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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1236


Senator LEYONHJELM (New South Wales) (16:26): I do not want to upset anybody in this place but I have some terrible news for you: you are all going to die. And I have news that is even more tragic: I am also going to die. I cannot say when or how any of us will go. But if posting inappropriate tweets is a sin, I may be struck down by lightning any day now. This would actually be a merciful way to go. Many people are not so lucky.

Cancer is now the top cause of death in Australia. About one in four of us will slowly die from cancer. There are many other degenerative diseases where death is a slow and painful process, and the dying know exactly what is going on and become powerless to end their own suffering. At any moment, thousands of Australians are dying. They are the most vulnerable people in the country, and we owe them the greatest care and attention. And yet they are provided with less dignity than our pets. An animal in the same position would be put out of their misery, and we would all agree it was an act of compassion yet it could not provide consent.

Suicide has been legal for decades. But when we become too frail or ill to do it for ourselves, governments continue to intrude into this most fundamental personal decision. Since the last time I spoke about this, I am glad to say that there has been progress in some states. The people of Victoria and New South Wales will get a chance to debate the details of assisted suicide this year, with both parliaments drafting bills. A bill to remove the ban on assisted suicide in South Australia was only defeated by the Speaker's casting vote last year. While that was a shame, it was at least democracy in action.

But the people of the Northern Territory and ACT are denied the same opportunity because of the Andrews bill passed here in 1997. It is undemocratic. Why should they not have the same rights as other states? We have the power to change that. My bill would not automatically make assisted suicide legal in the territories but it would overturn the Andrews bill and allow the parliaments of the territories to come to their own conclusions, just like people in other states. Those in favour of assisted suicide will support me. But I also seek the support of those who oppose assisted suicide but believe the territories should be free to debate and amend their own laws.

I support assisted suicide because we should own our own lives. I believe if we are not free to end our lives, with assistance if necessary then we are not free at all. But I also support federalism, the idea that the Commonwealth government should stick to its constitutionally prescribed role and not interfere in decisions that are the prerogative of the states and territories. Sometimes we seem to forget about our own mortality.

The assisted suicide issue is not just about our beliefs or religious principles, it is about all of us. I am confident we will win this battle, but, if assisted suicide is not legalised, the time will come when some of us will find ourselves powerless to manage our own suffering.