THURSDAY, 17 JUNE 2021
SUBJECTS: Territory Rights, Mitochondrial Donation Bill, Deliberative Democracy, Commonwealth COVID Hotspots.
TOM CONNELL, HOST: Welcome back well a host of states have either already enacted or are looking at euthanasia legislation, or voluntary dying as it’s often called. The ACT, well it wanted to go down that path, but it’s unable to, The Commonwealth in a bill that was introduced back in the 1990s blocking it from having that power. Joining me now is Labor MP and, of course, proud Canberran, Andrew Leigh. Thanks for your time.
ANDREW LEIGH: Pleasure Tom, great to be with you.
CONNELL: Where does Labor federally sit on this in terms of I know there’s a sort of general feeling that they’d like the ACT to have the power, but is this firmly in the policy platform, where are you at?
LEIGH: It would be a conscience vote if this came up Tom, but I think it would be supported, because the issue here is fundamentally one of territory rights. We’ve now got three states out of the six that have legislated on euthanasia, and others are considering it. And yet the two territories, the ACT and Northern Territory can’t even debate voluntary assisted dying: something that is supported by four out of five Coalition voters, four out of five Catholics, four out of five Protestants. This is an issue on which the Australian community is well ahead of the parliament, and at the very least, the territories should be able to debate the issue.
CONNELL: So do you feel this would be part of an election platform if you like or is this something you just quietly push at, and perhaps in a generational sense, every year it inches closer?
LEIGH: Well if this Prime Minister had any guts, he would allow the House of Representatives to debate reviewing the Andrews Bill. That’s what the Private Member’s Motion that Warren Snowdon and I moved. That’s what people like Dave Smith and Luke Gosling, have called for - proud Territorians who themselves have reservations about voluntary assisted dying but believe that the parliaments of the ACT and Northern Territory should be allowed to decide the issue. Rather than being treated like little kids who can’t even talk about it.
CONNELL: The South Australian Liberal party are obviously looking at it now, maybe that’s the push, it’s not just a Labor government thing?
LEIGH: It’s never been just a Labor government thing. I mean this is an issue which a vast majority of Coalition voters are supportive. Many Coalition parliamentarians in the states have supported voluntary assisted dying. We saw that in Victoria and Tasmania and Western Australia. So it’s just an issue where we need to allow the Territories to make their own decisions.
CONNELL: Another interesting bill coming up, It’s a Mitochondrial donation bill. It aims to tackle Mitochondrial disease. It’s a heartbreaking disease that often kills babies, children also though for people that manage to survive that, it’s very crippling. The interesting thing about this, to avoid it involves a complicated medical procedure that uses three types of DNA which made it a bit controversial?
LEIGH: It is indeed, and this would be a conscience vote coming up in a few months from now, I had my views informed by a deliberative democracy process that we did through University of Canberra and Ohio State University, where we organised two forums, one online and one in person for a randomly selected group of Canberrans to come in and talk about the issue. I think deliberative democracy has got great potential for rebuilding trust in politics in Australia which, as you well know Tom, has been declining over recent decades. It was a process that had people engaging on both sides of the argument. A lovely civilised conversation conducted in paragraphs rather than in slanging matches, and ended up, the standpoint that I’m confident now, with the backing of my community, to support this reform.
CONNELL: Is it going to pass?
LEIGH: I think it will. Certainly, what I’ve heard is that the PM and the health minister are both supporting it and I think there will be many members on the Labor side that support it as well. Not all. Some have reservations and it’ll be a conscience vote when it hits the parliament.
CONNELL: Final one I want to ask you about, we have Commonwealth Hotspots for COVID, so you know they did declare Melbourne a hotspot then they revoked it last Friday. What’s interesting is not all states are following it. And we know previously states have stopped people coming in, but in Victoria recently, Melburnians, the ACT and NSW – well the ACT said ‘yep they can come here no problem’. The Victorian government said ‘no you can’t leave here to go to the ACT.’ Is that a stretch of authority from that state?
LEIGH: Well Scott Morrison said last week that he was washing his hands of these decisions, that they would be matters for the states, and I think he needs to then respect the decisions that the Victorian government is making. The one thing Victorians don’t want to see is a Prime Minister, a Treasurer and a Health Minister all sniping away at the decisions of the Andrews government, backing in the public health officials.
CONNELL: But I’m asking your view on that? This is Melbourne, you know, the ACT saying we’ve looked at it, it’s not a hotspot, the risk is so small, come in. Melbournians wanting to leave, and they’re not allowed to leave their state. Is that an overstretch?
LEIGH: Well I think Scott Morrison can’t have it both ways, he can’t simply say ‘I’m going to cast this issue back to the states’ as he did last week, and then seek to meddle and critique from the sidelines.
CONNELL: But I’m asking what you think, I’m not asking about Scott Morrison, I haven’t heard him necessarily go in on this, I’m just, I’m pointing this out.
LEIGH: Well I’m strongly supportive of the decisions of the states and territories, Tom
CONNELL: No matter what they are?
LEIGH: I think we need to back in those decisions made by health ministers. That’s been Labor’s consistent position all the way through.
CONNELL: But surely they’re still on merit – you don’t just say whatever the decision is, it’s the right one?
LEIGH: If you’re going to hand the autonomy of the decisions to the states and territories, you have to back them in. You’ve seen Anthony …
CONNELL: They’re often just handing them straight over to health authorities, don’t they need to retain some, you know the health advice isn’t just do this, it’s here are your options, pick one, here are the risks.
LEIGH: And we need to respect the way in which the state governments have worked their way through that health advice …
CONNELL: But do you assess them on merit? I mean each decision, don’t you, you’re, you know, you enjoy thinking in this place, isn’t it about assessing the decision?
LEIGH: I enjoy thinking, but I don’t enjoy meddling, Tom. And one of the things we saw last year was Scott Morrison meddling with these decisions, chiefly attacking Labor governments. And you saw Anthony Albanese supporting the decisions, whether they were lockdown decisions by Liberal governments, like Tasmania, or decisions by Labor governments like Daniel Andrews.
CONNELL: Thank you for your time.
LEIGH: Real pleasure.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.