Paul Keat­ing ac­cused of hypocrisy over as­sisted dy­ing stance

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Anne Davies

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.

Pho­to­graph: Tracey Nearmy/AAP

Paul Keat­ing says Vic­to­ria’s vol­un­tary as­sisted dy­ing bill poses ‘an un­ac­cept­able de­par­ture in our ap­proach to hu­man ex­is­tence’.

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