House debates

Thursday, 17 September 2009


Swan Electorate: Homebirthing survey

4:49 pm

Photo of Steve IronsSteve Irons (Swan, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I too am a proud dad. But this evening I am going to talk about women, so I will leave the dad things out because the member for Braddon did a great job of that. This evening I rise to talk about the results of the choice in childbirth survey I recently conducted in my electorate of Swan. Obviously I did the survey because of the midwives bill that was debated in the House. Unfortunately, I missed the debate due to my son being ill. As I am single father, I was needed at home. I just spoke to Jarrad, who is actually going in for an operation tonight. I wish him well. I will see him tomorrow morning when I get back. I am sure he will survive. He is made of tough stuff like his old man.

I received so many responses from the electorate survey that I really felt obligated to raise them in this place even though the bill has been previously dealt with. I decided to seek feedback from the community after the government introduced legislation that would have made the practice of homebirthing effectively illegal. As members would be aware, there are currently no insurance companies in Australia willing to provide indemnity insurance for private midwives specialising in homebirthing. Homebirthing is legal; however, women who choose this option must sign a disclaimer form. The proposed changes would have resulted in the introduction of a national registration and accreditation scheme, where only midwives with insurance could legally register and continue to work. As private midwives practising homebirthing are unable to obtain insurance, they would not have been able to continue providing this service legally. Last year, there were only 700 homebirths across the country, less than 0.3 per cent of all births. My survey was of 1,800 women in my electorate.

I know that most health organisations advise against homebirthing, but should that give the government the right to make the practice effectively illegal? Of the responses I have received so far, over 80 per cent supported the continuation of homebirthing, with 15 per cent saying that it should be made illegal. Amazingly, many of the 0.3 per cent across the country who have experienced homebirths seem to be in my electorate. Mrs Patrice Walker was one such woman. She said:

We have safely delivered all of our five children at home with an accredited midwife. The antenatal and postnatal care we have received has been exceptional. Home birth is a safe, natural and cost effective alternative for all women with low-risk pregnancies and should be publicly funded.

Helen Steep also had a homebirth:

I have had 3 natural birthing experiences and have had experience of public hospital and the family birth centre.

Jessica Boyce was one of the 0.3 per cent as well. I would like to thank Mrs Robyn Stabler, who took the time to write me a long letter outlining her opposition. She is soon to be a mother of four, all of whom were delivered by homebirths. She is also a student midwife at the local Curtin University in my electorate.

Others who have not had a homebirth themselves supported having the option to make that choice. Only today I received a letter from Erin Bolitho, who said:

Every woman should have a right to make the correct decision for her! … The main factor influencing natural childbirth is support.

Fiona Thompson said:

People should have the right to make their own choices and decisions.

Ms Steele agreed. She said:

Life is about making choices, be they wrong or right.

Samantha Richards of Lynwood simply asked:

What’s next, 2 child policy?

Some women argued that homebirthing has been considered normal practice for many previous generations. Michaela Musca said:

That’s taking away the rights of women and men to make their own choice. Human rights. In the old fashioned days at home was the only choice and what about the impact it would take off the public hospital system?

Another constituent, Tara Price, argued that the practice continues safely in other countries around the world. She said:

In many other countries; i.e. Holland … women don’t even go to hospital to give birth unless medically indicated.

Some of my constituents made the point that research has been done that supports the safety of homebirthing:

Enormous research has been done that shows home-birthing has less complications for mother and child. In the UK and other parts of the world they promote home birthing so why is Australia so backward?

Ms Baison agreed, saying:

It is not an unsafe option for healthy women.

Others reacted angrily to the idea that the government was making this illegal. Louise Jonker said such a move would be ‘sexist and patriarchal’.

As I mentioned before, there were some responses from people who thought it was a good idea to make the practice effectively illegal. Most of these responses pertained to potential complications that could result from the practice of homebirthing. Jeanette Mander was worried about this and Jenny Yikwin Zu agreed, saying that doctors had the best equipment available. Kativa Singh said:

It is unsafe and lacks the facilities of our hospitals. There is a higher risk of accidents and death.

I would like to thank everyone who took the time to contact me about this matter and I urge the health minister to consider the results of this survey. I note that the minister now seems to have reversed her decision to make homebirthing effectively illegal, and that seems to be a position most of my respondents support. I urge all members to listen to what their community has to say about this and other matters that are debated in parliament. (Time expired)


Melissa McFarlane
Posted on 18 Sep 2009 7:24 pm

Dear Steve,

thank you for weighing into the homebirth debate. It is not too late to have a say. Those of us who want to see choice maintained for ourselves, for other women, and for our children, thank you for your efforts.

It is wonderful that the women who responded to your survey have had their voices heard in parliament.

Best wishes, and well done,

Melissa McFarlane
Ocean Grove, Victoria
Homebirth mother of 3.