End of life choices inquiry report

March 21, 2019

Well, Madam Speaker, for a range of reasons it has been a remarkable 16 months since this inquiry began and we conclude with, I think I can safely say, an extraordinary report.

This report is the product of a significant amount of hard work of so many, not least the record-breaking number of people who submitted to this inquiry. It shows, without doubt, how important end of life issues are to Canberrans. 

And I want to put on the record my thanks that so many people took the time to share their experiences, to share their views, so many thoughtful and considered views, so candidly with the committee through submissions and appearances. 
For many it was very difficult to write their submissions, and to appear. And for still more it was too difficult to write a submission. But they too need to be acknowledged. Thank you.

As a result of the considerable evidence we have heard, as a committee we have not only prepared a substantial report, but we have also prepared meaningful recommendations which, if the Government chooses to implement them, I believe will genuinely make a difference to people at the end of their lives, and that will also, importantly, support our healthcare workers. The work we have done on palliative care in particular is critical. 

I want to acknowledge that every single recommendation in this report was agreed to by the entire committee. And that, probably to many people’s surprise, there is no dissenting report, and just one dissenting comment. 

It is important for me to draw attention to the final chapter, being the chapter on voluntary assisted dying, the appropriateness of a scheme in the ACT, and what a possible scheme could look like.

As most people are aware, right in the middle of this inquiry was the very unfortunate, and frankly shameful outcome, in the Senate that resulted in our Territory rights not being restored, meaning that, for the time being, we simply could not legislate in this space. 

This Assembly historically passed its first ever remonstrance in response to the Senate and I do not think there is any doubt on my views regarding that. 

I now only hope that there is a change of federal Government, and with it, a change of approach to this, and I thank the Chief Minister for his continued leadership and advocacy in this area, within the party at a national level.

Following what happened in the Senate, as a Committee we did not resile from the issue voluntary assisted dying. But the reality is that it put the Committee in a very difficult position in terms of the approach we could take regarding voluntary assisted dying. 

We considered that it would be very difficult to draft genuine recommendations when taking into account the Government’s genuine capacity to respond, as it is required to do, within the next three months in current circumstances. This is all described at length in the report. 

But we of course received an extraordinary amount of evidence on this issue and I, and a majority of members of the committee, determined that there was consistent evidence of how a voluntary assisted dying scheme should operate if we are ever in a position to legislate for it, and if the Assembly were ever minded to do so.

While this comment in the report is short, it is very weighty. How the scheme could and perhaps should operate is backed by an extraordinary amount of evidence which is footnoted and I would draw anyone reading this report’s attention to it – especially those in the future, when, I hope we are in a position to agree on doing this, and on legislating for it. 

This has been incredibly important work and I am proud of Canberra and Canberrans, and all the organisations, who have been able to put us in the best possible position we can be in with this evidence, for the point in the future when we can legislate. 

I want to draw particular attention to the evidence we heard from the Higgs-Heine family and Ms Katarina Pavkovic which I think left an indelible impression on the Committee and this is also highlighted in the report.

It’s also appropriate at this point to thank all of the committee members for their work and the collegiate way we worked together, under the chairing of Ms Cody, across three parties and, at times, quite divergent views. 

But I really want to put on the record my thanks to Mrs Dunne. I think it will be of great surprise to many that we worked together on this issue in particular at all, but we not only worked together but worked very hard together on this chapter in particular. I really personally thank her for her openness to negotiate on perhaps one of the most important reports this Assembly has produced. 

The result is this report, an agreed report, and an extraordinary report. 

I commend it to the Assembly.