Queensland Labor, which has ducked hard decisions in government, has become bold with its campaign promise to legalise euthanasia, giving voters the right to make the hardest decision of all — life or death.
The promise comes too late to turn this election into a virtual referendum on euthanasia, but it presents a challenge the LNP opposition will find hard to mount. And that’s the life or death conundrum for its campaign.
While the LNP says it supports a conscience vote of MPs on whatever laws are proposed, it’s almost certain that it will not commit to introducing any laws at all if (as appears increasingly unlikely) it forms government after October 31.
So there’s the choice. If you want voluntary assisted dying (VAD) laws, vote Labor. If you don’t, vote LNP — although it’s unlikely either side will express the position so starkly, particularly given polls show up to 80% of Queenslanders support some form of euthanasia.
But the move, announced as part of Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk’s weekend reelection campaign launch, is as bold as it has shown in the last 24 hours to be campaign-changing.
Up until now, it’s been borders, borders, borders. The LNP has tried to wrangle the issues back to state priorities, like unemployment and electricity and crime. But borders keep surfacing as the winner for the ALP, and the only genuine policy divider.
Labor’s promise to fast track VAD laws throws up a new wedge between the parties, and shows how Labor is becoming increasingly confident of being reelected.
Only 48 hours earlier, the Queensland Law Reform Commission had released a consultation paper, and called for submissions on that topic. That was in response to a request by Queensland’s parliament early in the year to develop a framework for such laws.
That report was not due to report back until March next year, which meant euthanasia, which already operates in Victoria and is set to be allowed in Western Australia, would be muted as an election issue.
But Palaszczuk changed all that with her announcement that she would introduce legislation in February. That means the commission is now likely to fastback its deliberations.
This week it meant campaigning turned on its head; right-to-die laws became the water cooler conversation, and robbed the LNP again of the ability to control the campaign agenda.
Voters’ response was predictable. Some took to talkback to call it a cynical election ploy, arguing that an issue like euthanasia should not be part of a reelection strategy. Others, many with deeply personal stories, thanked Labor for promising a quick route to parliament for such laws.
This is a much easier issue for Labor. Only a few years ago, the LNP’s executive threatened to disendorse members if they supported the decriminalisation of abortion in a free vote. Enough Queensland MPs supported it to make it law.
These laws raise that tricky issue again for the party, but it also puts on the campaign agenda an issue it does not want to discuss, and an issue on which the LNP is unlikely to bring a bill to the floor of parliament.
That’s because the party doesn’t want VAD laws. And that ties the LNP and its leader in knots, taking away any real chance of other issues gaining traction in the next few days; a crucial period as voters line up at pre-polling booths.
Yesterday Palaszczuk said she would vote personally for the laws. LNP leader Deb Frecklington said no one should die in pain, but refused to say whether she would personally support euthanasia.
This now provides one of the few ongoing issues (apart from borders) where there is a substantial policy difference between parties.
But how might these laws work? What protections would exist? How do we balance individual rights against the preciousness of human life? Where does it place health care professionals? What’s been the impact of Victorian laws?
All legitimate questions being asked by voters yesterday; and all deserving of valid answers — from both sides — before polling day.