Bill: Death With Dignity Bill (2nd Reading)

Mr GARDNER ( Morialta ) ( 20:56 ): I find myself extremely challenged by this bill, as I have with similar bills that have come before it, and as I stand here I wish I had the certainty of the hundreds, and possibly thousands, of people who have contacted other members of parliament and me. I have particularly taken note of constituents in the seat of Morialta, and the house might or might not be interested to know that they fall roughly evenly in their spread of certainty that this bill is utterly necessary and contains all of the sufficient safeguards to ensure that the unintended consequences that other members have identified will come through, and half have the absolute certainty that this remains the thin end of the wedge from which thousands of vulnerable people might be put at risk down the track. 

As to the arguments that are put forward, I think the member for Stuart identified the way that he is torn between having a philosophically profound belief in life and the sanctity of life and a similarly profound belief in enabling individuals to choose their own course, and I similarly have that view. My thinking about euthanasia, to put it on the record once and for all, began in this room when I had a different position in the Youth Parliament. I was sitting over in the Deputy Premier's chair and introduced a bill similar to one moved previously by the Hon. Sandra Kanck, who happens to be one of the constituents I have met with several times to talk about this and whose correspondence I have read. I moved a bill similar to hers. 

This comes on the back of my parents who, my mother being a nurse and my father being a proud and strong-minded libertarian, always said to me that the state cannot tell people what to do. My mother, as a nurse, instilled in me the profound belief in safeguards. While she supported euthanasia, as did my father, as a nurse she believed that the safeguards were important because she had a scepticism of a primary diagnosis that might potentially not take seriously the mental health conditions that somebody might have or indeed a doctor who might not take seriously the need for a second opinion. 

That bill that I moved in the Youth Parliament, and similarly my comments in previous debates, have always had these litmus tests for me as to whether a bill was sufficiently safeguarded. It has always been challenging for me. I have been open to the principle, but the bills themselves I have not necessarily been comfortable with. 

During the 2010 election campaign, I was at a public forum with the then member for Morialta, Lindsay Simmons, and some other candidates, and we were asked about this issue. It was one of the ones that raised the greatest level of interest. Lindsay Simmons put on the record at that point, as she had previously, her profound opposition to ever supporting a euthanasia bill. 

I told the story that I told to the house in my previous contribution in 2011 of my grandfather's profound wish to have his suffering relieved and my philosophical support for allowing euthanasia legislation to go through that I had at the time. However, I also identified that I had never seen a bill that I was entirely comfortable with. In sitting on the fence in that way, I did not mean to shirk the criticism that would come and, in sitting on the fence on this bill at any time, I do not try to please everyone. In fact, I find that I please nobody by doing so. I am honestly putting forward my views, which are quite deeply concerned on this matter. 

In 2011, John Hill's bill went through a second reading. I moved amendments in the third reading, and I have talked about those in the past; anyone can read the Hansard. In 2012, the late Bob Such introduced a bill, and I voted for the second reading because I thought it was important to have the debate go on. I know that at that stage I received hundreds of letters. The bill failed, obviously, but I received hundreds of letters from constituents, spurred on by the Speaker, who in his role identified it as being useful to write to my constituents. I think he had a petition of several hundred of my constituents to let them know that I had voted for it, because he thought it would be a good political way to identify that they should not support me. 

I also note that the Labor Party put out two or maybe three pieces of correspondence—I have heard about a third, although I have not seen it—during the last election. One of them had some pictures of buildings that were being built by the government and the second one was a letter from my opponent in Morialta, which again contained that Hansard of me voting for a previous euthanasia bill and identified that she would never vote for it. 

The only direct mail I saw from the Labor Party in the last election in Morialta was, in fact, a pitch to voters who were concerned about euthanasia, who opposed euthanasia, not to vote for me, and we saw a 7 per cent swing to the Liberal Party in Morialta. I do not link the two because, while this has very profound meaning for many constituents, I think there are many other things that drive people to vote for who they vote for. They can choose whatever they like, and I certainly respect those who choose not to vote for me based on whatever I do in this bill. 

I should identify that in 2012 I responded to constituents who wrote to me on this issue, and this basically maintains the position that I took throughout the last period. This letter was obviously adapted depending on what people individually wrote, but this sums up most of what I said: 

Thank you for taking the time and trouble to write to me regarding the recent Euthanasia vote in the House of Assembly. 

I appreciate that the position I took on 14 June is one that you disagree with, and while I don't expect to be able to convince you that I made the right decision in relation to that vote, I would like to explain my position and the circumstances surrounding that vote. 

It has also come to my attention that…the M ember for Croydon, has circulated some information that does not present all the relevant facts. I am unsure of whether you received a copy of his correspondence, but either way I feel it is worth putting my views on the record again. 

The vote on 14 June was on the second readin g of a Bill put forward by Bob Such to allow voluntary euthanasia, but limited to 'patients who are in the terminal phase of a terminal illness who are suffering unbearable pain'. The Bill included strict safeguards against coercion and abuse, and was limited very strictly to those patients for whom our current palliative care arrangements do not provide any earthly comfort. 

In voting on the 'second reading' of this Bill, I should also confirm that this was not the final stage of the Bill. Once a Bill passes its 'second reading', that means that it is able to be discussed in detail. Members may examine the Bill clause by clause, and ask questions of the proponent. In this way, the Bill gets examined at length allowing for greater community debate as well, as this process usually takes several months for bills such as this. I and a number of M embers who voted for the Bill at the second reading did so with the intention of engaging broadly with their electorates over the subsequent months to inform how they would vote on the 'third reading'—which is the actual vote as to whether a bill can go to the Legislative Council and potentially become a law, or not. 

To put this into context, last year …the Labor M ember for Ashford—introduced a euthanasia bill that had none of the restrictions or safeguards of this one. Neither Michael Atkinson nor anyone else voted against it at the second reading.After it passed the second reading, there was considerable further debate in the Parliament and the community for more than six months. I spoke against that Bill , and I would have voted against it had it come to a vote before the new Premier prorogued the Parliament ( wiping clean the Parliament's agenda ) . 

I have attached a copy of that speech for your interest. It also reflects exactly the views I put forward when asked about this issue at the only public debate in Morialta prior to the last election, along with the other local candidates. 

[ The member for Croydon's ] letter suggests that I ' will go on voting for euthanasia as long as he is your local representative '—indeed he describes such a bill's passage as my 'aim'. He should know better. 

I sought to enter public life to work for a more prosperous future for our state , so that when… I have grown children there will be no question in their minds that they want to make their futures here in South Australia rather than interstate or overseas. I have never had any interest in being a radical social reformer. 

I voted for us to have a further discussion and debate in the community about what we can do for those patients who are in unbearable, agonising pain, and who are in the terminal phase of terminal illnesses. Such a debate would have included the views of medical specialists, ethicists, religious leaders, patients' advocates , and anyone else who had a view. 

I hope that this explanation, and the attached speech, has given you some useful background and context to this situation. It is up to every elector to choose the basis upon which they determine who they will vote for, and if you feel that you cannot support me, then I respect that position . However it would be a shame for such a decision to be made without all of the facts being presented, hence my correspondence today. 

[ Please contact me if there is anything else I can help with. ] 

We have had that debate that I talked about over the past months. This is a bill that is presented as if it is in final form. I do not propose to support it at the second reading on this occasion. I know that will upset many people in my community, but I also identify to those who will always oppose euthanasia bills that I do not propose to say that I will never support a bill in the future. I will always consider bills on their merits, and in this case that is also made more difficult by the fact that my own feelings on the philosophy, the position of the principle of the bill, are very torn. I regret that I do not have longer to further explain that view, but I want to put it on the record for my constituents to hold me to account.