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Turning on the auto-babble: David Crisafulli and the politics of euthanasia


Queensland this week will become the fifth state to pass laws permitting euthanasia and assisted dying. It’s a big reform but it could have profound consequences for Opposition leader David Crisafulli, says Dennis Atkins

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One of two things happen when a political leader takes a stand on an issue of high principle.
Either it rings out with belief and conviction or it sounds like someone who is saying whatever comes into his or her head because of misery and paranoia.

The misery and paranoia comes from fear. It’s the fear of political armageddon if you misstep and find yourself on the wrong side of a majority of your colleagues.

That’s where the amazing shrinking LNP leader David Crisafulli finds himself as the Queensland Parliament debates truly significant laws on voluntary assisted dying.

After playing rhetorical games and hiding behind weasel words for months (mostly a wall of “I want to read every word of the legislation”), the member for the Gold Coast seat of Broadwater announced he couldn’t vote for “flawed legislation” despite appearing to support the basic policy of VAD.

Or did he? When you read Crisafulli’s speech you’d be excused for thinking he was confused. Or you could relax and be confused yourself.

Crisafulli’s opposition to voting for the VAD legislation is the suggestion it’s easier for people to access this end of life process before being allowed to get palliative care.

Crisafulli and the LNP say while people of means can get palliative care readily those without such means are not so lucky.

There is a strong case for providing access to palliative care to all but it seems like a convenient excuse for not voting for the government legislation, especially when Crisafulli says the VAD laws put “unintentionally but unavoidably” a lesser value on the life of the “poor, the remote, the sick”.

Read back over that. The first bit (unintentionally but unavoidably) just doesn’t make sense either logically or grammatically while the idea that sick people need palliative care is a contender for the non-sequitur of the millenium.

Later, Crisafulli aims a spear at the heart of the laws by saying “it breaks a fundamental tenet of our society – that human life is sacrosanct”.

If Crisafulli does think “human life (being) sacrosanct” is a “fundamental tenet of our society” you might wonder why he suggests elsewhere he supports assisting people facing “great pain and terminal illness”.

Simply put, no he doesn’t. Either Crisafulli doesn’t understand the legislation – which he should, as he was going to read every word – or he’s just masking a fear of a majority of colleagues who are opposed to the laws in varying degrees.

If Crisafulli does think “human life is sacrosanct” he wouldn’t even suggest he supports the principle of voluntary assisted dying in any form. After all, the Oxford Dictionary meaning of sacrosanct is “regarded as too important or valuable to be interfered with”. If assisting someone to die isn’t “interfering with” a life then what is?

All this is important because leadership matters, belief in politics matters and conviction is important.

If Crisafulli isn’t strong enough to give a clear, unambiguous view he isn’t much of a leader. At least his predecessor Deb Frecklington said she was opposing the laws because in her mind “life is life”.

For Crisafulli, life is a lot of words designed to either pretend to have a position or it’s something we haven’t seen in Queensland politics for more than 30 years.

Just after the Nationals lost power in 1989, then Opposition leader and former Premier Russell Cooper would get up in Parliament and let fly with strings of words devoid of meaning and an affront to grammar and syntax. At the time it was known as “auto-babble”.

Crisafulli has Queensland’s last National Party Premier as his unlikely progenitor. Cooper was always quite an act to follow but Crisafulli is trudging along, one step of doom after another.

The fascinating LNP political implications are one thing – this will set a doomsday clock ticking on Crisafulli’s leadership, currently sitting at about 12 minutes to midnight.

Politics to one side, this is genuine reform, supported by an overwhelming majority of Queenslanders with that backing almost certainly stronger in many LNP seats than in suburban electorates in and around Brisbane.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the VAD laws at her campaign launch last October, blindsiding many – including senior ALP figures. It was a conviction move and won her great support among the 70 per cent plus of Queenslanders who support the reforms – especially in older age cohorts.

Getting it through Parliament in the first 12 months will enhance and cement that backing – and the LNP mostly standing against the weight of public opinion will count against the Opposition.

Here’s hoping Palaszczuk and company can pull together a bigger reform agenda and get on with the job. This latest law is a very good first move.

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