BILL: Voluntary Assisted Dying

Today Mark spoke to the Private Members Bill for voluntary assisted dying that he co-sponsored. 


The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I thank the council for allowing me to take the unusual step of speaking to the bill immediately following the mover. Our parliamentary standing orders do not normally recognise the concept of joint sponsorship of bills or motions, because it does require each item of business to be attached or under the control of a specified member of parliament. Speaking immediately following the mover is how we can indicate that this bill is indeed sponsored or supported by more than one member.

In fact, I know that a number of members in this place strongly support the bill; however, the Hon. Kyam Maher and I both served together on the Joint Committee on End Of Life Choices and we are both committed to the bill passing. I thank him for the collegial approach he has taken in allowing joint sponsorship.

I am not going to speak at great length today. I associate myself with the remarks of the Hon. Kyam Maher. As he has pointed out, I have twice moved voluntary euthanasia bills, both of which only very narrowly failed. Like the honourable member, I have been working closely over many years with the members of the South Australian Voluntary Euthanasia Society and other key stakeholders. Like the honourable member, on each occasion that I have introduced bills, I have accepted that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. The honourable member named many of them—those many members of both houses of parliament over many years who have moved bills to provide for voluntary euthanasia or dying with dignity.

As the honourable member said, there have been 17 bills at last count. Without at all wanting to appear frivolous or flippant, my view has often been that this issue is a little bit like a game of pass the parcel at a child's birthday party; that is, I have every confidence that the bill will pass one day, and it is a question of which member of parliament in which chamber happens to be holding the bill when the music stops.

The reason I say it is inevitable is that we know from public opinion surveys that a massive majority and an increasing majority of citizens in South Australia and elsewhere in Australia support law reform that allows people suffering intolerably from incurable conditions to die with dignity. Those surveys have been asked continually for I think now 30 years and the number increases every year. It is now over 80 per cent and that includes the adherence to various faiths; the various Christian denominations and other faiths are in the majority as well.

Most of our citizens, most of the people who put us here, want us to support legislation that compassionately allows for people to die with dignity. That is why I say it is only a matter of time. I hope that it is this bill. I hoped it was the last. Before that, I hoped it was that bill as well. I had hoped that South Australia would regain the mantle of the most progressive state when it comes to social reforms. That is not going to happen now.

We have had other states—and good on them—who have managed to pass this legislation: Victoria and Queensland. We are probably around the middle of the pack at the moment. Those other jurisdictions have recognised what their citizens want and I think it is time that this parliament recognises what our citizens want as well.

I said I was not going to make a long speech because, like the Hon. Kyam Maher, I have now nearly 15 years of stories of people who have written to me about what has happened to their loved ones, their family, their friends and what they fear might happen to them. It is impossible to go through the stories without your heart breaking for these people and their fairly simple request, which is that they want to exercise some control over their dying days, and they cannot understand why the parliament would stand in the way of them exercising that choice.

I am not here today with a litany of stories. I have done that in the past. People can go back and look at what I have said before. We all know that these people are out there, they write to us and we have to pay close attention to what they are telling us and what they need.

The Hon. Kyam Maher mentioned that this bill is based on the Victorian bill and I, too, was part of the meeting with Justice Betty King, a most impressive person who has had the responsibility of oversight for the Victorian legislation. As the Hon. Kyam Maher said, she has looked very hard to try to find where things have gone wrong and they have not gone wrong because, as members would know, a common feature of this debate in the last 17 times that we have had in this chamber has been the fear that things will go wrong.

A state now has finally legislated, their law is in operation, they have one of their most experienced and recognised former judges overseeing it and things are not going wrong; it is going exactly as planned. My feeling is that we could probably have better legislation, but I accept that, another state having passed a bill, the most likely chance of us succeeding is to simply take what they have done and to put it into a South Australian context.

There is always argument about detail, 'We could make this a bit stronger, make this a bit more relaxed or easier,' but let's stick with something that we know is working, the Victorian model. If future parliaments want to look at whether the administration can be changed slightly, well let's leave that to future generations to deal with, but for now let's take a working model and implement it in South Australia.

I am very pleased to be co-sponsoring this bill. I understand the other house will also be considering legislation. I guess we will see which of the chambers votes first. My guess is that if the other place votes first then this bill will probably be abandoned and we will get a message from the other house or vice versa, but my understanding is (and I think it is good reasoning) that the honourable member has been keen to table this bill now so that when we get to next year no-one can say, 'Oh, we have been taken by surprise. This is not a bill we have seen before.' Well, yes, it is. It is being tabled today, just as members of the lower house will also have this bill to consider as well.

So it does not mean that both will be voted on, but all members of parliament, all 69 of us, now know what it is that is before us to vote on. I just hope that this time, time No. 18, this parliament will do what the people of this state have been consistently asking us to do for many years, and that is to legislate for dying with dignity.