HON STEPHEN DAWSON (Mining and Pastoral — Minister for Environment) [11.13 am]: I move — That the bill be now read a third time.
Comments and speeches from various members
HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [3.40 pm]: I rise to reflect on the process of deliberation of the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2019. As I indicated in my second reading speech, I will be supporting the third reading of the legislation, as I did the second reading. The Greens have a longstanding commitment to the principle of voluntary assisted dying, which is also enshrined as a specific policy of the party. In my almost seven years in this place, I have never gone against a Greens policy and I do not intend to start now. Respecting Greens policies is a core responsibility of the parliamentarians who have been entrusted by our party to represent them.
I also reiterate my personal commitment to the principle of voluntary assisted dying. I remain strongly of the view that too often modern medicine keeps people alive far beyond their time and that the capacity to die peacefully when one’s life is otherwise up is a compassionate and loving response to an inevitable death. But that does not mean that I feel completely confident that the legislation before us has hit the right balance, even though I will be supporting it. Crafting legislation around issues of life and death is a sombre and onerous responsibility. We do not craft legislation for those families and people who are loving, supportive and committed to doing the right thing, and whose hearts and motives are pure. To try to pretend that this is the whole purpose of this legislation solely to facilitate access is, I think, at best facile, but at worst dangerous. We legislate because we are trying to mitigate the damage that can be wrought by those people who, through maliciousness or greed or even just because they are exhausted and frustrated, do not do the right thing. Members, that is why we have a Criminal Code—for people who will not do the right thing, and we have literally hundreds of statutes on the book to try to address harmful behaviours of the minority within this community that would do us harm.
I know that I have attempted to engage, in good faith, in the process of amendment, as I made clear in my speech on the second reading that I was determined to. I have not caucused with any group. At no point could my vote on any amendment be taken for granted. I did not turn up to Parliament with the intention of sleeping through this debate on life and death. Instead, I committed to listening to the whole debate and voting according to both my conscience and some fundamental principles. The fundamental principles in this legislation that I have committed to are ensuring that the eligibility to VAD was not limited any further than the bill currently provides, nor that access was limited. Indeed, I voted for amendments that I believe would have increased the capacity for regional Western Australians to have access to both VAD and palliative care—amendments that were not supported by the majority of this house. I also remain committed to the capacity for people to avail themselves of VAD by self-administering. Indeed, I am of the view that this is a critical safeguard to be better assured that consent has actually been achieved. But I was fully prepared to commit to supporting amendments that I believed would improve transparency, oversight and clarity to the process. I remain concerned that many of those sensible amendments were not supported for no clear reason other than a concern as to who had moved the amendment as opposed to the substance of the amendment itself. I also remain concerned that the safeguards are insufficient. However, with all my heart I hope that my concerns are proven to be without foundation because it will weigh very heavily on my conscience if my concerns ever come to fruition.
This is a regime that many in the community have lobbied long and hard for over decades. Many of us have personal stories of people we have loved who might have wanted to be able to access voluntary assisted dying or who we believe would have wanted to be able to access VAD. I urge those who are celebrating the likely passage of this legislation, which ushers in a serious change to how we, as a state, deal with death, to consider what is at stake should the insufficient safeguards within this bill result in a coerced death, the death of someone who it turns out is not dying, or a family member being wrongly accused of murder. These occurrences could be catastrophic for those people and families, but also catastrophic for this reform. Opposing safeguards, opposing the capacity to uphold the integrity of this regime, could have the perverse effect of undermining everything that has been fought for. I know that I have engaged in good faith to try to maximise transparency, oversight, safeguards and genuine choice, despite coming under some pressure not to engage intelligently and thoughtfully with the debate. At the end of the day, I have to be able to live with myself. I have resisted this pressure and I do so without apology. I am of the firm belief that the amendments that have been agreed to and that have been passed have greatly improved the bill.
This legislation marks a significant shift in how we as a community view death and the state’s role in the deaths of its citizens. I hope we continue to scrutinise the way this legislation and the associated regime rolls out. I hope that we are able to extract as much transparency as we can about how it is operating, despite in my view the limited provisions in the bill and despite the Council’s decision to not support many measures that would have provided additional transparency. With all my heart, I hope that the efforts to ensure that we have world’s best practice in the availability of palliative care continues to be fought for so that all Western Australians have genuine choice at their end of life and that voluntary assisted dying is never sought simply because people have been left without any other option.
I acknowledge the exemplary conduct of Hon Stephen Dawson in his handling of this very sensitive legislation and for treating it with the seriousness that it deserves. I also want to acknowledge the very measured way in which the Minister for Health has endeavoured to engage both with members and in his public commentary. I wish all government members could demonstrate such restraint.
Finally, I want to give a thankyou to the literally thousands of people who have contacted me over the course of this year, many telling me their deeply personal stories and, just as importantly, many expressing their deep distress at the introduction of this legislation. I recognise that although many, if not most, within this state will welcome the passage of this bill, there will also be those who are desperately disappointed and concerned, and those again who welcome the bill but with significant trepidation. We all have hopes as to how this legislation will work in practice. My fervent hope is that it does prove to work as intended.
Comments and speeches from various members
The PRESIDENT: Before I put the question, I remind members again that we will conduct this vote in the same way that we have managed the whole of the debate in this chamber on this very significant piece of legislation. I ask that when I put the question, and possibly we may or may not go to a division, that we handle this in a very calm and mature way and a quiet and respectful manner. I also ask our visitors in the gallery if they can observe this vote in a very respectful and calm manner as well, acknowledging the diversity of views that exist in this chamber today on this issue.
Question put and a division taken with the following result —
Question thus passed.
Bill read a third time and returned to the Assembly with amendments.