Dan Jervis-Bardy

ACT election: Labor candidate Brendan Long blocked from expressing euthanasia opposition | The Canberra Times

news, act-politics, ACT election, Brendan Long, ACT Labor Party, ACT Labor

An ACT Labor candidate has accused his party of censorship, claiming it refused to allow him to express his opposition to euthanasia. The party has since clarified it does allow candidates an individual view on euthanasia, but changed Murrumbidgee candidate Brendan Long’s answer in error. Dr Long has been a long-time public opponent of voluntary assisting dying, which he described as a “violation of the dignity of the individual” in a submission to Legislative Assembly inquiry on the issue in 2018. He reaffirmed his position in response to a question posed by smartvote Australia, an online platform which helps match voters with candidates who share their views on certain policy areas. In one of 32 questions, candidates were asked: “Do you think that terminally ill patients should be able to end their life with medical assistance?”. Dr Long stated his opposition and explained his reasons in written response, which was sent to ACT Labor secretary Melissa James for approval. He told The Canberra Times that he received an email from Ms James on Friday, in which she told him that she couldn’t accept his answer because it was in “direct conflict” with the party’s position on the contentious issue. The Barr government has been pushing federal Parliament to repeal the so-called Andrews Bill, which prevents the territories from legislating on assisted dying. READ MORE CANBERRA NEWS ACT Labor’s official policy platform supports voluntary euthanasia, although it does grant office holders a conscience vote on the issue. Dr Long said that while he understood that candidates needed to back in party policy, he was adamant that he should be allowed to express a “position of conscience on this very difficult issue”. “It would be extraordinary if my position on this issue was not allowed to be made known to voters at this time,” he said. When approached by The Canberra Times on Monday, Ms James said it was a mistake on her behalf to change Dr Long’s answer. Labor Party candidates are bound to agree with most party platforms. “We have a collective decision making approach through our conference and caucus through elected members,” Ms James said. “ACT Labor provides party members with an opportunity to shape our party platform at our branch conference. The party’s platform informs the policies that are put to voters at election time.” But she said candidates may provide their own views on women’s reproductive rights and end of life choices. Ms James said she mistakenly thought ACT members were bound to support euthanasia. This is not the first time Dr Long has been at odds with his party during an election campaign. The former Canberra Labor Club treasurer broke ranks during the 2016 campaign to express concern about plans to allow poker machines at the casino. The economist finished fourth among Labor’s Murrumbidgee candidates at the last election, polling 5.4 per cent of the vote. Dr Long, who as a strategic advisor to Australian Catholic Bishops helped coordinate campaigns against voluntary euthanasia, said he was concerned that if he didn’t speak out his constituents might believe he had resiled from his views. “I haven’t changed my position. I am firmly opposed on the issue. It is important that the consistency of my position is respected,” he said. The Canberra Times understands Dr Long’s election campaign is backed by the powerful, Catholic-based Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ union, which has led opposition to assisted dying laws from within the right wing of the Labor movement. In response to the question on support for euthanasia, all Labor candidates had responded “definitely yes”. Ms James has since clarified questions relating to abortion and voluntary assisted dying are the only ones to which candidates may express an individual view. All other Labor candidate answers in the survey were identical. ANU Professor Patrick Dumont, who is leading the smartvote project, said the more freedom candidates were given to answer the questions the better. But he said it was understandable candidates were bound to agree with some party policies. “We want to record the differences between parties and between candidates for the tool to deliver all of its goals,” he said. “The more leeway the parties give to their candidates the more useful it is for the voters. “Having said that most of the candidates are running … for established parties with a number of policy issues that are enshrined in the core principles and also in their manifesto for the election.” He said as of Monday afternoon, more than 6000 people had completed the voting survey that matches them to candidates with similar views. Professor Dumont encouraged people to revisit the site in the coming days as more candidates completed the survey.

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