The Upper House of the Victorian Parliament debated a euthanasia motion today that was ultimately left unresolved. The Motion clearly did not have enough support.
As we reported earlier, the motion by Greens MLC, Colleen Hartland was designed to ask the State Attorney-General to refer the matter to the Victorian Law Reform Commission for an inquiry. The VLRC, as we noted, is not a body answerable to the Victorian people, is charged with reform of the law when no mandate for such reform has been made and has only a legal framework that cannot adequately accont for the ethical and moral dimensions of any euthanasia law.
Speaking against the motion, Bernie Finn MLC, observed to his colleagues that to support this motion would be to effectively abrogate their responsibilities as legislators elected by the Victorian people to fulfil that function. Finn, instead, argued for a parliamentary inquiry where the issues could be thrashed out by members of parliament. A position that we also support (see earlier article).
Other MLCs, including Rachel Carling-Jenkins, highlighted concerns for vulnerable people, the data from Belgium and the Netherlands. Carling-Jenkins had also given a speech the previous day about elder abuse; something which clearly resonated with her colleagues during the euthanasia debate. She also related, with some emotion, her concern for people living with disabilities.
After a number of speeches on both sides, it became clear that, had the motion been voted upon, it would have failed. Hartland retreated and did not close the debate, ultimately leaving the question unresolved. The Daily Telegraph reports that Hartland intends to revisit the motion in May.
In the same report, the journalist closes by saying that, 'Ms Hartland wants the commission to spend up to a year examining the issue and then see the government bring forward legislation based on that report.'
And there's the rub: Rather than designing a bill and tabling it for debate, this is the third time that a Victorian Greens MP has preferred to attempt to get others to do their design work in recent years. Hartland had tried this same motion in the last parliament and her Federal colleague, Senator Di Natale, organised an Senate Inquiry around what was only a draft bill (ie: not in the chamber) last year.
Clearly Di Natale and Hartland have learnt something from earlier debates: tie yourself to a particular model and risk losing votes when the model is proven to be unsafe. Trouble is, all models are inherently unsafe; a lesson they are yet to grapple with.
With the Di Natale Senate Inquiry there was a further lesson. In spite of the draft bill working on a particular model, many of the submissions to the inquiry that supported euthanasia argued for different parameters; different inclusions and exclusions. (Opposition is the only position offering consistency) This must have come as something of a shock to Di Natale and his supporters in recognition that, no matter where he might wish to draw the line, others will follow who will expand the envelope.
This not only points to a strategy that lacks the courage to nail its colours to a particular bill, Hartland clearly wants the government of the day to carry a bill arising from the VLRC into the parliament. A government sponsored bill as opposed to a private members' bill has significant strategic advantages.
This, I believe, is why Hartland is so keen on referring the matter to the Law Reform Commission. Over the length of its inquiry it can be seen to having reviewed all the evidence and to have come up with the 'best' model. Taking such 'expert advice' will be a temptation for many an undecided MP as well as being used as a cudgel by supporters.
It remains to be seen whether Hartland will try to resurrect this motion in May as suggested. As Bernie Finn observed, we would welcome a parliamentary inquiry with or without a bill. The reasons why Hartland does not want to take up this option are, we hope, by now quite clear. Her colleagues would do well to reflect and ask themselves why anyone would not want to take up an offer for a public inquiry as Finn has suggested.
In late breaking news, we now understand that Sex Party MLC, Fiona Patten has now raised a motion to refer the issue to a parliamentary committee.