TELEVISION INTERVIEW WITH TOM CONNELL
SKY NEWS, PVO NEWSDAY
MONDAY, 23 OCTOBER 2017
SUBJECT/S: Victoria’s voluntary assisted dying legislation.
CONNELL: Interested in your opinion on this, the assisted dying bill in Victoria, should it be passed?
KING: My view is yes it should be passed. I think this is a very limited form of voluntary assisted dying, a very conservative model that the Victorian proponents of the legislation, Jill Hennessy as the Health Minister has put forward. It’s been something that has been, not suddenly put before the Parliament, there has been a major Inquiry in Victoria into the area. This is a very conservative model that the Victorians are putting forward. Obviously it now has the support of the Lower House, there will be a couple of weeks break and then debate in the Upper House and I do think it is time for this legislation to be passed in Victoria.
CONNELL: Paul Keating is urging people to really consider this and vote no it. He is talking about maybe a burden on families, even pressure for older people to go down this path, by their families, financial burden or otherwise. Do you see those concerns legitimate ?
KING: No I don’t agree with Paul on these areas and I think many people who’ve come to this debate, come to it with some experience both personal within in their own families and then having spoken to many, many other families who have had similar experiences. This is a very limited form. There are cases where, it is completely impossible for palliative care to actually deal the with the pain that someone is experiencing and we know what the end outcome is going to be and if people want to and are able to make that choice this is one pathway that is being opened to people in very limited circumstances. I think that many of us come to this issue with deep personal experiences but also having listened to people. The Victorian inquiry for example heard from 1000 individuals. That is just the tip of the iceberg of the sorts of cases that we are talking about across the community.
In my own case, this time last year I was at my Mum’s funeral. My Mum had Alzheimer’s, she would not be someone who benefit from this bill. My family and I, my sisters, we had a week where I was in recess from here, where I lay on the floor of her nursing home listening to her die for seven days. That is a horrible experience, I think for her, I know her, that would have been incredibly traumatic for her and despite the best attempts we could to access palliative care, the best attempts we had to be able to ease her pain with a great GP who provided that palliative care, her suffering was pretty awful, it was pretty horrible to listen to. And when it hear people tell those stories and you think of what is actually happening for families in that space and for people like myself, I think we do need another pathway. That is the most compassionate thing we could do as a society.
CONNELL: What about the pathway in that particular situation because this is potentially a huge issue with an ageing population, still no cure and one of the problems is that you can’t be necessarily be considered of sound mind to go down that path, so how do you tackle that, do we have a situation where you might need to sign away for a future date?
KING: Well you can’t and under this legislation it is very clear you have to be dying within 12 months, and so people obviously in my mum’s circumstances with Alzheimer’s – Alzheimer’s is a death sentence, it is in essence, but it can take 5 or 6 years for that chronic condition to basically to end someone’s life. So in my mum’s circumstance she wouldn’t have had the capacity to do so nor am I suggesting that that would be the case. But where there are cases of people who have terminal cancer, motor neurone disease and they are able to make that decision because it is only their decision to make then that is the circumstances where it is appropriate.
The other side of the story and it shouldn’t be an either or discussion is access to palliative care services. We know that are fragmented, there is not enough of them, not enough funding going to them, the Commonwealth has had a very limited role in palliative care. We said during the election campaign we would commit some further funding to palliative care, we think this is something for a national debate how do we actually provide and fund properly palliative care services across the country. But it shouldn’t be an either or equation.
CONNELL: Just to clarify this, you see don’t a time when this is really wide spread in Australia, where we might need to look that area as well?
KING: Look I think that, I don’t think it will ever be widespread. I think this is a very conservative approach the Victorians have taken to this issue. They’ve had an inquiry, they’ve had Brian Owler the former AMA President has undertaken the work to actually frame this legislative mechanism up. This is a very limited circumstance that we are talking about, I don’t think it should be more widespread than that, I think this is a conservative approach and I think one that many people will support.
CONNELL: Often in these big social changes you have people putting forward a slippery slope argument forward, as we have seen in the same sex marriage for example. In this case you have got a big advocate making the slippery slope change, Philip Nitschke says anyone turning the age 70 should have free easy access to pills that would end their life.
KING: I don’t think his contribution to this debate has been helpful, frankly. I think that will play unfortunately into hands of the no side. People have been very careful in framing this legislation to be very very narrow, to have lots of safe checks put in place and unfortunately I think that’s not helpful when you have those interventions. He has obviously made that for his own reasons. I think it is going back to the legislation itself and the mechanisms that Parliament has to ensure that it is not a slippery slope, that it is a very narrowly put view.
CONNELL: And that legislation in and of itself isn’t but his argument is that people in the Netherlands as they got use to the first part now get their heads around further iterations, is that instructive, the Netherlands’ example?
KING: No, because it is not the model that this legislation has been based. It’s been based on the Ontario model and again it has a very limited application and I don’t think that any Parliament so far was, and the Victorians have to try and get it through their Parliament, I think given the conservative approach many of us take to these issues, this would not be something that would be expanded beyond that.
CONNELL: What about the drug access the Federal Government has said that it has no plans to enable that? Depending on the path Victoria goes down is that a position Labor would have a different view on?
KING: Absolutely and I was a bit surprised by the Health Minister’s intervention on this. At the end of day, the Commonwealth has no executive power under which to enact any of this legislation which is why the states are doing so. Obviously we saw the Northern Territory did in the past but the Commonwealth had executive power to actually stop that because of its territories power. It doesn’t have an executive power, but what it does have is responsibility for access to Medicare in the same way it does, for example, in areas of termination, so access to MBS items and access to pharmaceuticals. Both through drugs being approved through the Therapeutic Goods Administration and then listed on the Medical Benefit Schedule. I don’t think that Government, I would be very disappointed if the conservative elements of the Turnbull Government tried to get the Health Minister to now block or to intervene. The only other time we have seen the conservative government intervene in drug listing was with RU486 when Tony Abbott stopped it and again I think that would be very dangerous path for the Government to go down.
CONNELL: And what about the rights of territories, should they have the choose again?
KING: Again that will be interesting to whether any of the two territory governments, if this does pass in Victoria, my view firmly would be that the rights of the territories should be respected. That again obviously would be potentially the subject of conscience vote within the Labor party but my view very firmly that is the rights of the territories should be respected.
CONNELL: So you would be comfortable if Labor gave a conscience vote on effectively overturning what the Andrew’s private bill?
KING: Well that happened, no obviously if there is a territory law put before the parliament there will be a debate within our Caucus, we have to determine whether –
CONNELL: You would move first, you would wait the territories to want to move?
KING: Absolutely, that would be a matter for them and then obviously the process internally for us to determine what triggers a conscience vote or what doesn’t. My own personal view is that I don’t think that we should stand in the way of the territories if the territories did decide to undertake that pathway.