National MP Alfred Ngaro blasts NZ First for 'abdicating responsibility' on euthanasia

National MP Alfred Ngaro is accusing New Zealand First of "abdicating their responsibility" by forcing the proposed euthanasia law to a referendum in 2020. 

Ngaro, who openly opposed the End of Life Choice Bill, told Magic Talk New Zealand First was wrong to make the law's passing dependent on the outcome of a public vote. 

Leaving the final decision to a referendum was a condition of New Zealand First's nine MPs, who offered their conditional support to the Bill's sponsor ACT leader David Seymour. 

The Bill passed its final reading on Wednesday with 69 votes for it and 51 against. Ngaro said if it weren't for the referendum clause, the Bill wouldn't have had New Zealand First's nine votes and wouldn't have passed. 

"We believe they abdicated their responsibility. They could have quite easily taken up their responsibility and not allowed this to go to referendum."

New Zealand First MP Jenny Marcroft told Newshub that's "absolutely not" the case.

"We believe - and this is a principle we've had since the formation of New Zealand First - that on issues which could change the fabric of society, it is our responsibility to go back to the public and trust them."

MPs narrowly voted to put the Bill to a referendum last month, with 63 voting in favour and 57 against. New Zealanders will be asked: "Do you support the End of Life Choice Act 2017 coming into force?"

If the public votes to pass the law, it will allow terminally ill adults with less than six months left to live to access assisted dying with two doctors' approval, along with various other protections included in the legislation. 

NZ First MPs from left to right: Shane Jones, Clayton Mitchell, Darroch Ball, Tracey Martin, Winston Peters, Ron Mark, Jenny Marcroft, Fletcher Tabuteau and Mark Patterson.
NZ First MPs from left to right: Shane Jones, Clayton Mitchell, Darroch Ball, Tracey Martin, Winston Peters, Ron Mark, Jenny Marcroft, Fletcher Tabuteau and Mark Patterson. Photo credit: New Zealand First

Ngaro, who earlier this year flirted with the idea of starting a Christian party, said it was "disappointing for a number of reasons" that the proposed assisted dying law passed its final reading. 

He said the Bill should never have passed when about 90 percent of the record 39,000 submitters on the legislation opposed it at the select committee stage.  

The eight MPs on the Justice Select Committee were unable to agree in April that the Bill be passed, so they didn't recommend any major changes, trusting that amendments would be made by MPs in the House.  

Anti-euthanasia MPs including National's Maggie Barry - who has strongly opposed legalising euthanasia - put forward about 120 amendments.

"Unfortunately when it went through the select committee process, we had decided to leave the substantial stuff - the big debate - to the House," Barry told Newshub on Wednesday.

"But nothing was debated properly and not a single amendment went through."

Ngaro said the "majority of New Zealanders have spoken very clearly and said that this is unsafe and we should not allow this into our communities". 

Seymour told Newshub he accepts the public can express their views to Parliament during select committee, but he said public submissions "are not representative of public support". 

Pointing to Otago University research, he said: "Over 20 years of polls and surveys have support for assisted dying on average at 68 percent and opposition at 15 percent."

National MP Alfred Ngaro.
National MP Alfred Ngaro. Photo credit: Getty

Barry, on the other hand, has said submitters' feedback "is a far more reliable and representative measure of Kiwis' concerns than past polling results".

Ngaro said he's also concerned that New Zealanders will be voting on an issue they don't fully understand. 

"It's disappointing those who have said, 'let the public have their say', and yet there's absolutely no commitment of resource or time to be able to inform the public of this."

Marcroft acknowledged it's important the public has "all the information... presenting all views so that they can make an informed choice". 

Justice Minister Andrew Little told RNZ a team is being set up within the Ministry of Justice to direct people to accurate information, since the public will be voting on two controversial issues in 2020: euthanasia and recreational cannabis. 

The team's work would include keeping a watch on social media for signs of platforms pedalling information that might mislead people.  

Little said the Electoral Commission will also keep watch.