medicinal cannabis Australia

A group of unlikely allies teamed up in the Senate on Tuesday to fast-track access to medicinal cannabis for people suffering from terminal illnesses.

Last month, a Greens/Labor-backed motion failed in the Senate that would have fast-tracked access to medicinal cannabis for people with terminal illnesses by allowing doctors to simply notify — rather than ask the permission of — the Therapeutic Goods Administration when they intend to treat a patient with a terminal illness using medicinal cannabis. The Senate vote was tied after Pauline Hanson’s One Nation voted with the government and the Nick Xenophon Team to block it, while Jacqui Lambie was absent from the chamber for the vote.

A letter from Health Minister Greg Hunt to the Nick Xenophon Team tabled in Parliament at the time showed Hunt was lobbying the crossbench for their support, playing up their protectionist tendencies, claiming that the motion would disadvantage local suppliers because it would require them to go through the longer registration process — meaning those who were terminally ill would simply import their medicinal cannabis. Hunt also went on Sky News to claim that such a proposal was “irresponsible, ill-thought through and utterly dangerous” because it would lead to “bricks of hashish to come through our airports”.

 “It would have allowed bags of dope to have passed through Customs which were not tested in terms of their safety, not tested in terms of their quality, so it would have been unsafe according to the AMA, the College of GPs, and even the Palliative Care Society of Australia,” he said.

Hunt’s words didn’t mean much to Hanson’s base, however. She copped angry comments from supporters on her Facebook page for voting against it, when in the past she had supported such a proposal. The issue lay dead until Parliament resumed this week, and Greens Leader Richard Di Natale sought to have the vote taken again. 

BuzzFeed reported at the time of the last vote that Lambie said she had deliberately abstained from the vote, but yesterday she rose in the Senate to say that the missed vote was the result of a “missed communication between staff”. Long-standing Senate practice means that a vote will be taken again if the result of the previous vote was due to misadventure, and given the tie, Lambie’s vote would have won it.

The government raised objections, however, with the manager of government business in the Senate, Communications Minister Mitch Fifield, objecting that Lambie had not accidentally missed the vote, as she had made clear in the BuzzFeed article, and Lambie had a full four and a half hours after the vote was taken on the day to correct the error. These objections were not heeded, and the government suffered an embarrassing defeat in the Senate thanks to an unusual alliance of Greens, Labor, Lambie, Derryn Hinch, David Leyonhjelm, Lucy Gichuhi and One Nation senators — with the party backtracking on its position after the backlash from the base.

It is a rare sight to behold One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts sitting on the same side of the chamber as Greens leader Richard Di Natale. According to They Vote For You, the two politicians have only voted together 22% of the time.

Hinch said that he believed that the government had been engaged in a “scare campaign” and One Nation had voted it down because they wanted to protect the local industry. Hanson confirmed as much saying while she supported the local industry, she was “not informed correctly by the government” on the motion.

Peter Fray

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