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'White-hot' anger over Marshall's euthanasia gambit

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UPDATED | Premier Steven Marshall went back on an explicit undertaking to the Liberal party-room when he fast-tracked debate on proposed euthanasia laws, insiders have claimed.

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Factional tensions have been reignited by Marshall’s move yesterday to allow Voluntary Assisted Dying legislation – which passed the Upper House this week – to be debated in Government Business time, instead of languishing on the notice paper as a private members’ bill.

InDaily has been told former frontbencher Stephan Knoll was particularly aggrieved, telling a meeting of lower-house Liberal MPs yesterday he would reserve his right to oppose any Government Bills that come before parliament from now until his resignation at next year’s state election.

“To say he’s white-hot angry is an understatement,” one Liberal told InDaily.

“He’ll review everything that’s put before us, and if it’s outside the parameters of what he thinks a good Liberal Government should be doing, he’s not going to vote for it.”

Knoll did not respond to inquiries today.

In a statement sent to media yesterday, Marshall said the voluntary euthanasia legislation currently before parliament was “an emotional issue for the South Australian community”.

“As the leader of this state I take my responsibility to have such legislation promptly resolved by the parliament, one way or the other, seriously,” he said.

“This is an important issue and I do not want its consideration to be unduly delayed through parliamentary processes.

“That is why I have decided to progress debate on this legislation immediately.

“The community expects Parliament to act swiftly and decisively on issues that impact them and that is why I am allocating Government Business time to debate the legislation now that it has passed the Upper House.”

However, several sources have told InDaily that the move contradicts a pledge Marshall made to aggrieved colleagues during the recent abortion debate, which saw the Termination of Pregnancy Bill – introduced by Marshall’s offsider and moderate faction heavyweight Vickie Chapman – pass parliament in March.

A number of MPs say Marshall told the party-room that would be the last time a conscience vote on a Bill moved by a private member would be debated in government time.

The Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill was introduced in the Lower House by Labor deputy leader Susan Close as a private member’s Bill after it passed the Upper House.

It’s understood some MPs were told of the Premier’s move to allocate it to Government Business at a poorly-attended meeting of lower-house Liberal MPs at 10am yesterday – by which time Marshall’s statement had already been circulated to the media.

Sources say the euthanasia Bill was not flagged as the topic for discussion in the meeting, and some members say they did not even receive an invitation.

Ultimately that’s a decision for the Premier – we control the Government agenda

Marshall did not respond to inquiries from InDaily, including whether he had told his party-room the abortion Bill would be the last time a conscience debate was held during government business.

However, at a media conference later today, he was unapologetic about committing government time to the euthanasia debate before informing his party-room, saying: “Ultimately that’s a decision for the Premier – we control the Government agenda.”

“I wasn’t prepared for that piece of legislation that’s already passed the Legislative Council to sit there, not reviewed by the House of Assembly,” he said.

One MP said there was “angst and anger” from some in the party, and “I’m not quite sure where this will land”.

Backbencher and former government whip Adrian Pederick, who opposes the legislation, told InDaily he was “not happy” about the Premier’s move to fast-track the euthanasia debate in government business time.

“That’s going to be a debate on Monday in the party-room,” he said.

“It’s a private member’s bill – I think we need to respect the processes… there’ll be plenty of time in private members’ time.”

Asked about the party-room “angst”, Pederick said: “Other MPs can speak for themselves [but] there’s certainly a mood about the trampling of processes.”

“We’re a very democratic party – I think we need to respect democracy and the process,” he said.

Asked whether Knoll had told the meeting he would reserve his rights on future legislation, he said: “Stephan can speak for himself.”

As to whether he would similarly reserve his rights, Pederick said he would “have that debate on Monday night”.

“All options are on the table,” he said.

In a significant development today, however, the chances of the euthanasia Bill passing received another boost with Centre-Right Liberal MP Steve Murray telling InDaily he had decided to vote in favour of it if a key amendment is carried.

Murray intends to move an amendment similar to that introduced by SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo – and rejected by the Upper House – allowing faith-based private hospitals like Calvary Care to opt out.

He said it would provide “some means of ensuring that you keep the voluntary nature of this”.

“There’s no point in giving doctors the ability to be conscientious objectors while simultaneously denying the organisation they’re part of to have the same view,” he said.

He said if that amendment was carried, “notwithstanding my own personal disposition”, he would support the Bill.

“Lots of people do want it, and the model is a fairly good one – insofar as [there] can be a good model,” he said.

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