Dec 8, 2023

Regional and rural Queenslanders are seeking access to voluntary assisted dying (VAD) services at a rate that is almost double their inner-city counterparts – a revelation that should send a shiver down the spine of anyone who cares about the equitable delivery of healthcare, Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) Leader and Traeger MP Robbie Katter has said.

Mr Katter said he had been unsettled by data released earlier this year by the Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board, in its inaugural 2022-23 Annual Report, that showed 296 Queenslanders from the south-east corner had sought to access VAD compared to 295 from across the rest of the State.

He said around 66.7 per cent of Queenslanders lived in the south east’s Greater Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast areas, a region referred to as a “major city of Australia” by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Just over 50 per cent – or 296 – of all requests for VAD between 1 January and 30 June, 2023, came from this region in the first six month of the scheme’s operation.

In comparison, the remaining 50 per cent came of requests came from “regional (inner and outer), remote and very remote” areas, parts of the State where only 33.3 per cent of the population live.

Mr Katter said the fact that more regional and rural Queenslanders were seeking access to VAD simply could not be dressed up as a “good news story”.

“Per capita more than double the amount of people living regionally have proactively sought out this end of life option in the first six months of VAD’s operation, and this is a truly damning indictment on the government’s delivery of health care in non-metropolitan areas,” he said.

“When we debated these laws in 2021, myself and the KAP were cautionary in relation to the fact we believed the legalisation of VAD would – either explicitly or implicitly – reduce pressure on governments to ensure both preventative and palliative health care is equitable across the State.

“Now we are seeing evidence of this play out, and it is horrible – whichever side of this issue you sit on, there is no justifiable reason why people in the regions should want to access VAD more often than those in the cities.

“If they’re becoming sicker more often, give them better preventative health care.

“If they’re entering their end of life stages and becoming desperate more quickly, improve their access to palliative care.

“It is outrageous to just say ‘we’ll make it easier for more regional Queenslanders to die more quickly’ without actually looking at what’s leading them to such a sad position in the first place.”

Mr Katter said the political ruckus, led last week in Queensland by Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath, around the news that Commonwealth law technically makes illegal the use of telehealth services for the purpose of progressing VAD was insulting.

“Instead of posturing and claiming a moral high-ground, the Attorney-General and the Palaszczuk Labor Government should be looking at why they are so desperate to have the telehealth pathway cleared for the purpose of progressing VAD – why is there not another way given the gravity of the issue at hand?” he said.

“You would think, at the very least, that if the government is wanting to expand access to VAD they would give regional Queenslanders enough respect to allow them to have these discussions with a health care professional in person.

“Whether it is for VAD, or any other complex and specialised health service, those of us living outside the south-east corner should not have to settle for a second-rate service.

“Send the doctors to us, if need be – it shouldn’t matter the cost; unless cost is what it’s all about, of course.”

KAP MPs did not support Queensland’s Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill 2021.