Senate debates

Thursday, 2 March 2006

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Pregnancy Counselling Services

3:28 pm

Photo of Natasha Stott DespojaNatasha Stott Despoja (SA, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Ageing (Senator Santoro) to a question without notice asked by Senator Stott Despoja today relating to pregnancy counselling services.

In light of the government’s announcement today—and it is quite a considerable funding announcement—of a hotline and for Medicare item numbers for pregnancy counselling, I asked the minister if that meant, finally, that the government would move to regulate pregnancy counselling services in this country. In his answer, it was clear that the government has no intention of doing that. I acknowledge his comments about training modules and training processes that are attached to this new policy, but I want to make it very clear that we have a problem.

Before the government allocated millions and millions of additional dollars to pregnancy counselling services in this nation, it needed to fix up the problems that currently exist. The problems are real problems. I will get to the issue of what is being funded, because I note that Senator Fielding, in a question to Senator Santoro today, asked about so-called discrepancies in funding between pro-choice pregnancy counselling services and those that are anti-choice. I will get to that if there is time.

But the real issue that some of us in this place have been concerned about—and I suggest that it is along cross-party lines and involves men and women—is the fact that pregnancy counselling is not subject to any regulation to prohibit any kind of misleading or deceptive advertising. Because pregnancy counselling services are not for profit or do not operate necessarily in the same way as a business, for obvious reasons, they are not subject to the Trade Practices Act. This is a problem, because we actually have examples of deceptive conduct. I know that the minister was quite happy to take on board any examples I was willing to provide. I have done so previously. I have been following this issue for a number of years now. A look at any of my questions on notice on this topic will reveal some of the problems associated with pregnancy counselling in this country. But we do have examples of where these services have engaged in misleading advertising and deceptive conduct—that is, they have not been up front about the services they provide. It is time that the government ensured that they are up front, especially when taxpayer dollars are involved. If, as a taxpayer, my money is going towards pregnancy counselling services, that is a good thing. I acknowledge that. A diverse range should be available. I do not have a problem with that, but I want them to be accountable, I want them to be transparent and I want them, preferably, to be nondirective.

In the press conference today the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health and Ageing said that these services should be non-directive. Woo-hoo! That is good. Most people agree with that. But how do you ensure that these services are genuinely non-directive? How do you ensure that for the new hotline? How do you ensure that for the rebate process? How do you ensure that when current government pregnancy counselling services, we know, have been involved in so-called directive activities, have been involved in misleading advertising and have been involved in deception that has involved women being pressured or fronting up to a service believing that it provides all options? There are three options. I do not know if I need to outline them, but I will, just in case. They are: keeping the baby, referral for a termination, or adoption. If a service provides those three options, they should be up front about it. More importantly, if they do not then they should be up front about it as well, especially if they are getting taxpayer dollars and especially if they imply that they are providing all three services.

The Democrats welcome any additional support for pregnancy counselling. In fact, we welcome any additional support for pregnant women. For women with unwanted pregnancies in particular, we welcome any support for them to make decisions. But the difference is that we are not talking about advice; we are talking about non-directive pregnancy counselling. Women need a safe, secure environment in which to make a decision. They need advice and information—unbiased, objective information—so that they can reach a decision on their own.

In the chamber today Senator Fielding asked Minister Santoro about the issue of funding between pro-choice and anti-choice services. I want to make it very clear that this government funds directly only services that are anti-choice—that is, those that are associated with the Australian Federation of Pregnancy Support Services. That organisation gets direct funding from the Commonwealth and is directly linked to anti-choice services. There are only two dedicated pro-choice pregnancy counselling services in this nation. They receive no federal funding. How dare the impression be given in this chamber today that they receive it! They do not. The Family Planning Association indeed provides a range of activities and is funded through a mix of Commonwealth and state funding, but it is not a dedicated pregnancy counselling service. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.