Former health minister Michael Ferguson has locked horns with his successor Sarah Courtney during debate on voluntary assisted dying laws on the first parliamentary sitting day of 2021.
Today, the End-of-Life Choices (Voluntary Assisted Dying) Act was at the top of the agenda in the lower house.
The majority of MHAs expressed their in-principle support for the legislation at the end of last year, with the bill passing the second reading stage.
IN OTHER NEWS:
It came after the upper house voted unanimously in favour of the bill - which was brought on by independent Mersey MLC Mike Gaffney - in November.
Health Minister Ms Courtney has carriage of the legislation in the House of Assembly, albeit in her capacity as a member for Bass.
She and other moderate Liberals - including Premier Peter Gutwein and Deputy Premier Jeremy Rockliff - have indicated their support for the laws. Liberal members have been afforded a conscience vote on the matter, meaning they won't be obliged to vote in a bloc.
Meanwhile, members of Cabinet including Resources Minister Guy Barnett, Attorney-General Elise Archer and Mr Ferguson - who is the Infrastructure Minister - are opposing the legislation.
As MHAs sifted through the legislation clause by clause on Tuesday, Mr Ferguson raised a number of concerns with the bill.
He and his fellow Liberals opposed to the laws are of the view that they do not provide the requisite safeguards and that numerous amendments are being proposed in the wake of a review by the Univeristy of Tasmania (which Mr Ferguson notes was only published last week).
"What has the member for Bass, Ms Courtney, done to engage with the health sector on this legislation?" he asked.
"I am not going to have this question refused. It is a material question.
"Which organisations and which members of the health sector have you consulted with Ms Courtney? And have you consulted with, for example, the [Australian Medical Association], specifically in relation to this bill and this set of now amended objects and principles?"
The AMA, which represents about one quarter of Tasmanian doctors, is opposed to voluntary assisted dying laws.
Ms Courtney said she had engaged with a number of stakeholders "throughout the entire carriage of this bill".
"We have seen through Mr Gaffney's carriage of the bill in the upper house substantial engagement with a number of health care peak bodies, particularly pertaining to this actual bill," she said.
"With regards to my engagement, I feel very comfortable with the level of engagement I've had.
"I'm not going to stand here and refute or make comment on every single person's view that is put to me in this chamber.
"I think it simply obstructs the bill to suggest that it would be appropriate for me in the committee stage to somehow stand here and respond to 500,000 Tasmanians and their individual views .... I'm elected to do in this house what I think is right. I do that based on engagement with community and I do that based on a set of values that I outlined to the community when I was elected and did so in my inaugural speech."
Mr Ferguson took issue with his Cabinet colleague's response, saying she had evaded "articulating ... any engagement with the health sector in relation to this bill since last December".
"Ms Courtney, that is an entirely unsatisfactory answer," he said.
"I will continue to ask you ... for some indication about the level of engagement that's been held with the medical profession and the wider health sector in relation to this bill and these amendments."
Both Mr Ferguson and Ms Courtney expressed their gratitude to the Premier for granting a conscience vote on the issue and allowing Liberal MHAs to speak independently on the matter.
Debate on the legislation will continue tomorrow.
What do you think? Send us a letter to the editor: