November 16, 2016
The Hon. G.G. BROCK ( Frome—Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Local Government) (19:50):
I would also like to contribute to the Death with Dignity Bill 2016. I have to make it quite clear from the start that this is a bill I would prefer not to have to vote on, but we as legislators have to consider what is the best for our electorates. Whichever way we vote in this house we will not please everybody. This is an issue that is deep in my heart as well as of others here, and I know from people I have spoken to that this weighs heavy on their hearts.
As we are aware, this subject has had many attempts to pass through the parliament of South Australia but it has not, to my knowledge, been successful in getting to the committee stage. The late Bob Such, bless his soul, was very passionate about this subject, as were other members in this chamber, current and past.
As members in this place we have a conscience vote on this issue, which means we can vote whichever way we consider is the best direction, moving forward, for our electorates in particular. When voting on such an issue we, as legislators, should and must consider the points of view of our electors but, even in doing this, we will never have 100 per cent in favour of whatever decision we make. Everyone has their personal, religious and various other views and I totally respect those views, as we in this chamber should respect each other's views when we are voting.
As I indicated before, this is a very emotional issue, with many people having witnessed their loved ones or their friends having to go through some terrible suffering towards the end of their life. I must also make it very clear that I know our palliative care facilities across the state, and their very dedicated staff, do a tremendous job caring for patients in pain, trying to ensure that their end-of-life journey is made as comfortable as it can be. Doctors all across Australia also do a tremendous job with medication, and the religious fraternity also does everything it can to ensure a person's ending is as comfortable as possible.
This is a subject I have witnessed personally from family as well as friends and associates. All of us in this chamber and in this state are aware of the recent journey of Kylie Monaghan in my own city, what she went through and her dedication to the very subject we are discussing tonight. I have personally seen people going through the last stages of a terminal illness, they and their family being aware of the time that the medical fraternity has given them.
I have had what I consider the best opportunity to better understand the views of the people I represent during the past 12 months, in particular, by endeavouring to communicate with my electors to the best of my ability. I have gone out to my electors on six occasions asking for their views, assisting them in understanding the proposed legislation so that they have the best information available, communicating with them and ensuring their questions are answered.
I have communicated not only via the newspaper but also via TV, radio, website, social media, my bulletin, and of course people stopping me whilst out shopping, watering the garden or at numerous events. These people have felt quite comfortable confiding to me their reasons, their experiences with family or friends, and they have also been very candid about why they do not favour this bill. I have had numerous people stop at my home, call in and discuss the subject. When people can do that, and have the confidence in their local member to be able to talk frankly about it, I believe this is an issue we really need to take further.
My constituents have responded to my numerous calls for their views on the issue, and to date I continue to receive emails and phone calls daily from people wanting to add their position to this issue on my database. I, like other members in this house, have received hundreds of emails from all over the state, and actually internationally, from people and organisations expressing their views on this very important topic. Even this week, as I am communicating with my electorate office in Port Pirie, we continue to receive over 100 emails or contacts every day.
I have had discussions with various religious groups, the medical fraternity, the nursing fraternity, the disability fraternity and the general public to canvass their thoughts, suggestions and views. To better understand the views of the people who are living in my electorate, I maintain a database with the views of the people of Frome, separate from other areas, to specifically concentrate on the views of the electorate's constituents. I have explained to everyone who has communicated with me that their communication will remain private, and by ensuring them of this I believe they were more relaxed in coming forward with their names and addresses.
I have received nearly 4,000 responses, with nearly 2,000 from my own electorate, with nearly 70 per cent of those responding asking for this bill to be further debated and voted on. If I took into account the total responses received—that is, the total from all over South Australia and internationally—the count would be nearly 6:1 in favour. By the way, I have not included activists in this database.
As has been mentioned by previous speakers, I do not feel comfortable having to make a decision on this issue, but to my recollection we have not had the opportunity to go into committee. By allowing it to go into committee, we will have the opportunity to get more detailed information. I also understand that several amendments are being proposed to the bill currently before us; I understand there could be 44 amendments. The only way to fully debate this very emotional subject is to allow the amendments to be fully debated and progressed.
As mentioned previously, I have had not only numerous emails and letters but also on numerous occasions, whilst out shopping at Woolworths, Coles or anywhere, people have come up to me and expressed their views, both for and against this very emotional subject. They are not afraid to talk about it. They are not afraid to come forward. Even if I just go to get a litre of milk in the supermarket, it is two-hour journey. This very emotional subject deserves to go for further debate, and as other speakers have indicated, to be able to be further expanded to better understand the final opportunity for a decision to be made by members of this parliament.
Again, I wish I did not have to vote on this. I have been told that I do not have to vote and I could just abstain; I cannot do that. I think we have a responsibility in here to represent the people out there. We have to make decisions in here that are sometimes very hard. I have lost my wife, my brother (to suicide) and my little grandson. They were very quick, but I have also seen, as I mentioned earlier, some people in that last stage of the trauma and the pain, and it is unbelievable until you have actually been through that personally. I believe this subject should go into committee for further progress, and again, I hope people in this chamber will make the right decision.