The Ides of March - dark days in the South Australian parliament

Debate on Steph Key's Euthanasia bill stifled by the stench of subterfuge in the house. The latest euthanasia attempt in the SA Parliament was introduced by backbencher, Steph Key on the 10th of March.  Styled on Health Minister, John Hill's draft from late 2010, the bill would usher in euthanasia on demand and an open season on patients.  The only protection offered by this latest 'kill bill' is for doctors.  Apparently patients don't rate.Private Member's bills such as this usually move slowly with little time allocated during the sitting week and each speech usually followed by an adjournment for either another MP or the completion of the current speech to be heard on another sitting day.  But all conventions were overridden on Thursday the 24th of March when the bill's main supporters rushed through the second reading stage without any opportunity for a dissenting voice to be heard.

Hansard records Shadow Health Minister, Duncan McFetridge speaking for the bill followed by Health Minister Hill.  Hill's speech was interrupted by the usual time constraints.  Independent MP and euthanasia supporter, Bob Such then secured an extension of 10 minutes to facilitate the completion of the Hill speech.  Not that unusual in itself; however, combined with the subsequent moves, it would make any conspiracy theorist salivate.

Already eating into time reserved for other matters, Government Whip, Robyn Geraghty then moved a suspension of standing orders so as to give priority to the issue at hand.  Again, this is something that does occur but, in respect to a private member's bill so fresh that the ink was still drying — very unusual indeed.

Bob Such then spoke briefly for the bill followed by Steph Key rising to end the second reading debate.

Note well: not one voice heard against the bill.  This would not necessarily have been because there was no member present who was against the bill; rather, they were, to my understanding, entirely unprepared to speak given the normal arrangements I mentioned earlier.  (mind you, the house is normally sparsely populated during private member's business as ministers and others go about their business in their offices, expecting items on the notice paper to follow a predictable course.)

At the close of Key's summary speech the vote was taken 'on the voices' that enabled the bill to proceed to the next stage: Committee.  Normally, a closing speech would include thanks for those who contributed 'on both sides of the debate'.  It would have been disingenuous in the extreme had Key said as much given the fact that not only had no-one spoken against the bill, but those who did speak for were the major supporters of euthanasia in the house!

It would be too easy to point the finger at MPs opposed to euthanasia by suggesting that they were asleep whilst on duty.  The fact is that normal conventions were totally disregarded here.  Some members I know are livid at what occurred; but what is done is done.

Those of us who have been around parliamentary happenings for a while could probably all recall times when similar tricks have been played.  Parliamentary procedures can make for good sport at times and getting the upper hand is often a legitimate game in itself.  But this particular occurrence stands out, in my opinion, as the ultimate act of bastardry.  Denying members of either persuasion or none opportunity to speak further on a bill with such grave consequences as death itself is unconscionable.  Steph Key need not have risen to close the debate and an adjournment would have ensured further opportunity for members to comment at a later date.  What happened in the house that day was, at the very least, a cooperation of pro-euthanasia advocates with this end in mind.  Bent on prosecuting their case, the gravity of this life and death debate was lost in the blood lust that winning foments.

Yet there is another casualty here; Joe Public.  Two weeks' notice is hardly sufficient time for MPs to hear from their constituents.  The normal franchise between members and their voters has also been totally lost here.

This was a day of shame for the South Australian Parliament, win lose or draw.  Life is cheapened by this bill and further sullied when winning becomes everything.