Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (17:31): This bill purports to be about territory rights. It is, in my view, a very clean handball. It is in fact about voluntary euthanasia. I think there is only one outstanding issue around state rights, or territory rights in this case, and it is voluntary euthanasia.
As you would well know, Madam Deputy Speaker Sharkie, this job we have entails us meeting hundreds of people. Most of them are good. The vast majority of them are good. But not all of them are. Sadly, in this job we meet some of the worst. I’m always appalled when I see families squabbling over inheritances from deaths that have not yet occurred. They do come to our office from time to time, families lined up to get their hands on mum or dad’s money. Some children have got themselves into a position of having power of attorney, or even enduring power of attorney, over mum or dad and actually sell up mum’s house without letting her know. I’ve had that. It makes you really question the fundamental goodness of people, whether it is there in every character.
I do know that those people that are offended should be protected at every possibility. Others convince mum and dad to underwrite their latest business venture—I’m sure you’ve come across that one—then the business venture goes south, and mum and dad lose their house. They lose the lot, and siblings are already positioning themselves for the carve-up.
This thing within the euthanasia acts around Australia, which says that the person choosing euthanasia should be of sound mind and able to exercise their own judgement without being influenced by others in that judgement, is sound thinking. That makes sense. But how hard is it to say to an elderly parent: ‘Maybe it’s not worth all the trouble, Mum. You know how your last operation went. Helen and I had to come up here and see you. It’s a long way for us to travel. We’ve got families. You know how much pain you had. Something else is probably going to go wrong with you if you have this operation.’
Make no mistake: as I said, this bill we’re facing here—and I thank Peter Dutton and our leadership team for making this a conscience vote in the coalition party room—is about voluntary euthanasia. I lay on the table that I am a practising Christian. I don’t go to church quite as often as I should, but I try to get there. In fact, I went to St Peter’s Cathedral, the Anglican cathedral in Adelaide, last Sunday. I’m not an Anglican, but I remember being inside that wonderful cathedral. This really isn’t the time for levity, but I can tell you: when you sit in there on a winter’s morning you’re as far from the fires of hell as one can possibly imagine. It was freezing. As I said, I’m a practising Christian, but I don’t actually bring a particular religious view to this debate about voluntary euthanasia. I’m not sure what the Bible said to us about this, and I don’t bring that judgement. I understand that many people don’t see the Bible as their guiding force in life, so I take it, really, just as an issue of human rights and trying to protect the rights of those who I think need protection as they get older.
I think it is a dishonesty in this bill to claim that it’s about territory rights. On that issue of territory rights, section 122 of the Constitution provides that the Commonwealth has the plenary power to legislate for the territories. I make the point that in the case of the Northern Territory it was in 1995 that this bill was enacted but in fact in 1998 the citizens of the NT actually rejected the right to become a state. They rejected the opportunity in a referendum. So perhaps they didn’t want to make this decision and a lot of other decisions that go with statehood, and it was ceded to the Commonwealth. They knew that the Commonwealth had taken this position of saying, ‘On these issues we will have the say here in Canberra,’ and in 1998 the people of the Territory had an opportunity to say, ‘Well, we’ll reject that and become a state in our own right,’ but they chose not to. So the power does reside here, because they chose not to take that pathway to statehood.
On euthanasia in particular, I have to say that voluntary euthanasia is something I thought was a good idea when I was younger. I would have argued the case for voluntary euthanasia, probably many times, at two o’clock in the morning after I’d consumed a couple of bottles of red with some mates. The point is that we didn’t have the responsibility for the decision within that debate. It’s part of growing up, isn’t it? Maybe becoming a member of the Parliament of Australia is a major step in our growing up, because you know that the decisions we make here actually make a difference on people’s lives and you have to own the result. A little later on this evening I will be speaking about the government’s intention to abolish the cashless debit card, to all intents and purposes. They will have to own whatever results come from that decision. So, if we make a decision in this place which is, as I said, a de facto decision to allow for voluntary euthanasia in the territories, in fact we have to take ownership of that decision. It’s not an ownership that I’m prepared to take.
You can’t be on the right side of every argument. I mean that in an individual sense. I know there are people who have been through this terrible situation of watching a loved one die, and they will say to people like me: ‘You wouldn’t let a dog live through this existence. Why don’t you allow for the said person to issue an instruction to end their life?’
In those terms, I don’t disagree with that argument, and I understand why they reach that position, just as I’ve pointed out that we see the other side of it as well. I find it difficult to be a hundred per cent confident that we won’t see a distortion of that decision. So we need to take that responsibility for people who maybe aren’t as in control of their lives as they might say they are, who maybe have been coerced. I think the risks are too high, because, if there is one person taken from this world against their will under legislation that we are basically voting for or against in the parliament, today, tomorrow or wherever it comes, that will be an error that is obviously irreversible. I will not be supporting the bill. I suspect it will pass—I think it will probably pass quite well—but I’ll be able to sleep with my conscience intact.