Thursday, 9 February 2006
Therapeutic Goods Amendment (Repeal of Ministerial Responsibility for Approval of Ru486) Bill 2005
I stand to speak on this third reading of the Therapeutic Goods Amendment (Repeal of Ministerial responsibility for approval of RU486) Bill 2005 and to acknowledge the numbers in this Senate chamber, although the result goes against my views. I am deeply disappointed with the result because I believe it sends all the wrong messages to young Australians. I am disappointed with the process because there was an opportunity to improve it. However, I believe that, when consideration is given to the bill in the House of Representatives in due course, we may yet see its return, perhaps in another form, to this Senate chamber.
Part of the reason for the views that I hold is that RU486 is not just like any other drug. RU486 is in fact a killer drug; it is a drug that terminates a pregnancy. It is not a therapeutic drug; a therapeutic drug is one which is designed to cure or treat a disease. Pregnancy is not a disease. That is why I am deeply saddened and disappointed with the outcome of this debate.
I believe that the amendments provided an opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny and parliamentary review of the minister’s decision, but those amendments were lost. Yes, the supporters of the bill opposed the ministerial discretion initially, during the debate and during the Senate committee of inquiry, but those amendments would have ensured that it would have been subject to disallowance. However, that still did not satisfy those who had concerns.
I ask the question: if we left it entirely to the Therapeutic Goods Administration, which is the outcome we would see if the bill were passed—as I expect it will be, because an assessment of the numbers is reasonably clear—the entire decision would be made by the Therapeutic Goods Administration in that, under the act, they are empowered to look at the safety, the quality and the efficacy of the drug. They do not and are not empowered to look at the social, ethical and moral consequences of that drug for our community.
Based on opinion polls, I think most Australians in their heart of hearts know that there are far too many abortions in Australia today—an estimated 91,000. One in four pregnancies being aborted is far too many. What message are we sending to the Australian community? I think it is the wrong message. However, I respect the right of other senators in this place to have a different view from my own on that matter and I respect the outcome of the Senate decision today.
It has been a hard and gruelling Senate committee of inquiry, which took on a lot of evidence. I want to thank all those who put in submissions and correspondence—the thousands and thousands of Australians who have expressed their views, overwhelmingly against the bill. Nevertheless, the numbers in the Senate make it clear. I thank the movers of the bill for the manner in which they conducted the debate and the other senators in this place for the essentially measured and professional assessment and method in which they expressed their views. Yes, we have had ups and downs during the process but, on the whole, I think it was a measured and professional approach. Nevertheless, it has been a torrid and difficult time, where senators have had to dig deep to look into their consciences. It is very healthy for parliaments and senators to do that. It happened with the stem cell debate and the cloning debate, which was healthy. On this debate, it was also healthy. It is good for the parliament, and it has been a good process for the community. I thank the Senate for the opportunity to make some closing remarks.