main Committee as `sideshow alley’, as was mentioned by the honourable member for Grayndler a moment ago?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —I thank the honourable member for that point. That phrase has been accepted as being in order, although it is not one that I like. I have, when in the chair of the Main Committee, suggested to honourable members that they should not use it, but it is not disorderly. I would prefer it if members gave that chamber the respect that it deserves as another chamber of this House. I call the honourable member for Grayndler.

Mr ALBANESE —What we have had with this debate is a conscience vote when it suits. I am sure there are many people in this chamber who will vote against the Andrews bill—I think there will be 40 votes or so—when it is actually put to the House. But we have had many more people than that who have said that they oppose the Andrews bill but they are not voting against it due to pressure—pressure which, I believe, is put on by minority interests not majority interests because that is not what every poll shows. What we have seen is a well-organised campaign and a series of pressures.

Mr Hockey —Name the interest.

Mr ALBANESE —There was someone whose name was mentioned in this House last week who is now in hospital due to the pressure that was put on him by some of those who would portray themselves as compassionate. That sort of pressure put on Bob Dent’s son is, I think, an outrage.

Mr Ross Cameron —On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker: the member for Grayndler is making a very serious allegation and slur against some members who have participated in this debate, several of whom have stood up in this chamber and made personal explanations about their involvement in the matter to which he refers. The member ought not be allowed to make that allegation again after those explanations have been made.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —There is no point of order. I call the honourable member for Grayndler.

Mr ALBANESE —I have a very firm view on euthanasia. I also have the view, however, that people have the right to have different views on this issue and that a number of people, including the member for Parramatta (Mr Ross Cameron), have genuinely arrived at a different position to that which I have arrived at after studying the facts. That is their right, and I would defend their right absolutely to take that position.

The point that I was making is that in this debate there are a number of people who will not exercise their consciences, and everyone in this House knows that to be the case. Certainly, anyone who was active on this issue will know that there are people who will say to them, `I’m voting this particular way because I’m concerned about electoral pressure and I’m concerned about the position which has been put.’ I think that is very unfair.

I think, for example, that the Christian churches have an absolutely legitimate right to put forward their view to members of parliament and to the parliament as a whole. That has happened. With very few exceptions, [start page 8007] that has happened in a very legitimate way. It is another thing for people to say from a pulpit, `You should never vote for a particular candidate ever again.’ It is that sort of involvement which I do not believe is legitimate on issues such as this.

I have received a letter from a reverend in my electorate. I want to read it into the record because I think it is important that it be acknowledged that Christians have different views on this issue. The end paragraph of that letter reads:

I’m a voter in your electorate and a retired minister of the Uniting Church. My understanding of Christianity is that loving care is at the heart of it, and that love demands suppressing your own fears and preferences in order to meet the real and pressing need of another person. That may mean helping them to find relief in death.

Please be assured of my constant support in this matter.

There are probably very few people in this House with whom I would have a greater political affinity than the member for Melbourne (Mr Tanner), who is sitting at the table. I disagree with him on this issue, but I respect his right to be wrong on this occasion.

The amendment moved by the right honourable member for New England is also attractive because it would enable a national debate to take up some of the issues which have been raised up to this point in this debate. One of those issues that I would like to see debated is a national perspective on palliative care. The Andrews bill before this House at the moment, which discriminates against the Northern Territory, discriminates against the only government which is doing the right thing on palliative care, the only government in this country which has increased funding for palliative care to the extent that it has. Look at the figures.

Since the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act has been in operation in the Northern Territory, the number of people in palliative care there has increased by over 250 per cent. Funding has increased from $500,000 last year to over a million dollars this year. That is something which should be supported by everyone in this chamber, certainly by those people who say, `If you support voluntary euthanasia, it is really because you want to knock people off and not look after them in health care.’ That is the crude argument put forward by some people on the other side of this debate. But then they vote, including the member for Menzies (Mr Andrews), on the budget brought in by this government, to reduce palliative care funding by 10 per cent.

I would be quite happy to have a debate, as this amendment moved by the right honourable member for New England suggests, on a national focus. But let’s make it a national focus on palliative care as well. Let’s not have the sort of hypocrisy where people isolate the debate upstairs, in sideshow alley, and say, `We’re opposed to voluntary euthanasia because we think people should get proper care,’ and at the same time put their hands up and vote in the parliament to cut palliative care funding. It is that sort of hypocrisy which I would like to see exposed by a longer, real, more fair dinkum national debate about national policy.

I do not often agree with the member for O’Connor (Mr Tuckey), but today I had to, because he raised the obvious connection between the arguments put by the opponents of voluntary euthanasia and the arguments put by the opponents of abortion. It has not been spoken about. I am sure it might be once the Andrews bill is carried by this House. I am sure the Lyons Forum will have it on their agenda. There is a connection there. These debates do need to happen.

As a signal of the maturity of our nation, the fact that this debate is occurring is a very positive step. It may well be that voluntary euthanasia falls at the first hurdle. Most progressive social initiatives do fall at the first hurdle. The environment used to be a radical left wing issue as well, but now we have it being trumpeted by those opposite, like they trumpet feminism and a whole lot of other progressive social initiatives which advance our society.

It really is put upon those who would oppose this amendment moved by the right honourable member for New England to say why they oppose it. Is it because of states rights? The amendment accommodates that. Is it because of opposition to states rights? It accommodates that as well, because it calls [start page 8008] for a national plan in that regard. Do those who oppose it do so because they are anti voluntary euthanasia? If they think they have got a majority in this House in support of the Andrews bill, then there is nothing to fear from a more rational debate. If those who oppose it do so because they are in my position of being pro voluntary euthanasia, once again I think they can support this amendment.

I certainly congratulate the right honourable member for New England for coming up with this. It does advance the debate substantially. I say to all members of the House: if you are fair dinkum, this will really be a vote on whether you are prepared to debate your views in a real way. That is what this vote is about. I call upon members to vote for and support this amendment.