Paul Keating accused of hypocrisy over assisted dying stance
The former Northern Territory chief minister Marshall Perron has accused Paul Keating of hypocrisy in the euthanasia debate after the former prime minister urged Victoria not to pass its assisted dying bill.
Perron said Keating had deliberately declined to use his veto power in 1995 to kill off similar NT legislation.
“For all these years I have given Paul Keating credit as a man of principle who resisted the pressure to veto the Northern Territory bill,” Perron said. “Now he’s acting all indignant and outraged about a similar bill in the Victorian parliament.”
Perron said Keating had not only declined to use his veto power but had made no comment about the legislation, which was briefly in force in the NT. During that time it was used by four people to end their lives before the Howard government passed a bill to render it invalid.
Until 2011 federal ministers had the power to reject or amend legislation passed by the territories as a safeguard to prevent territories running amok with self-government.
Keating staged a dramatic public intervention in the debate last Thursday as the lower house of the Victorian parliament debated the voluntary assisted dying bill, saying the euthanasia legislation posed “an unacceptable departure in our approach to human existence … and what it means to be human”.
The bill passed early Friday morning. But it will return to be debated by the Victorian upper house, possibly as early as next week.
Keating has described supporters of the voluntary assisted dying bill as misguided and labelled the bill “deeply regressive legislation”.
“To do or to cause to abrogate the core human instinct to survive and live, for the spirit to hang on against physical deprivations, is to turn one’s back on the compulsion built into the hundreds of thousands of years of our evolution,” he wrote.
Yet Perron said Keating had declined to intervene as prime minister despite strident urging from the NT branch of the Australian Medical Association.
“If Keating feels so passionate and strongly about this subject why did he not take the opportunity, when asked, to stop the Northern Territory legislation being implemented?” Perron said. “I can find no evidence of him expressing any concern or reservations over the period of nine months in 1996-97 when the act was in force and four people used it to end their lives.
“Described in the media as a lifelong Catholic, one can only assume Mr Keating’s faith must have lapsed somewhat back in 1996.”
Asked whether he considered Keating’s latest salvo hypocritical, he said: “Being hypocritical is a word I would use.”
Perron produced a letter from a senior adviser to Keating, dated February 1996, outlining the fact that the commonwealth would allow the Northern Territory law to stand.
“The commonwealth government believes the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act 1995 is a valid law of the Northern Territory and that it is up to the people of the Northern Territory to express their views on that legislation, rather than the commonwealth,” the letter said.
Following the 1996 election, when John Howard replaced Keating as PM, Kevin Andrews introduced a private member’s bill that became the Euthanasia Laws Act, which passed on 25 March 1997 vetoing the Rights of the Terminally Ill Act and withdrawing authority from all territories to consider such a law in future.
Keating has been contacted for comment.
Paul Keating says Victoria’s voluntary assisted dying bill poses ‘an unacceptable departure in our approach to human existence’.