Ms TIERNEY (Minister for Training and Skills) (21:56:36) — I am pleased to rise to make a contribution to the debate on this very, very important matter for our community. This bill establishes a system for voluntary assisted dying which I believe is very conservative and cautious. It follows a careful, consultative process which involved an exhaustive inquiry by a committee of this house into end-of-life choices, which reported mid-last year, and also a ministerial advisory panel made up of eminent and qualified Victorians, which reported in July this year.
The provisions of the bill speak to the need to ensure that voluntary assisted dying is available only to people in the most dire of medical situations who can clearly articulate their end-of-life wishes and who can initiate such a discussion with their practitioners. There is no doubt that the bill assumes that applicants will be assertive, well informed and in a position to take independent ownership of their own future. It is this fact which ensures that the bill provides for very limited access to voluntary assisted dying.
Much of the discussion of the bill in the Assembly focused on the mechanics of the process — the safeguards in place to prevent coercion and potential abuse and the circumstances under which a person becomes eligible for voluntary assisted dying. I am satisfied that these provisions are sound and that the method of ascertaining a person’s choice is careful and thorough. The request and assessment process for access to voluntary assisted dying is rigorous, and I believe that the proposed safeguards deliver on the recommendations of the ministerial advisory panel. There are extensive checks and balances, and the 18-month implementation period before access to voluntary assisted dying begins will enable adequate training and administrative procedures to be undertaken and indeed developed.
All or most members of Parliament in both places have shared a similar experience in our electorates over the last six months or so leading up to this parliamentary debate. We have been involved in extensive interactions with our constituents, whether in person, by phone, through letters or via email. In the case of my electorate, an electorate that I share with you, Acting President Purcell, along with others, there has been a very healthy discussion in our community.
Business interrupted pursuant to standing orders.
Sitting extended pursuant to standing orders.
Ms TIERNEY — Much of that discussion has been around the principle underpinning the bill rather than the mechanics of the system proposed. I must say that I was interested this week in seeing the work that was undertaken by Go Gentle Australia and the survey of 2200 voters in Western Victoria that found 84 per cent of our constituents who vote support voluntary assisted dying.
Whilst most of the conversations in our electorate have been incredibly respectful, I think it is also honest to say that at times it has been polarising, because this issue does reach into our core values. I also acknowledge that for some this means that the sanctity of life is the most important thing, regardless of the experience being endured by some of those approaching death. On a previous occasion when we had debate in his place I said that I believed it was also very important for us to hear from those who are close to this issue. In the meantime I certainly have heard from such people and of course I have known such people, and that has reinforced my belief that this bill should be supported. It is my clear view and I believe that the principle underpinning this bill is right and that supporting the bill is doing the right thing in extending a safe and compassionate option to people who are close to death.
This bill is not about forcing anyone to take a particular course of action but rather providing a choice under the most stringent of conditions. It provides a framework around voluntary assisted dying, and it does have strong community support. I believe there are many people in the community who believe there are parliaments in this country that simply lag behind what the community in general acknowledges and accepts needs to occur. So it is on this basis and previous statements I have made in public over the years that I do commend this bill to the house, and I do encourage people to support this bill.