Monday, 20 August 2018
Suspension of Standing Orders
Pursuant to the contingent notice standing in my name relating to formal business, I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the motion being moved immediately and determined without amendment or debate.
I was put on notice of the fact that formality would be refused to this motion today, but I'm at a disadvantage in that I don't understand the motive of the Australian Labor Party in resisting this motion. So my contribution needs to anticipate what their argument may be, and no doubt they'll have the courage to take to their feet to particularise why they've resisted the motion. I know why they've resisted it. It's because a bill will be introduced into the Queensland parliament today that liberalises abortion in my home state all the way through to late-term partial-birth abortion. We all know what that involves. That's a partial birth of a child before instruments are applied to its cranium, and it's crushed a minute or so from birth. Its opportunity at life is measured in seconds.
Our friends in the Labor Party sitting opposite don't want to expose that some of their senators would support this motion. That's what this is about. It can't be about arguments around comity or states' rights, because in this very place, you might recall, Deputy President, the Labor Party supported and, in fact, engineered such a motion. The architect of that motion, who was here at that time—a senator who will go unnamed—wasn't bright enough to have thought about it himself. He was a crossbencher. In relation to investigating the actions of the Queensland state government, the motion made reference, in particular, to reviewing all legislation implemented by the Newman government to determine its appropriateness and compatibility with social justice and natural justice requirements—their words. It was a motion supported by them. A select committee was engineered, occupied and managed by them. So I don't anticipate that their resistance will be around comity or the Commonwealth government taking an interest in state legislation. Remember: once this abortion opportunity is completely liberalised, the Commonwealth will have an interest in these abortions because they'll be available through the public system.
They are also anticipating that part of the legislation will be that any doctor who conscientiously objects to the conduct of an abortion will themselves be exposed to criminal processes. Think about that. These men and women, who have taken the Hippocratic oath, which has lasted 2,500 years, will be subject to reaction from the state if they fail to euthanise a child who's seconds away from living.
There's a lot of science, and I've listened today, and I don't want to digress. We've got the Greens, who will obviously support this lack of formality. They are arguing about a child in Manus—someone whom I have great sympathy for. According to the senator, that child is near death. But there is not one mention of these babies, not yet born, whose deaths are guaranteed in a partial-birth abortion. Now listen! We need to stand up; humanity needs to stand up. The world needs to look at how you vote on this motion today. I say that to every one of you, every single person in this chamber. Your vote denying formality for the question to be put to the floor of the Senate means that you support late-term partial-birth abortions. I can hardly hold the thought: a baby who is seconds off being named, or even prenamed in many cases—certainly, in my family line and in most of the families I'm involved with—will be euthanised with a blunt instrument where they, first of all, sever the spine and then compress the cranium.
This isn't about denying formality; this is about you not wanting to put your foot on the sticky paper of this abhorrent practice that's about to be introduced by legislation. (Time expired)
The Labor Party will oppose the suspension motion but not for the reasons that Senator O'Sullivan has anticipated. Let me describe one basic Senate procedure to Senator O'Sullivan, but he should understand this, given his length of time here. It is the prerogative of any individual senator to deny formality, and that is what occurred. But, in relation to this suspension motion, the Labor Party will be opposing it for the reasons we have outlined on at least two occasions when motions such as this have been put forward in formal business.
Formal motions have been a feature of the Senate's routine of business since the beginning. They exist to deal with business expeditiously or, to put it in plain English, quickly. To use parliamentary jargon, they are a blunt instrument to deal with routine and uncontroversial matters like extensions of time for committee reports or authorisations for committees to meet—simple matters that do not require discussion. Unfortunately, sometimes, like now, that point seems not to be well understood. More and more, the formal business procedure is being misused or overused by some senators for complex and sensitive matters. That is not appropriate and it abuses this important feature of the Senate's routine of business.
But let me conclude this statement with one further point, given Senator O'Sullivan's anticipation: I am one senator that will not cop a lecture like that on abortion.
As the substantive motion involves a matter of conscience, in line with longstanding practice, government senators are free to vote in accordance with their own consciences on matters relating to the substantive motion and any procedural motions.
I will oppose the suspension as well and will support the Labor Party on this. Deciding to terminate a pregnancy must be the most traumatic time in a woman's life, and to see a middle-aged white man in old-fashioned braces, with equally old-fashioned ideas, lecturing women on what they should or should not do with their bodies is disgraceful and insulting to all women. This motion has no place in this chamber. I raised the same objection when Senator Anning attacked exclusion zones for abortion clinics.
I believe using the Hippocratic oath and 2,500 years of Western culture is grotesque. I said the last time that I was ashamed, as a male senator, to even discuss today's agenda with female members of my staff. I will try to excuse this zealotry on the grounds of religious beliefs, but Senator O'Sullivan once told me he had lost his faith in God when, as a policeman, he saw what men created in His image could do to children. If this move hadn't been taken by Labor today, my plan was to get up and try to seek leave to make a short statement and say to Senator O'Sullivan: I implore you to withdraw this insensitive, disgraceful motion.
I feel impelled to add a contribution to this debate about Senator O'Sullivan's general business motion regarding abortion, and I must express how disappointed I am in Senator Hinch's personalisation of it. Simply because another senator has a different point of view, he targets him as a 'middle-aged white male'. Are you ageist? Are you sexist? Are you racist? That is the question, Senator Hinch, because it stinks of hypocrisy.
The substantive motion here—and I take the point of Senator Collins, that, if you go back into the ideal world of what formal notices of motion were about, they were meant to be uncontroversial, blunt instruments. The reality is that in the 12 years I've been here they haven't been used in that manner. In fact, they are used now as debating points, where everyone gets to make a one-minute statement, and they raise all manner of contentious issues for debate. The tortuous language that is used obviously stops people from supporting them because of one particular political point or other that is made. So, in effect, they have lost their original intent, Senator Collins. I would put that to you.
I also respect the fact that Senator Collins is not someone who should be lectured to about this, because she's a person of very strong values. But I will reject entirely the merits of the argument that late-term abortion has any business in this country—not only the horrors of it, as Senator O'Sullivan has pointed out, and the grotesque nature of it, and we note that some of our international colleagues have also outlawed it, but the reality that you are dealing with a human right here. And the trite response that a woman should be able to do with her own body what she wants ignores the fact that this is dealing with late-term abortions. It is where you've known you're pregnant for 34 or 35 weeks and you decide you're going to have a termination. I don't know anybody who really thinks that's a credible argument, but maybe you can put that forward.
The second point about this motion that I think is really important is the horror of gender-specific abortion. People are choosing to terminate their pregnancy based on the gender of the child that is in the womb. We saw that just on the weekend. To those on the Left of the political spectrum, those who support the transgender movement: you should be horrified, because it undermines every single one of your arguments. How do you know, just because of the genitalia of the child, what they're going to identify with later on? That is essentially what your argument is. Yet you're going to defend the right of a parent to choose to terminate their pregnancy and kill a child—an unborn baby—because it is a boy or because it is a girl. I find that horrific.
This is not in effect about the merits of abortion or otherwise. There are many people who would defend the right of a woman to have a termination, particularly early in pregnancy. But please outline the justification based simply on the genitalia, or how you can justify a partial-birth abortion—a late-term abortion where we can see the child. It is fully formed. It is kicking. This is when parents are celebrating that this child is there and it's wonderful and a new life is going to be brought into the world. How can anyone justify the killing of a baby at that point?
We know there are extremists out there, people like co-Greens-founder Peter Singer, who say that a child is not a sentient being even after it's born. He's happy for you to take its life then—even after it's born. Where do we draw the limit? At what point do we accept that a child can live outside of the womb and is a human life? For me, it would be different to where many other people would draw the line. But there has to be a point where we accept that this is murder of a child. It is murder of an unborn baby that could exist outside of the womb, and it shouldn't be done on what I would say is the simple demand, or the selfish demand, of an individual involved.
I support this suspension of standing orders because I think we should be able to have a conversation about the horrors of what we're discussing now. We need to be able to bell the cat on this because too many people who just say it's the woman's choice are ignoring the realities of what actually takes place. So I'm standing with Senator O'Sullivan on this. I know I stand with millions of people around Australia who find this grotesque and horrible. We shouldn't be supporting state governments advancing the cause of gender-specific late-term abortions, because it undermines our very humanity and the dignity of every individual.
I support the procedural motion that has been advanced by Senator O'Sullivan today. This house is charged with being courageous on the issues that matter. We're not supposed to shy away from things because they might be a little bit controversial or uncomfortable or because they might make our colleagues in other states have a slightly more difficult week. We need to be willing to confront the issues as they arise.
We've heard today an explanation from those in the Labor Party of why formality is opposed here, but I can tell you that this is not about some deep-seated belief in the purposes of using notices of motion in this chamber. If that were so, we'd have a different response to more than half the motions that come to this place. But that's not what happens, because, when it suits the members of this chamber, we are more than happy to confront things that might be controversial. We can't be shutting down the freedom to speak about matters when the topic no longer feels a comfortable one. What it is, in truth, is a repugnant attempt to stifle the clarifying power of the scrutiny of policy in this place, an attempt to shut down the freedom to speak on a bill that the Queensland parliament hopes will slip into law without being exposed for the brutality that it is. And I don't use the word 'brutality' lightly.
Many people might have differing opinions about abortion in the early stages, but this is about ending the lives of children beyond the age at which we are, for other people, investing a fortune to save premature children. How can we be investing the entire weight of the medical profession's expertise and of public expense in saving premature children in some circumstances while we simultaneously kill healthy children born in other circumstances? It's wrong, and we should be able to debate it on the floor of this chamber for what it is. The idea that a healthy, viable child could be killed by its own parents simply because it happens to be a girl or happens to be a boy when the other sex would have been preferred is a sad indictment on who we are as a society, and we need to be willing to have the conversations needed to say, 'We can do better.'
The bill also seeks to put in place exclusion zones that would shut down freedom of speech in a way that we should all be very concerned about, and it plans to unduly and unfairly confine the rights of doctors to live out their beliefs. Doctors who conscientiously object will be forced in many circumstances—defined broadly as emergencies, but I can tell you that that seems to be a very loosely used term—to participate in a process that would actively kill a child that could otherwise survive on its own. This is not a small thing, and we should not be running away from the opportunity to confront the reality of what is a barbaric bill. I commend the procedural motion.
The Greens will be opposing the suspension of standing orders for the very reason of the types of debate that we have just experienced over the last 15 minutes—the offensive anti-women, patronising, patriarchal, anti-abortion propaganda. No woman has an abortion lightly. No woman does it without thinking. The awful, offensive garbage that has just been expressed in this chamber, talking about women as if they are murderers, is absolutely appalling.
There's no need to put it on the record. I didn't hear the comment, Senator Anning, but the usual practice is that, if you said something which is considered to be unparliamentary, you withdraw it without repeating what it was that you said.
If you recall, I requested that Senator Hanson-Young not repeat what it's alleged that you said, and the general practice in this place is that we don't withdraw and then also re-emphasise the offence, so I am asking you in the spirit of goodwill to simply withdraw if you—
I will further explain myself. It's not that someone took exception to that; it is the fact that it's considered unparliamentary. I have asked you, in the spirit of ensuring that the Senate continues in a collegiate way with spirited debate, to withdraw the comment that you made. If you don't withdraw the comment, I can only assume you are saying that you didn't make an offensive remark.
With respect—you are in a difficult situation, perhaps—how can you ask any senator to withdraw something which you didn't even hear and I didn't hear, and where the senator involved has indicated that he doesn't believe anything he said to be unparliamentary? I'm challenging your right to continue to ask this when the senator has indicated that he doesn't think—
You will be aware that on many occasions the person in the chair does not always hear the offence, yet, because another senator has raised the issue, the question is put. Senator Anning has, by not agreeing to withdraw that remark, indicated to the Senate that he didn't make an unparliamentary remark, so that is the end of the matter.
I don't want to repeat the accusation, but it was in reference to Senator Rice, who said, 'You're accusing women of being murderers.' There was a response that came from Senator Anning. That might jog your memory. I would ask him to withdraw.
The very debate we have just been having shows why we should not be discussing abortion in a suspension of standing orders. It's bad enough that we have to have one-minute statements on abortion with Senator O'Sullivan's motions and others like it. Abortion is an incredibly sensitive topic. For it to be misrepresented in the way that it has been by some of the contributions in this debate is not how we should be discussing abortion. As I said, no woman has an abortion lightly. This is about women's right to have that control over their own bodies and not be dictated to by people who have not had that experience—
Senator O'Sullivan interjecting—
and about women making what is always a difficult decision being supported in making that decision. Accessing abortion in Australia has been a struggle. The law reform that has occurred across the country has occurred. For those senators on the other side who are trying to debate this issue here today, it is only a matter of time before we have full decriminalisation of abortion across the country, following on from the states where it has already occurred. It will occur in Queensland, because this is about women's reproductive lives. It is about their ability to control their own bodies. It is about every woman who needs to access an abortion having the right to access this vital health service safely, affordably and legally.
Abortions occur even when we have legislation that has criminalised abortion. They continue to occur. Abortions will continue to occur for a whole range of reasons. We need to put in place a legal framework to make sure that they can occur legally and safely and we need to change our laws across the country. The Greens have a commitment to legalise abortion, because we recognise that that right is essential. My new colleague Senator Faruqi tried to get changes to the New South Wales abortion laws. That legislation was defeated last year, but that legislation will be put up again. New South Wales laws will be changed. The Queensland laws will be changed. The difficult decision that a woman and her medical practitioner have to make to determine whether an abortion is the appropriate thing to do is what women right across this country go through every day. They can be trusted to make the right decisions about their own bodies. They do not need to have men in this place telling them that those decisions are wrong and that those decisions are something to be ashamed of.
Accessing abortion is still too difficult in Australia. Women in Australia still have to run the gauntlet of protesters as they go through this difficult time in their lives. It is expensive. It is not available to people across the country. We have been through the debates in Tasmania. You have not been able to access an abortion in recent months in Tasmania. It is not available in public hospitals. It should be available across the country. These are the barriers that are still being put in the way of women accessing abortion. These are the barriers that need to change—we do not need to move further away from changing our laws—so that all women have an opportunity to have control of their own bodies and are able to look after their health in a way that is safe, affordable and legal.
The motion before the chair is that so much of standing orders be set aside as would prevent Senator O'Sullivan from moving this motion as a formal motion. That's the part of the debate I want to briefly contribute to. I find the attitude of the Labor Party absolutely hypocritical, and I encourage Senator Collins to read the Hansard of what Senator Chisholm said last week in dealing with the same situation. Senator Chisholm said that the Labor Party would never stop any motion being dealt with as a formal motion and allowing people to vote on it.
On the substantive motion, which I always think shouldn't be discussed on these occasions to set aside, can I say this: I'll be leaving the chamber when the motion comes up. There are elements of the substantive motion which I totally agree with. The suggestion of any abortion being based on gender selection is abhorrent to me and should be to everybody, and senators should be allowed to have a vote on that. There are some elements, some wording of the balance of the motion, that give me some concern—and which weren't going to be amended—so I'm going to leave the chamber and not vote. But, having said that, I think it is hypocritical of this chamber, in this particular instance only, to prevent the motion being dealt with in the normal course of events. These sorts of things happen all the time.
With respect to Senator Collins—her argument was pure hypocrisy, in that the Labor Party, every day of the week, and the Greens, every day of the week, have these similar sorts of motions brought before the chamber, dealt with as formalities, and then senators are old enough and wise enough to be able to form a decision on whether they either vote for them, vote against them or abstain by leaving the chamber. I would urge the Senate to allow Senator O'Sullivan's motion to go ahead. It is a motion that should be able to be dealt with by senators as they deem fit, and to do otherwise would be so hypocritical and so contrary to what usually happens in this chamber.
I fully support what Senator Macdonald just said, because the Labor Party want to stop formality when it suits them, as they did today when I tried to move my motion for a plebiscite on the migration bill. They stonewalled on everything so that I would run out of time. So, again, they didn't allow debate in this chamber. They didn't want to allow debate, because it would show them up for who they really are. Whether you want to support this motion or not, they're not even giving it the opportunity to go to a vote on the floor of the chamber and let the senators here have their say. You know what? It really cuts close to the bone for their Labor Party in Queensland, who want to pass the bill.
Senator Rice made a comment about it not being up to men to get involved in this debate. Well, I totally disagree with her, because those men are fathers. Everyone has a right—