When it comes to the politics of elections today, virtually nothing gets in the way of political parties. Even the most serious and significant of issues eg matters to do literally with life and death can and will be brought into play and weaponised if it is believed they can deliver to their political strategist's advantage. And all the more self-assured and strident will the play be in the case of progressive politicians who assert that in bringing such matters off the bench and into political contest as part of an election campaign, they are showing leadership; just what the public expect and want.
This is exactly what we have seen in Queensland last Sunday with the Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk placing the issues of assisted suicide and euthanasia smack bang in the middle of the current election campaign. Business is business in politics and there is no prize for running second. However, on an issue that calls on MPs to look deeply into their souls and make a judgement about creating a legislative framework to facilitate citizens killing themselves or with the assistance of another person, it is in my view utterly reprehensible that the Premier has taken these issues and decided to use them for a rank political purpose; a point I will return to later.
Moreover, the Premier has taken what she undertook to the citizens of Queensland in Parliament on 21st May this year and put it in the shredder. In her Ministerial Statement she said:
"There are also number of operational issues to work through before we can implement any kind of voluntary assisted dying scheme in Queensland at this time. … . I have therefore asked the Attorney-General and Minister for Justice to refer the preparation of voluntary assisted dying legislation for Queensland to the Queensland Law Reform Commission. The Queensland Law Reform Commission will report back to the Attorney-General with draft legislation by 1 March next year for the government's final consideration."
What then happened was a Terms of Reference was duly issued to the Queensland Law Reform Commission. It is worth noting that the Terms of Reference itself are in a very real sense a political stitch-up. Instead of inviting the Queensland Law Reform Commission to examine the issues of assisted suicide and euthanasia and what one may call the arguments for and against, the Terms of Reference is highly prescriptive with a predetermined outcome. The Terms of Reference says:
"I, STIRLING JAMES HINCHLIFFE, Acting Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, refer to the Queensland Law Reform Commission, the issue of developing an appropriate legislative scheme for voluntary assisted dying for Queensland and preparation of draft legislation to give effect to its recommendations, pursuant to section 10 of the Law Reform Commission Act 1968."
In other words the fix was in from the start. The Queensland Law Reform Commission has had its hands bound and tied by the Premier since May this year to produce by no later than 1st March 2021 a draft piece of assisted suicide and euthanasia legislation.
With all this carefully laid out by the Premier in May, individuals and stakeholders from across the state have been preparing and making their submissions to the consultation process being undertaken by the Queensland Law Reform Commission into the Terms of Reference. As you would expect this is all being done to meet the 1st March 2021 deadline set by the Premier.
Then, last Sunday at the Labor Party's election campaign launch, the Premier proudly announced:
"That's why today I commit that the government I lead will introduce legislation in February next year to provide for the legislation of voluntary assisted dying."
Excuse me, introducing legislation into the Parliament in February next year! The Queensland Law Reform Commission has until 1st March to submit its report, to say nothing about the time required by the Government to carefully consider it. So with everything on track as outlined above, why the sudden change announced by the Premier on Sunday? In truth the answer is simple. The Premier has made a conscious decision to use the issues of assisted suicide and euthanasia to try and wedge the LNP for base political gain. Instead of allowing her own mandated process to run its full course, the Premier has taken it upon herself to announce that if re-elected, she will push legislation into the Parliament next February. It is her hope that by stoking the issues in the way that she has, this will create tensions and disunity within the LNP over the remaining period of the election campaign.
When it comes to the issues of assisted suicide and euthanasia the stakes are as high as they get. There is no coming back from death. The Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews played down the number of people that were expected to terminate their lives under the state's assisted suicide and euthanasia legislation when it passed the Parliament. The public were reassured that only around 12 people each year would seek to end their lives by either assisted suicide or euthanasia. Well it hasn't turned out that way. In the recently released report on the figures for the first full 12 months of operation of the Victorian scheme, on average just over two people each week ended their lives by either assisted suicide or euthanasia. And just last week, The Guardian Australia reported on the Dutch Health Minister's announcement of his intention to amend regulations that will permit doctors in that country to euthanise terminally ill children aged between one and 12 years.
Deliberations over proposed laws to legalise assisted suicide and euthanasia for legislators are as serious as it gets. Using such issues to try and secure some base political advantage should be beyond the pale, even for the most hard-headed of politicians.
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