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Liberal dissidents force Marshall backdown on euthanasia pledge


A group of disgruntled Liberals met with Steven Marshall to resolve their concerns before last night’s party-room meeting, at which the Premier backtracked from his commitment to hold a parliamentary debate on voluntary euthanasia in Government time.

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In a written statement last week after the voluntary assisted dying legislation passed the Upper House, Marshall said the Bill was “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,” he said at the time.

“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.”

The decision ignited uproar from some in his party-room, but Marshall was unmoved on Friday,  telling reporters: “Ultimately that’s a decision for the Premier – we control the Government agenda.”

However, after a meeting with Right and centre-right faction MPs yesterday, and a later joint party-room meeting, Marshall emerged conceding returning the Bill to private members’ time was a “more logical way to go”.

“This is not a Government Bill, it’s a private member’s Bill,” he told reporters today.

“It’s a conscience issue, and I think it’s important that we move this into private members’ time.”

The about-face will be accompanied by a motion to extend private members’ time on May 26 and June 9, to give the euthanasia legislation time to be properly debated – meaning the vote will likely be held in the small hours of the morning – as it was when it the previous legislative attempt was defeated in 2016.

Marshall conceded in an ABC Radio interview this morning that members of his party “have been upset about this issue, there’s no doubt about that”.

“I completely agree with them – this is a private members’ motion… nobody’s denying that it’s a private members’ motion,” he said.

“I thought the best way was to use government time, but [this] is a more logical way to go.”

Former Liberal whip Adrian Pederick, who opposes the Bill, told InDaily: “I think we had a fruitful discussion in the party-room, and I think we’ve found a way forward.”

“We’re committed to running it in private members’ time, and I think that’s eased some issues with process,” he said.

The Labor Opposition argued Marshall had been “rolled” by his colleagues, but Pederick said: “At the end of the day, I don’t think it’s so much about people being rolled.”

“It’s about the need to have respectful discussion… I’m not here to roll the Premier, I’m just glad we had respectful meetings during the day,” he said.

“I think we’ve come to a reasonable landing.”

However, Pederick appears to concede the Bill will pass, albeit with fresh amendments.

“I can count,” he said.

“I can read between the lines… you get a sense of these things after a while, in regards to some people [whose] positions may change, depending on certain amendments.”

One of those is Liberal Steve Murray, who told InDaily last week he would introduce changes including allowing faith-based private hospitals like Calvary Care to opt out.

The so-called ‘Calvary amendment’ is likely to garner significant support – including perhaps from Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas, who says he will support the legislation but consider various amendments.

“Potentially, yes,” he said when asked if he’d back Murray’s amendment.

“The devil is always in the detail… the idea of choice is at the heart if the Bill, and we want to make sure that that principle is maintained for people who choose not to want to be engaged in this.”

Malinauskas said even with extended private members’ time, “we’ll be debating this at 2, 3, 4 o’clock in the morning, which doesn’t really lend itself to rational debate”.

“On Thursday, Steven Marshall made an unequivocal promise to the people of SA that he’s going to deal with this immediately in Government time – it was a promise in writing,” he said.

“On Monday he gets rolled by his party-room and announces he’s breaking that promise.

“Every South Australian that wants to see this issue resolved and was looking to the Premier for leadership will be badly disappointed.”

It’s understood it wasn’t just Liberal Right-wingers taking issue with Marshall’s move to usurp parliamentary process last week, with moderate first-term MP Carolyn Power understood to have voiced objections in the party-room.

She did not respond to inquiries today, and is not believed to have attended yesterday’s breakaway meeting.

One MP who did attend told InDaily Marshall has “certainly changed his mind and realised that if you kick a dog enough times, it’s probably going to turn around and bite you on the ankle”.

“We had a variety of discussions – the proposition was ‘let’s expand private members’ time’, and most people are pretty happy for that to occur,” they said.

“A group of us met with him at his invitation, there was a discussion about how we manage things – it was a cordial, amicable and productive get-together.

“I think the idea was to clarify the lines of communication.”

Another described the meeting as involving “a group of members who were concerned about internal processes of the party and what had occurred… with the unilateral decision-making of the Premier departing from internal processes.”

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