2SM MARCUS PAUL IN THE MORNING
TUESDAY, 25 MAY 2021
SUBJECTS: Territories’ right to legislate on voluntary assisted dying; Scott Morrison’s failure to address sexism and women’s safety
MARCUS PAUL, HOST: Good morning, Andrew.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: G'day, Marcus. How are you?
PAUL: Not bad. Great to have your company this morning. Now, euthanasia - it's just one of those topics that, well, quite often we will ask MPs to vote on their conscience on. It's, as we know, it's controversial. It's very personal. My point earlier in the program was jurisdictions like the ACT and the Northern Territory, should be able to on their conscience vote on these issues without interference from the federal government. I mean after all, locals living in Canberra and surrounds vote people in within their own legislature, that is the local, not MPs, what are they called out there, MLAs. They are the ones who should decide these issues, not the federal government. That's my take anyway, Andrew.
LEIGH: That's right, Marcus. People will remember the history of this. In the 1990s, the Northern Territory was the first place in Australia to introduce voluntary assisted dying laws, and the Commonwealth Parliament said 'well, we can't have a territory going first, and so we'll ban the territories from legislating on euthanasia’. A quarter century on, we've now got half the states, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia, having passed euthanasia laws, Queensland is about to begin debating them, so it could well be a majority of the states have euthanasia laws in place, and yet the territories are still banned from legislating on it.
We are now in a situation where 87% of Australians support euthanasia, including around four out of five Coalition voters, four out of five Protestants, four out of five Catholics. It's one of those issues where the federal parliament is lagging behind public opinion.
PAUL: So, what do we need to do?
LEIGH: We need to remove the bar on the territories legislating on euthanasia, recognize that it's a complicated topic on which people have strongly held views on both sides, but that it isn't appropriate any longer to take away that power from the territory assemblies.
It's deeply personal. I met on the weekend with Katarina Knowles, a woman who went through the terrible experience of watching her father, who had Parkinson's, decided to end his own life by the only legal means available to him, which was to refuse food. So, for five weeks she had to watch her father slowly starve himself to death. It shouldn't be that way. People, in my view, should be able to choose the way in which they end their own lives. That's what they can do already in half the states and that's what the territories should be able to debate.
PAUL: All right, look, we've seen before, the federal government intervene when it comes to progressiveness from the ACT. Remember, the ACT under Andrew Barr's Labor Government passed the first same-sex marriage laws, but as soon as the ink was dry on their legislation somebody from the federal government hightailed it down to the High Court to have the whole thing overturned. That's what they're up against.
LEIGH: Yes, the ACT is one of the most progressive jurisdictions in Australia, so it's sort of strange that it's now going to be one of the last jurisdictions in Australia to get euthanasia. I suspect this change is happening. We've already got eight states and the District of Columbia in the US that have enacted euthanasia. You've got many European countries that have moved. It's one of those issues where views have shifted quite considerably. The safeguards have also gotten much better and so we've got a lot of experience in practice as to how to ensure those safeguards are in place and voluntary assisted dying only applies to those with terminal illness.
PAUL: Just on another issue, Grace Tame has come out and criticized the Prime Minister in the last 24 hours, and I have to say your colleagues have done exceptionally well in the committee hearings that are being undertaken right now in the federal parliament. Nothing seems to have changed, insofar as securing the safety of staffers in Parliament House. I don't quite understand what's going on. Why has nothing changed, Andrew?
LEIGH: It's very strange to me, Marcus. When the Prime Minister is responding to issues of sexual harassment, he seems to see it as an individual issue, hence this comment to Grace Tame about 'don't you feel good about having got that off your chest,' rather than-
PAUL: -I don't get that. Ridiculous comment.
LEIGH: It does seem to suggest to me that he can't see the systematic patterns here. He can't say that sexual harassment can be dealt with by better laws across the board. He's surrounded by a cabal of blokes. He's somebody who's never taken gender issues seriously, never had a women's budget statement when he was Treasurer, talked about pink and blue tax forms, and then just denies any knowledge of an alleged rape taking place 50 meters from his own office. We've got to have much quicker action on this.
The Respect @ Work report from Kate Jenkins-
PAUL: -Where is it?
LEIGH: -languished on the Prime Minister's desk for a year. There's a lot of really important recommendations in there, Marcus. Now, they're slowly moving on some of them, but sexual harassment, as we've talked about before, isn't just an issue for women. It's an issue for effective workplaces. It's a productivity drag. It hurts business when you've got sexual harassment going on.
PAUL: Yesterday, Katy Gallagher, in the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislative Committee, asked the Department of Parliamentary Services if any processes or procedures had changed. In an astonishing answer, they said no. Here's a little of what happened.
SENATOR KATY GALLAGHER: In relation to question on notice 116, I asked the Department 'Has anything changed in the way the Department responds to incidents at APH since March 2019', and the answer given is 'There have been no changes to these policies.' Is that the case, Mr Stefanic?
ROB STEFANIC: That's correct, Senator.
GALLAGHER: A young woman was allegedly raped in this building a couple of years ago and I'm hearing from you guys that there is no changes that need to happen to the way that this building is managed or security is provided or red flags are watched, or whatever. You're saying to me nothing needs to change?
SENATOR SCOTT RYAN: Do not put words in my mouth, Senator Gallagher.
GALLAGHER: Well, that is what the answer the question on notice says-
GALLAGHER: -and that's what Mr Stefanic said and you just had a go at me, saying that I was basically trying to kick people out of the building and I wasn't.
RYAN: That's not what I'm saying.
PAUL: So, look, it's very energized, that's probably a good way of putting it, this debate, but something needs to happen. For goodness sake, they've not moved on this, Andrew.
LEIGH: It certainly does and you've got to be glad when you've got people like Grace Tame and Katy Gallagher making the case for change. We need to modernize these workplaces. Parliament House is a very blokey place. It operates on a lot of shouty, macho principles, but it's got to be a safe workplace because it's the place where the laws are made and so we need to make sure that those laws are right for the 51 per cent of Australians who are women. We've got to ensure that people who are a little bit more softly spoken find themselves a place in Parliament House and of course that it's a safe workplace. It clearly wasn't for Brittany Higgins. We've got to make sure that we improve the quality of how parliament is run. I was really disturbed when I heard that account there, that the Government just hasn't moved quickly enough to change the culture around Parliament House.
PAUL: Good to have you on. Thank you, Andrew.
LEIGH: Terrific, Marcus. Chat next week.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra