Restoring Territory Rights (Assisted Suicide Legislation) Bill 2015 - SECOND READING


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (10:43): This Restoring Territory Rights (Assistant Suicide Legislation) Bill 2015 covers a range of reasonably complex issues that are not really related. I just want to give my thoughts on the separate issues that arise in this bill.

I listened with interest to Senator Day's speech. I have heard those sorts of comments before, at an inquiry which the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee conducted into a similar bill—a dying with dignity bill—some time ago. I also heard the other side of the story. At that committee hearing we had evidence from a youngish man, who was supported at the hearing by his wife and young children and who clearly indicated his wish to be able to get medical assistance to terminate his life when things got to a stage where his cancer was just intolerable.

I am a reasonable human being, I think. Hopefully it will never happen to me, but, if I do get to the stage that I have seen many of my relatives, I would want the right to make my own decision on how long I stay on this earth in absolute agony, without any friends and without any relatives—sitting there and more or less just waiting for the days to pass until I die. I would like to have the ability to make my own decision. In spite of what Senator Day and others have said, the bills that we looked at all had safeguards. It is not a matter of people killing people—and there was a lot of emphasis on the word 'kill'. It is about those who are able to make a decision getting a medical practitioner to assist with the termination of life without the medical practitioner being legally responsible for a crime.

If I did want to terminate my life, I would not need legislation and I really do not need a doctor. I do not need anything. There are lots of ways: you can slit your wrists; you can steal a gun and blow your brains out. You can do many things. This only applies to people who can make the decision. It does not apply to children or people who are of unsound or infirm minds. It is only where you can make the decision yourself. Some of the bills we looked at required one or two psychiatrists to certify that you were capable of making the decision. As I say, anyone can terminate their life, but, when that time comes, you would hope that you might be able to get some medical help to do it in a reasonably dignified way.

My views are of course my own, but they are reinforced by the instance of my mother, who was a wonderful person. She was a very Christian lady and was very helpful to her family and everyone else in the community. She had a stroke and one side of her body was paralysed. She could not speak and could not write, but she learnt to say a few words and learnt to write left-handed. She spent eight years in hospital fighting it. She got to a stage, though, where all she wanted to do was get out of this life, and she could not. It was almost funny: she would play hide and seek with the nurses. They would keep giving her pills every day and she would put them in her mouth until the nurse went away and then she would take them out of her mouth and throw them under the bed. Every week the nurses would do a search of her room and would find a little cache of pills that she was supposed to be taking to keep her alive. They beat her at that. She eventually starved herself to death, and that is not a nice way to go. She did not have any money and the family were all supportive, but she wanted to go and the only way she could do it in the end was by refusing to eat food, and that was an awful way to go.

In the last year I saw the same situation with my sister. I spent as much time with her as I could. She would often say to me, 'Ian, if only I could go; if only I could leave.' I used to encourage her the other way, but she wanted to go. I saw her go through this over a period of six or more months. I often said to my wife as we were going home from visiting my sister, 'We wouldn't do this to our cat.' In fact, we had a cat and we were very attached to the cat. The cat had very difficult diseases and we spent a fortune at the vet. Eventually we paid the vet to come and do a home visit. We sat with the cat on my knee while the vet terminated its life. We just could not bear to see the cat go through that sort of agony, and yet when it comes to people we tolerate it.

Everyone will have their own views on this. When this matter came before the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee, the only recommendation of the committee, apart from some technical legal things, was that, if this matter ever came to a vote in the parliament, party leaders should allow it to be a conscience vote. That was as far as the committee would want to go. For these reasons—and I have mentioned them in these sorts of debates before—I would favour some sort of legal medically assisted termination of a life with all of the safeguards. I do not share Senator Day's horrible thoughts about humanity and all of the issues: people wanting to 'kill', in his words, because they would get the property quicker or they would get the money quicker and they would not have to bother. I do not think most people are like that. I am sure there would be some like that in this world, but I think most people in the world would not fit that category.

I want to briefly go to the other aspect of this bill, which again causes some complexity. I think I was territories minister when the last referendum came forward for the Northern Territory. I think a lot of people in the Northern Territory wanted statehood, but I have to say that the government at the time—which was a government of my persuasion, and I think they confess this—completely messed up the process and, as a result, the referendum went down. So I have a bit of a feel for the Northern Territory. I would like to think that they could become a state and be like everyone else, but the total population of the Northern Territory is about 250,000, which is about the same size as the regional city in which my office is. Townsville has about 250,000 people. Can the Northern Territory afford to run a state? Can it afford to pay its own way? I doubt it. If that is the case and they continue to rely on Commonwealth finance, what is the purpose of it? There is talk that it would give them greater representation in the federal parliament. Instead of having two lower house members they might have more. Instead of having only two senators, they might have 12. It would be a state with 250,000 people having 12 senators. My town of Townsville shares 12 with the rest of the state and only has one based in the city, which is me. If it is going to happen in the Northern Territory, perhaps we should get 12 senators in Townsville as well. Whilst that is a ridiculous proposition, it does show the difficulties. On balance, I would be happy enough with the Northern Territory becoming a state, I guess, but I do not think it is really practical and I am not sure that in the end it is a result that most Northern Territorians would seriously want.

With the ACT I have a different view, and it is not the colour of the government I might hasten to add. I do think the ACT is the seat of the national capital of Australia. I do think that the Australian parliament should retain some sort of ability to oversight what happens in this city-state, city-territory, which is really not a state but a Commonwealth, a federal, institution which is the national capital. Of course, the founding fathers of the country in those early days thought long and hard about where the capital should be. Should it be in Sydney or Melbourne? Well, that could not happen. A lot of thought was put into where and how the capital of the nation should operate. That is why I always think that the federal parliament must retain some influence over where the governance of this territory is. I am very conscious that many Canberrans did not even want self-government. When you look around I can understand why because they used to get the taxes from the rest of Australia to pay for the building of infrastructure in Canberra. So, if you are Canberran, why would you want to take that on yourself? Canberra is a very favoured city. It is a very lovely life living here. It is a beautiful city built by the taxes of everybody else, not just taxes of Canberrans.

I do think there needs to be some Commonwealth oversight over the national capital. I remember the first election. I think there were three candidates elected, who were from the No Self-Government Party. I think there was a fourth who had a similar view. I have always thought that, in retrospect, perhaps the best idea for Canberra would have been to have a local government with some additional powers, but with the Commonwealth retaining a big influence in what happens in what is, effectively, the city of all Australians, not just of Canberrans.

With those few words—and I am conscious other people want to speak on this debate—that is the way I see this particular bill and other bills that have been similar to this. I guess it is a debate which will continue for a long, long, period of time into the future.

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