Adam Bandt will ask a question on euthanasia next week in question time as a result of the OurSay People’s Question process.

Ella Ridd’s question on federal Parliament taking over the issue of end-of-life decision-making, which garnered more than 500 votes, was the question chosen from dozens of questions submitted by voters. Euthanasia issues were also raised by other submitters.

As Crikey noted last week in profiling the euthanasia questions, the issue is one where politicians and the community differ the greatest, with consistent strong support for euthanasia rights for the public and continuing opposition from elected officials.

“I am a long-standing supporter of people’s right to die with dignity,” Bandt told Crikey. “Every opinion poll since the eighties shows the vast majority of Australians back voluntary euthanasia legislation along the lines of that in the Netherlands and Oregon.

“Ideally we would have uniform national legislation, but it is likely change will need to come via the states and territories. Bob Brown has been campaigning for change for years and the Australian Greens have introduced bills in many of the states.”

As a non-major party MP, Bandt has the freedom to ask questions bearing on actual issues rather than questions that form part of the government and opposition tactics for each question time. Recently, government backbenchers have begun asking ministers supplementary questions intended to reflect on their individual electorates, but the tactic has only served to draw attention to how little ability government MPs in particular have to ask about issues outside the day’s agenda dictated by the prime minister’s office.

“I am really pleased to be part of the People’s Question and pleased to be able to ask the Prime Minister about this,” said Bandt. “The old parties have vacated the political battlefield of ideas, so they shy away from advancing issues like dying with dignity, equal marriage and even funding better services through a bigger tax base, despite having popular support to do so.”

Bandt wants a serious overhaul of question time. “Along with the independents the Australian Greens were able to secure some important reforms to question time as part of the agreement to support minority government. Recently we have seen further improvements with the shift to a new speaker, but more reform is needed.”

The Greens MP pointed out that up to half of question time was currently being lost because of the opposition’s censure and suspension motions and Julia Gillard’s curtailment of question time afterwards.

“The UK parliament has a much better culture of government backbenchers using question time to take government to task,” he said. “We somehow need to get rid of Dorothy Dixers which just allow the minister to make a statement. The next step in question time reform needs to put a clamp on this.”

Peter Fray

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