Consent to Medical Treatment and Palliative Care (End of Life Arrangements) Amendment Bill
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS (21:47): I rise for I do not know how many occasions now to speak to this legislation. It is one of the privileges of having served in the parliament for such a long time that I have had the opportunity to participate in similar debates on very many occasions. I am sure that I am the only person who can say that in the 1980s I debated the original natural death law (in 1983); in the 1990s, I can recall debating similar pieces of legislation moved by the Hons Anne Levy and Sandra Kanck; in the noughties, I think I can remember debating similar legislation by the Hons Sandra Kanck and Mark Parnell; and now whatever you call this decade of the 2010s, we have the first of the bills from the Hon. Mark Parnell.
The Hon. B.V. Finnigan: Let's hope you'll see the decade out.
The Hon. R.I. LUCAS: Well, thank you for that. I am sure that will be the only time the Hon. Mr Finnigan ever says that. It will only be on this particular issue. I guess, therefore, from that rare perspective that I have—and perhaps it is one of the reasons why I have significantly more grey hairs, as I debate the bill in the 2010s, than when I debated the original legislation (the natural death law) in the 1980s—there are two options the advocates of this law could adopt. One is to adopt the situation that I have observed, which is that the legislation we see in the noughties and the 2010s is much wider in its scope than the original attempts at the legislation back in the early years.
There does not appear to have been an intention from those who support voluntary euthanasia in one form or at all to move in the other direction, which is to restrict, define and confine the potential uses and the other perspective of uses of the law that will pass the land. Given the quality of the debate we have seen on this occasion, and this has been referred to by the Hon. Mr Finnigan and others, people over a period of time change their mind; they look at the legislation and on occasions make different judgements in relation to it. As I look at this piece of legislation, I share the view of some other members that it, again, as the last piece of legislation from the Hon. Mr Parnell, widened the scope, from my viewpoint, in terms of those who might be able to access the provisions in the legislation.
As a result of having spoken on similar pieces of legislation on many previous occasions, I do not propose to repeat all of the views that I have expressed. I nearly caused great grief to the young trainee in my office when I asked him to trace back the contributions I have made over the years on the legislation and to put it all together into one file; in the time available he was not able to track back all of the contributions, but managed to put together a number of them. I referred to those in my contribution last year, and the approximate dates of those, and they are well known and available on the Hansard. My views, by and large, have not changed; I therefore do not propose to repeat them.
What I will say, as I have said previously, is that I have respected the views of all who come to this particular debate. I know that many have a strongly different view to the view I express tonight and on previous occasions; I respect the views of those. Some have been close friends and colleagues, others perhaps would not describe themselves as close friends and colleagues but perhaps acquaintances, but nevertheless I respect the views of all who have put their view, either to me or to other members, in relation to this particular debate.
I will comment on a couple of issues before concluding my contribution. The first is one which always irritates me in relation to this debate and some other debates. I too have received hundreds, possibly one to two thousand, emails and letters. I am not sure why people continue to put their strongly held views to me, given the views that I have expressed over the years, but nevertheless I am grateful for that and I endeavour to respond to those emails and letters.
The often put view to me is that it is my job as a legislator to reflect the majority view of the community. I have said this once or twice before, and I will say it again tonight: I strenuously object, or reject, that particular notion. It is not my job as a legislator to reflect the majority view in the electorate. It is my job as a legislator, having been elected to this parliament for a term of office, to listen to the views of my electorate, to respect those views of the electorate and then to make a considered judgement on every issue, and then to be judged accordingly by the electorate at the end of my term in parliament.
Let me say at the outset that, in these interminable arguments we have about what is the view of the electorate on voluntary euthanasia, my view is that probably the majority of people would support some form of voluntary euthanasia. I accept the argument from some members that it depends on how you draft the question. Having a background in stats and pure mathematics and market research, I know full well the way you can colour a particular survey result, if you one so choose.
My view is that it is probably the majority of the electorate. I do not think it is 70 or 80 per cent, as the Newspolls and others claim. I suspect that if it was more definitive and more detail was provided to people that in the end it is probably a slight majority of people in the community who would support voluntary euthanasia, but that to me is not the job that I have been put in this place to do: to be a mindless robot.
Those who have seen the movie The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer will recall that, instead of making judgements as members of parliament, an instant poll was done in the community to indicate what the majority view was and that was what occurred in terms of the passage of laws in that particular satire or movie. I believe that is not the way we should be approaching our job as legislators and as members of parliament.
I have had many an argument with those who support voluntary euthanasia and who use the argument that it is my responsibility to reflect the view of 70 to 80 per cent of the electorate. I say to them, 'Similar polls show that 70 per cent of people support capital punishment. Do you say to me that I have to support the majority view of the 70 per cent of the community who support varying options of capital punishment in certain circumstances?' By and large, most of those who support voluntary euthanasia, for some reason, when I have had this debate or argument, are not supporters of capital punishment. They say, 'No, that is a different issue.'
I suspect that, if a member of this chamber came in with a bill supporting capital punishment for terrorists, mass murderers, child rapists or whatever and said that 70 per cent of people in the electorate supported him, some of those who use the market research argument in the voluntary euthanasia debate in this chamber would not accept the market research debate or the majority view of the electorate in relation to capital punishment because they, as members, have different views on that particular issue and it does not suit the argument to use the majority view of the community to demand support for limited forms of capital punishment. I have had vigorous arguments with some proponents of voluntary euthanasia when I have engaged in that particular debate with them.
However, it is my strongly-held view—and nothing will change it—that we are abrogating our responsibilities as members of parliament if we mindlessly subscribe to the view that because the majority bay for a particular law or piece of legislative change then it is our responsibility, as members on a conscience vote, to respond to that majority view. Yes, we must listen to it; yes, we must respect it but, no, in my humble view, we do not have to mindlessly follow that particular view on the issue. That is what has governed my views, because I do not support capital punishment. If a bill came into this chamber I would not support it. If someone said to me that 70 per cent of people want capital punishment for terrorists or whatever, I would not support it, and I do not accept the argument that, because 70 per cent say they support it, I am obligated to vote in that way.
The final point on the issue of market research is that I have a vague recollection that the issue of a referendum has been tested in this chamber albeit in the late nineties—I think by the Hon. Sandra Kanck—and some members and petitioners have raised the issue of a referendum. I do not accept that argument, either. It is our responsibility to make these judgements, as difficult as it might be. There has been emotion in this particular debate from a number of members and, frankly, I know there would be emotion from all members, even though it might not appear on the surface, in terms of their contribution. However, I still argue the view that it is our responsibility as legislators to make the decision and we should not cop out, in my humble view, by saying that this is a decision for the people to make by way of a referendum.
Having had this particular debate, as we have had on every previous occasion, I think it is important that we see a vote on this issue. A suggestion has been put to me that it may well be that the Hon. Mr Parnell and those who support the legislation, if they lose the vote on the voices, will not call for a vote or a division of the house. I hope that that is not true. I hope that I have been misled, and only the Hon. Mr Parnell can indicate in his closing contribution whether or not I have been misled. As I said, I hope I have been misled in relation to that issue, because I do not think that is an honourable way to conclude this debate.
At the moment, I think there are two or three members who have not spoken, but on my rough calculation, if there is to be a vote of say, 12 against the bill or nine for it, or even 13 against the bill and eight for it, then so be it. Let there be a division and a vote as there always has been and let the people see what the views of all the members are.
I do not know whether all members will speak in this particular debate. On the last occasion, I think, 20 out of the 21 members spoke. The Hon. Mr Wortley, as is his right, did not contribute to the second reading. Now, if the Hon. Mr Wortley, for example, is not going to speak in this particular debate again—again, that is his right, if he does not want to—and there was to be no division, we would not know what the Hon. Mr Wortley's view was on this particular vote.
I think it is important to the hundreds of people who have petitioned the Hon. Mr Wortley, on a conscience issue, to know whether he is for or against the legislation. There are other one or two members perhaps who are still to speak on this particular issue.
I think it is important that, having had this debate, and on every previous occasion for there to have been a vote, that the honourable way, and the convention in this house on these issues, is to have the vote and reflect it. If it does show that it is 12-9 against, or 13-8 against, and that the numbers have moved against the proponents of voluntary euthanasia in the space of the last 12 months, so be it. Let the people see, let the media see, let's be transparent, let's be accountable in relation to these issues.
I know transparency and accountability are issues that are near and dear to the Hon. Mr Parnell and the Greens. As I said, I hope I have been misled in relation to this particular issue and that, as is the convention, if the call is on the voices against the bill, it is the responsibility of the proponents then to call for a division to make sure that all the views are recorded in the Hansard, so that all those thousands of people who are interested in this bill will be in a position to know how each of their members have voted on what is an important piece of legislation.
I conclude my contribution by leaving that invitation to the Hon. Mr Parnell. I would hope, in the interests of transparency and accountability, he will address that issue, at least, in his concluding remarks, so that we can all be aware of what he intends to do in relation to this particular issue.