BILLS - Restoring Territory Rights (Assisted Suicide Legislation) Bill 2015 - Second Reading

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:20): I seek leave to speak for about five minutes.

Leave granted.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I thank the Senate for that. I had spoken very briefly previously, so I'm technically barred without leave, but I thank the Senate for giving me leave for this short period so that I may just put on record my views on the Restoring Territory Rights (Assisted Suicide Legislation) Bill 2015, although I suspect my views are reasonably well known.

I was one of the few senators who was in this place when the Andrews bill was first dealt with on 19 March 1997. At that stage, I opposed the Andrews bill, which actually brought about the situation that this bill is trying to reverse. If people are interested particularly in my views, I would refer them to my speech in the Hansard of 19 March 1997, where I indicated why I was opposing what was then euphemistically called the Andrews bill.

I just want to briefly also mention that I chaired the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee when it dealt with the exposure draft of a private senator's bill, the Medical Services (Dying with Dignity) Bill 2014. That committee looked into this whole question in great detail, and there were an enormous number of witnesses. The one that sticks in my mind most was the young man, a family man, who attended the hearings in Melbourne with his wife, his three children and his uncle, former Senator Jim Short. He had three or four weeks left to live. He asked us to bring the hearing forward so he could give evidence. He was pleading with the committee as someone who, in his situation, was terminally ill. He wanted to pass away with his family, his loved ones, around the bed, at a time of his choosing. He knew there was no hope. He didn't want to wake up at two o'clock in the morning and die by himself. It was the most telling piece of evidence given to the committee at that time.

The committee didn't make recommendations on the bill or otherwise. It did, however, raise some issues which I think Senator Leyonhjelm might like to look at. I'll just quote from the committee's report:

Although the evidence received enabled the committee to consider some of the provisions of the Bill in detail, there remain some technical issues with a number of the provisions of the Bill. These include clarification of the definition of a dying with dignity service, clarification around the definition of a terminal illness, the number of medical practitioners required to consider the request, consistency of definition around decision-making capacity, and the serious consequences for medical practitioners who relied upon the immunities in the Bill if such immunities were later found to be unconstitutional.

The committee went on to say:

The committee notes conflicting evidence it received in relation to the primary constitutional basis for the Bill under—

section 51 of the Constitution. It continued:

The committee was told that there could be very serious consequences for medical practitioners who relied upon the immunities in the Bill, if such immunities were later found to be unconstitutional. This concern is enlivened by the virtual certainty that any federal legislation dealing with voluntary euthanasia will face constitutional challenge.

That was for another bill that was before this parliament. The bill we're dealing with now would give the Northern Territory parliament the right to make these decisions. It's a bit strange to quote my own words, but back in 1997 I said:

My opinion is, I believe, no better formed than the views of a democratically elected parliamentarian of the Northern Territory—a parliamentarian who was required over a much longer period of time than I to determine how the laws of that state like territory should apply. I am not one of those who believe that because I am in the federal parliament my opinions are that much superior to those of representatives of the people of the Northern Territory.

So I would vote in favour of this bill, as I have consistently done when this has come before this parliament on a couple of occasions previously. (Extension of time granted).

I have heard a lot of the speeches here and I've had a lot of people come to talk to me, both for and against. I just want to make it clear that this is not like animals and it's not like dealing with someone against their will. We don't know what form a bill on this will take should one be introduced into the Northern Territory in future, but a lot of the conversation here talks about other people putting a person to death or agreeing to a person being put to death. The bills that we have looked at over the period of time are all about decisions by individuals who are capable of making decisions. People talk to me about dementia and people who are imposed upon or who are depressed. If a similar bill came into force in Australia, those people would not be eligible to make the decision, because you need a number of doctors to certify, first of all, that you are capable of making an informed decision and then, having made that informed decision, that it was your choice and not anybody else's—nobody could put you to death; it was solely your decision.

My own position comes from a brave Christian lady, a committed family person—in fact, my mother. She knew she was dying and she fought it for four years. In the last three years of her life, her quality of life fell by so much that she just wanted to go. There was nothing in it for her. She was being comfortably looked after, but she tried every trick in the book to terminate her own life. She couldn't do it. She eventually starved herself to death because it was the only way she could terminate her own life. (Extension of time granted). I do appreciate the chamber in this matter, which is a matter of conscience. I saw my mother in that situation back in 1997. In the end, after a long, uncomfortable and torturous battle, she did pass away, and I suspect that at the very end she was assisted in any case. I believe, from the medical profession, that this often happens.

The same sort of situation happened with my sister, a very Christian lady. She fought the good fight for so long, but, in the end, she was begging to move on. There was no quality of life. There was nothing in it for her. She knew she couldn't last and she just wanted to terminate her despair and hurt at an earlier time. Those are my two personal experiences, and a lot of experiences have been related to me by others. I acknowledge that many other people in this chamber and across Australia have a different view to me, but that is my view. I wanted to put it on the record yet again. I thank the Senate for their indulgence for me being able to do this.

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