Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2017 Council’s amendments
Victorian Parliament - 28 November 2017 - Ms KEALY - I would like to raise some concerns that I have had around the process that has been implemented by the government in terms of looking at amendments to this bill, the consideration that they have given these amendments and some of the other elements which do concern me around the opportunity for members, in good faith, to make improvements to the safeguards or the access to voluntary assisted dying.
I sat through the entire debate in the Legislative Assembly, and I guess we came into that debate knowing that both the Premier and the Minister for Health had come out in the media that day saying, ‘The bill is perfect. We are not going to accept any amendments’. It was somewhat reassuring that during the debate the Attorney‑General did make the comment — and I am paraphrasing here — that amendments would be considered in good faith. It became obvious throughout the debate, though, that no amendments were actually being properly considered by the government at the time. That was seen as something that was very much a political play during debate, and I think it disappointed a lot of people, myself included. Also people who were lobbyists, activists and advocates for voluntary assisted dying were deeply concerned that the government would not take on board contributions that would improve the bill.
Therefore we went through the process of it passing the Assembly and going to the Council, and we saw very similar amendments adopted and accepted in the Council in order to have the bill passed. For example, changing some of the time frames to six months from 12 months is something that was put forward during debate in the Legislative Assembly. I am really disappointed that the government did not take those amendments on board and consider them in good faith during the lower house debate. If that had been the case, we may not have seen ourselves in this situation today.
With all the amendments that were put by our side of Parliament and also by members of the government themselves, perhaps we would have had a more robust bill with improved safeguards that would have retained the accessibility that is so important for voluntary assisted dying and the government would not see themselves in this position now. Whereas beforehand they were debating that they had a perfect bill that did not require any amendments, now ironically they are debating that the amendments that have been accepted are somehow making this perfect bill more perfect, rather than saying that the bill originally was not perfect and giving credit around that in the first place.
I do take exception to some of the comments that I have heard within the chamber in this debate today around filibustering. As I said, I sat through the entire debate in the Legislative Assembly, and I think that there were absolutely reasonable points that were being put forward by individual members based on their concerns with the drafting of the bill. I think that those comments were certainly not filibustering; they were people trying to put their views forward and seek amendments to the bill, and they were doing that in good faith. I find it quite offensive that there is this accusation that this was in some way filibustering.
I think it is also deeply concerning that debate was gagged in the upper house. In 160 years of history in the Legislative Council on only three occasions has there been a gag of debate supported — twice in 2003 and once in 1951. To think that on five occasions in the upper house debate was gagged is absolutely terrible in my view. With the sleep deprivation that was going on at the time and the government moving against adjourning debate, if you put that in terms of what would happen in an ordinary workplace, to expect people to work for 26 or 28 hours is completely unacceptable. I am not talking about the members of Parliament, although in the context of that we are expected to make decisions with a clear mind. We are expected to properly assess information that is coming forward and make decisions about that and make a decision about how we will vote, which at the end of the day will result in whether people can access voluntary assisted dying in this state or not. I think that the government should have been adjourning the debate to ensure that the opportunity for proper sleep was available to members of Parliament and the fantastic staff we have in Parliament as well, who were absolutely exhausted by the end of the debate. It did not give due respect to the importance of voluntary assisted dying and how important it is that we get this right.
I do want to point out one more thing that absolutely disgusted me during the Legislative Assembly debate, and that was when the member for Pascoe Vale sought leave to speak for a third occasion on an amendment. There had been a great amount of leeway and respect given throughout the voluntary assisted dying debate. When the member for Pascoe Vale sought leave to speak for a third time on an amendment, the Premier was in the chamber. The Premier, who we know is an absolute bully and only ever gets his way, otherwise it is the highway and you are gone, actually refused leave for the member for Pascoe Vale to have that third occasion to speak on that amendment. I think that is absolutely disgusting. It was not in the spirit of flexibility that was offered to other members on both sides of the chamber throughout the debate, and I just wanted to make sure that that was on the record — that it was the Premier who made that bullying decision to not allow the member for Pascoe Vale to have leave to put forward a very important point. I spoke to her after that occurred. I think it was wrong that that was done simply because he did not agree with what she had to say because she was going to cross the chamber. That is disgusting and was not what this whole debate has been about.
In summary I do not think that the government has handled this well. I think that the amendments should have been considered in good faith in the Legislative Assembly in the first place. The Legislative Council gagging debate is something that is absolutely unheard of in the 160 years of that house. Also, to refuse adjournment and the impact that that had on staff in particular I think is something that is simply not good enough.
Honourable members interjecting.
Ms KEALY — I note that members of the government are scoffing and laughing at that. You would think that if that was occurring within a union‑based workplace, there would be absolute uproar and strife. We need to respect our staff. They do an absolutely fantastic job. Not adjourning debate at those times absolutely works against the spirit of the Legislative Council, the Legislative Assembly and the parliamentary process.
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