(Australian Associated Press)
Premier Daniel Andrews likes to boast that Victoria is leading the nation on many fronts, but on Wednesday he managed to succeed where other states have failed: he legalised assisted dying.
The country’s only voluntary assisted-dying scheme will be up and running in Victoria by mid-2019, open to terminally ill adults who have lived in the state for at least 12 months.
Patients with less than six months to live who are in pain and want to choose how they end their life can apply for a doctor-assisted death using the legal framework.
The legislation didn’t come easily. It took more than 100 hours of parliamentary debate. At times tensions boiled over, colleagues pitted against each other, a cry of “Nazis” at one point cut through the upper house chamber like an axe.
Debate was partisan, but not along party lines.
Despite Labor’s leader and health minister championing the bill, Deputy Premier James Merlino was the first to attempt to scuttle it with a motion that would have deferred debate indefinitely.
During the committee phase, where the bill is examined line-by-line, opponent MPs Robert Clark and Graham Watt in the lower house and Inga Peulich, David Davis and Bernie Finn in the upper house were consistent and fearless in their probing.
Health Minister Jill Hennessy and Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings kept their cool, providing measured and detailed answers to a seemingly endless list of questions.
The process was long and exhaustive.
After the first overnight session in the Legislative Council, Labor MP and opponent of the laws, Daniel Mulino, collapsed in his office and was taken to hospital by ambulance.
But for the most part the highly-emotional debate was poignant and considerate.
Tears were shed, hugs were shared. History was made.
Victoria passed laws that South Australia couldn’t, despite repeated attempts. Progression of a scheme in NSW failed by one vote this month, while a proposed voluntary assisted-dying bill was voted down in Tasmania’s lower house earlier in 2017.
The only other jurisdiction to legislate a similar scheme was the Northern Territory, briefly in the 1990s before it was torn down by the federal government.
Western Australia is now looking at a similar plan to Victoria’s and NT’s chief minister wants the commonwealth to repeal legislation that bans it from doing the same.
The Victorian government’s slogan includes “Getting things done” and after two years of examination, research and campaigning, this policy could end up being its legacy.