Senate debates

Thursday, 9 February 2006

Therapeutic Goods Amendment (Repeal of Ministerial Responsibility for Approval of Ru486) Bill 2005

Second Reading

12:36 pm

Photo of Fiona NashFiona Nash (NSW, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

In summing up today, firstly I would like to thank all senators for their contribution to this debate. I am very proud to stand here as a senator for Australia, having watched the debate be conducted in the way it has been and certainly having heard such a range of views on what, in a lot of ways, is a very sensitive issue. I am very proud of all the senators in this place for the contributions that they have made and the way in which they have made them. I would also like to thank all the people who made submissions to the committee inquiry. There were very many submissions, as you would all be well aware, and they were of a very high quality and really reflected the amount of thought and time that people had put into thinking about this issue.

I thank all the witnesses who came before the committee. I sat through the three days of the inquiry, although I was not actually a voting member of the committee. The quality of information that those witnesses brought to that process is certainly to be commended, as is Elton Humphery and his team, who did what can only be described as a magnificent job in preparing the report so that we as senators had the ability to look at the arguments, both for and against, in this very important debate. I particularly thank the co-sponsors of this bill—Senator Moore, Senator Troeth and Senator Allison—for their contribution, their work and their belief that this bill was the right thing to do. It certainly has been a privilege to have worked with such intelligent, thoughtful women.

There are some things about this debate that are particularly clear, certainly to our view as proponents of the bill. This bill is not about abortion. While I respect the views of all the people who do have a pro-life stance—and I have respected their views right throughout this whole process—that does not address what the bill has set out to achieve. The bill is not about abortion. That is a debate we had in this nation many years ago. Our society, the people in this nation, decided that they would allow termination to be legal in this nation under the laws of the states and territories. That is a debate that we have had. This bill is specifically about a method of termination.

I am sure we would all agree that we would prefer to see fewer abortions. There is absolutely no doubt about that. We would all prefer to see greater education and greater prevention—and I concur with my colleague Senator Hill in endorsing the recommendation that the report put forward on that. We would all prefer to see fewer abortions, but we do have to deal with the fact that we live in a society where terminations do occur. What we are debating here is whether or not a method of termination can be made available for women, and their partners by association, in Australia.

We would argue that the best way to assess that method of termination is through the Therapeutic Goods Administration. There are those who say that that is purely done on science, that they are purely looking at the facts and that the moral debate does not come into it for them. We would argue that the moral debate does not have to. That has already been put forward by the people of this nation and a decision has already been made. Where we have a society where termination is legal, who are we to say that we will allow a surgical termination process and yet we will not allow a medical termination process to even be assessed? That just seems illogical.

There have certainly been arguments put forward by those who are against the bill about the issue of safety. I recognise that there is a lot of information out there in the ether—we certainly had a lot of it brought forward to the committee—that is both for and against whether or not this drug is safe. But, as I have said, I do not believe that I have the ability to assess the quality, safety and efficacy of that drug. I do not believe that anybody in this place has that ability and I do not believe that anybody in the other place has that ability. The ability to properly assess this drug lies with the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Those who have concerns about the safety of this drug should not be worried about supporting this bill, because if those concerns are shown to be correct—if those safety concerns are well-founded—then the Therapeutic Goods Administration will not approve the use of this drug. You only have to read through the list of people on the committees of the Therapeutic Goods Administration to see that they are not nameless, faceless bureaucrats. They are people with knowledge, expertise and life experience. When you read through the list—and if you have not read through it I suggest that you do—you will see that their expertise and knowledge is extraordinary. I do not think I have seen a more eminent list of people who are more appropriate to advise on the safety of drugs.

So I say to those who think that those people are not capable of properly assessing this drug that they are absolutely wrong. They are the appropriate people. They are the best people. We do not have the ability to assess this drug, but they do. As I say, underneath the umbrella of this society in which we have agreed that termination should be lawful, those eminently qualified people should be allowed to assess that drug and tell us whether or not it is appropriate for use.

None of us sitting here know what the people from the TGA will say if they are able to assess this drug. They may approve the drug; they may not. But it is not up to us to tell them that they cannot have the opportunity to assess it. That is not our role, and it is certainly not our role in a society which has said that termination is lawful. The ability of the TGA to do that cannot be overstated, and I think it is something that has been missed in this debate. We have continually heard about these nameless, faceless bureaucrats—but they are not. They are real people with real experience who have been put there to do a job for the people of Australia. We trust them to do it with 50,000 other items—including drugs that are often dangerous, drugs that are often potentially harmful. We trust them to do it with every single one of the nearly 50,000 items that are on the register.

Yet here we have a category of restricted goods, containing eight drugs, and we are saying, ‘We do not trust you, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, to assess those eight drugs.’ We are saying, ‘You have the ability to assess the other 49,353 items’—including dangerous drugs, difficult drugs—‘and we have no problem with that at all, but we will not let you assess those eight drugs.’ To me, that is not right. It is not our role, and the proponents of this bill agree that the appropriate place to assess these drugs is the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

I understand and respect the views of all the people who have contributed to this debate. I have my own personal view, and I point out that it is my own personal view. It is not a National Party view; it is my view. We have many various views within The Nationals on this particular issue. It has been a very strong process to see women from different parties—women who have different ideologies and different philosophical backgrounds—come together on this issue because we know that it is the right thing to do. It is the right thing to do, because society has given us a framework which makes the intent of this particular bill the right thing to do.

I would like to make a few comments on the amendments that have been circulated and flag that they will be coming up during the committee process. I have looked at the amendments and I have read through them very carefully. I thank all the senators involved in putting those amendments forward, because it shows the level of contribution, detail and thought that people are putting into this debate. I thank them for that contribution. But I and the other proponents of this bill have all been through those amendments very carefully, and we would say that they are intrinsically different from what we are putting forward with this bill.

The amendment from Senator Humphries and Senator Barnett seeks to address the issue of the minister alone having the power to approve the drug. But it still allows the minister to have that power within a broader framework, which is against the intent of the bill. I know there is another amendment being put forward by Senator Scullion and Senator Colbeck. Again, having read through it very carefully, and appreciating the intent with which they put it forward, I find that it is against the intent of the private senator’s bill. It still allows for a parliamentary moral value judgment to come upon what the TGA would put forward as a recommendation. As I said earlier, that moral value judgment has already been made by this society and this nation. Having flagged that, I will say that the proponents of the bill will be voting no to all those amendments on the basis that they are intrinsically against the intent of the bill.

It has been a real privilege to work with the co-sponsors of this bill. This is a very important moment for Australia. This is a moment when we say that we understand and respect the views of society. We understand and respect the views of those on both sides in this debate. But, overall, we understand and respect that society has provided a framework in which termination is lawful. This bill says that a method of termination under that framework, under that understanding, should be allowed to be assessed.

On behalf of my co-sponsors—Senator Troeth, Senator Moore and Senator Allison—I commend the bill to the Senate.


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