The State Labor Government has already broken an election promise, pushing back a February deadline to introduce voluntary assisted dying laws to Parliament.

And there's a question mark over whether it will even meet its new deadline, with the Queensland Law Reform Commission saying only that it "hopes" to meet its May 10 reporting date, having initially requested a July extension.

Acting Premier Steven Miles partly blamed the recent caretaker arrangements for the delay, saying the commission was unable to consult on the issue during the October election campaign.

But in a veiled criticism of Labor's election pledge, commission chair Justice Peter Applegarth said the complex work the body had been asked to undertake would normally take 15 to 18 months, and it had only started in July.

He said the part-time members of the commission, who were juggling other jobs, had already done an "enormous" amount of work and considering submission would be a "time-consuming task" extending into early 2021.

He said drafting such legislation - which considered complicated legal, medical, safety, social and ethical issues and oversights - would normally take a year, and even with extra resources now would take "many months".

In a statement, he said the commission was working hard to complete "this complex review" as soon as it reasonably could, and hoped to meet a reporting date of May 10.

Justice Peter Applegarth
Justice Peter Applegarth

"The commission is committed to doing the best it can, in the time that it has been given, to recommend the best possible legal framework for people who are suffering and dying to choose the manner and timing of their death in Queensland," he said.

Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman said while the reporting deadline would be extended, the implementation would be fast tracked to make up the delay so Queenslanders wanting to utilise new laws wouldn't wait longer.

She said she expected to introduce legislation by the end of May.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk made the shock announcement at Labor's election launch to fast-track voluntary assisted dying laws to February and defended the sudden rush, saying: "I think it's a very important issue for Queenslanders, it's been raised with me countless times, and there's no reason any extra assistance the Law Reform Commission is needed, we can bring that forward, so the parliament can have a vote."

Opposition Leader David Crisafulli Picture: Steve Holland/NCA NewsWire
Opposition Leader David Crisafulli Picture: Steve Holland/NCA NewsWire

Opposition Leader David Crisafulli said it was open for Queenslanders to wonder why the Premier announced a rushed deadline in the middle of an election campaign.

"To see what happened before the election, I'll let others judge the motives behind that," he said.

"All I'll say is that I don't want to see such a serious issue, one that means so much to people on both sides, I don't want to see it trashed for political purposes …

"I'm going to maintain my dignity today in the face of people who've been caught out playing political games."

Dying With Dignity spokesman David Muir said some advocates were disappointed with the delay, and warned there would be dismay if there was any further delay from the commission.

But he said it was important to get the legislation right.

"The core promise was to make it front and centre in her next term. Quite frankly, that doesn't change," Mr Muir said.

Greens MP Michael Berkman said time was needed, but that did not mean the laws should be used as the major parties' political football.

"It was a pretty cynical move to suddenly commit to legislation at the pointy end of an election campaign, and after this late backtrack I wouldn't blame Queenslanders for having little confidence that the Government's going to do what it says it will," he said.




Originally published as Has an election promise been put to sleep?