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Wednesday, 17 September 2008
Page: 4983


Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (3:46 PM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

RESTORING TERRITORY RIGHTS (VOLUNTARY EUTHANASIA LEGISLATION) BILL 2008

This is a bill for an Act to restore the rights of the Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory and Norfolk Island legislative assemblies to make laws for the peace, order and good government of their territories, including their right to legislate for voluntary euthanasia. The bill repeals the Euthanasia Laws Act 1997, through which the national parliament overturned this right, and specifically, the Northern Territory’s Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995.

In February this year, I introduced a bill, The Rights of the Terminally Ill (Euthanasia Laws Repeal) Bill 2008, to the Senate. The bill was the subject of a Senate Committee inquiry by the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee. The inquiry received over eighteen hundred submissions from individuals, academics and community organisations and held public hearings in Darwin and Sydney. The report of that Committee recommended a number of amendments which have been adopted in the bill I introduce today. In particular it should be noted that this bill does not restore the Northern Territory Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995. It does however restore the rights of the Northern Territory legislature to make laws about voluntary euthanasia in the future.

In 1995, the Parliament of the Northern Territory passed a law which reflected not only the will of Northern Territorians, but also the strongly held views of the majority of all Australians. Every opinion poll conducted over the last two decades has shown that approximately three-quarters of Australians support the concept of voluntary euthanasia. A poll conducted by Roy Morgan in June 2002 found that seventy percent of those surveyed thought the law should be changed to allow a hopelessly ill patient to seek assistance from a doctor to commit suicide; and seventy-eight percent thought the law should be changed so that it is no longer an offence to be present at such a suicide. A Newspoll in February 2007 found that eighty percent of Australians believe that terminally ill people should have a right to choose a medically assisted death. This poll also found that twenty two percent of respondents nationally have had a personal experience of a close relative or friend being hopelessly ill and wanting voluntary euthanasia. It has been consistently reported that each year hundreds of terminally ill people are assisted to an early and dignified death by compassionate medical professionals.

In the decade since the Euthanasia Laws Act was introduced here, the legal right to die with dignity has been available to the citizens of The Netherlands, Belgium, Oregon in the United States, Israel and Albania. In Switzerland, assisted suicide has been legal since 1918. Introduction of such laws has not led to a significant increase in the number of people choosing this option. For example in The Netherlands after an initial increase the percentage of deaths as a result of euthanasia, the number has decreased from 2.6% in 2001 to 1.7% in 2005. In Oregon, according to the health department annual report, an average of 29 individuals has died each year as a result of their Death with Dignity Act - in a population of 3.5 million.

In 1995 the Northern Territory Assembly led the way in Australia by giving its citizens the option to end their suffering with dignity and medical support. In 1997, Canberra removed that right. This bill will redress that action and restore the legislative rights of the governments of the Northern Territory, the ACT and Norfolk Island to make decisions that both affect their citizens and reflect their views and concerns. In so doing, it reflects the heartfelt views of the majority of Australians on this important issue.

I commend the bill to the Senate.


Senator BOB BROWN —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.