Senate debates

Monday, 17 September 2018

Matters of Public Importance


3:51 pm

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that, at 8.30 am today, six proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received from Senator Siewert:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today I propose to move that, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of public importance:

The need for Australian governments to recognise that abortion should not be regulated by antiquated criminal laws crafted in the 1800s, which penalise a woman's decisions over her own body—especially in Queensland and New South Wales.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the Senators in today’s debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

3:52 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

It is absolutely shameful that in my home state of New South Wales and in the state of Queensland abortion still sits in the Crimes Act. As a woman, as a mother of a young woman, and as someone who has campaigned for years to decriminalise abortion in New South Wales, I cannot and I will not accept this situation. Mr President, the existence of these laws actually exposes the misogyny and the influence of the religious far Right on our politics. Neither my religion nor yours should be allowed to deny women their rights and choices. You cannot impose your beliefs on others. You have no authority over the rights of individuals who make different choices. We have every right to complete bodily autonomy, and no-one can tell us otherwise. Abortion must be decriminalised, provided in public hospitals and covered by Medicare, and safe access zones should be mandated across all of Australia.

We know that a vast majority of Australians support the unambiguous legal right to bodily autonomy. We must be able to make our own health choices without the burden of criminality hanging over our heads, just because some politicians still have their heads buried in the year 1900. This isn't an academic question either. These archaic laws have real effects on real people. Women and all people needing access to abortion in New South Wales and their doctors are doing so under a legal grey area, in the shadow of criminality. They remain vulnerable to the full force of the law, including facing over a decade in jail for attempting to perform or procure an abortion. Many doctors actually do not perform pregnancy termination due to the fear of prosecution and persecution. Abortions are not routinely provided in public hospitals either.

In New South Wales parliament I brought on the first ever bill in the history of New South Wales to decriminalise abortion and create safe access zones. Abortion laws had not been touched in that state for over 100 years. Why? Because politicians are so completely out of touch with the community. Eighty-seven per cent of people in my state support the right to abortion, and this support runs across party lines—LNP, Labor and the Greens. The number is even higher in rural and regional New South Wales, where people are actually on the frontline of your ideological attacks on the right to reproductive health.

How can governments be so out of touch? When my bill was debated there was a concerted campaign similar to the one we are witnessing now in Queensland, riddled with myths and mistruths about abortion and backed by the decidedly patriarchal view that women should not be fully in control of their own bodies. One of the myths constantly peddled by the antichoice lobby is that if abortion were decriminalised all of a sudden women would start having late-term abortions. To suggest that women will carry a pregnancy to term only to then terminate on spurious grounds is offensive in the extreme, and has absolutely no grounding in fact. Just last month, in this very chamber, Senator O'Sullivan peddled the exact same myth. These are nothing but unfounded ideological opinions that are fundamentally disrespectful to women. It is incredible, it is shameful and it is embarrassing that such ideas are still alive and well in federal and state parliaments.

Is even the concept of women having rights alien to those who are so single-mindedly antichoice? Will they believe and perpetuate anything, no matter how damaging it is? We know that the criminality of abortion has led to completely unnecessary shame and stigma. Access is limited mainly to big cities. It is privatised and it is expensive, making it much harder to access for people in rural and regional areas and in Aboriginal and migrant communities. Those who say that decriminalising abortion is not necessary deliberately ignore the stories and lived experiences of women.

What these debates on abortion have often told us is that those who so vehemently oppose legalising abortion do so not on any evidence or merit; they do it on antichoice grounds. They have a sexist view that women cannot be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies—that they should not be allowed to make decisions about their own bodies.

3:57 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a great privilege to contribute to this debate. I'd like to recognise up-front the very personal and difficult issues that this debate does confront individual senators and people in the public with. I would like to place on record, up-front, that I always would recognise the difficult decision that any individual mother or father has to make in these matters. They are very, very tough decisions, but it is important on an issue of life and an issue of humanity that we do discuss them in a way which really does consider the latest science and information about the formation of human life, including from its earliest days.

This debate often is clouded in a veil of confusion. This motion, for example, seeks to focus on only one aspect of this debate around the criminalisation of it, and seeks to therefore hide the true consequences of some of the proposed changes to laws at state levels that we are seeing in parliaments around the country. Senator Faruqi mentioned that 87 per cent of people—apparently, I don't have the context of the poll—supported decriminalisation. Senator Faruqi—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President Ketter—86 per cent of people in Queensland at least, in my home state, are against late-term abortions as well. Yet there is a bill there before the parliament right now which would allow late-term abortions. The legislation says, 'A medical practitioner may perform a termination on a woman who is more than 22 weeks.' The bill is very lax in terms of the restrictions and requirements beyond 22 weeks, because a doctor at that time only has to consider a range of factors, including the social circumstances of the mother. They only have to consider those factors. There are no penalties associated with not considering them. I don't think that bill at all reflects the vast will of Queenslanders, which is to not allow the legalisation of late-term abortions.

As I said, science is on the side of life here. New science is indicating how human a baby is, particularly at that age. At that age, at 20 weeks, a baby in the womb can clasp his or her hands, they can hiccup, they can suck their thumb, and they cover their ears when a loud sound is emitted close to them. They are human in all fundamental respects. In fact, they also, most significantly, feel pain. In modern fetal surgery where surgery is conducted to save a fetus, pain relief is provided to the fetus beforehand. My understanding is that, under this proposed Queensland legislation, there will be no requirement to issue or administer pain relief to a fetus before his or her termination, notwithstanding the fact that some of the practices at that age are quite brutal. I will not go through them right here, but they would clearly administer enormous amounts of pain to that fetus and no pain is usually or normally administered at that time. As I said, this is a complex, personal debate, but it is often clouded by rhetoric without going through those details.

I would like to place on record my own personal circumstances. As the very lucky father of five children, every time I feel, for the first time, a kick or movement in my wife's stomach, I am moved considerably at the miracle that is human life. There is not much more important thing than we have to cherish in our society and in our culture but the nurturing and protection of human life, particularly those lives that are most vulnerable. We are fortunate to live in a society where we protect the most vulnerable in our society, and there is no human being more vulnerable than the unborn.

While these issues are complex, those lives at that age—which, as I said, can feel pain, can laugh and can hiccup—deserve more than an overly simplistic and superficial debate where insults are traded across the chamber from people who have different personal experiences and different views. Those vulnerable lives deserve proper protection, proper discussion, proper debate and there should be a proper reflection of the general people's will on these very important matters.

4:02 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Families and Communities) Share this | | Hansard source

I know that abortion is an issue on which there is a spectrum of views represented in this chamber. For many, if not most, people in this chamber, those views are a product of deeply held convictions about what is right and what is wrong. For my part, I am deeply committed to a woman's right to choose. I have been since the beginning of my involvement in organised politics—in Queensland in fact—and I don't believe that the issue has become any less important over the intervening years. I am here as a senator for New South Wales. It is our most populous state and it is still illegal for a woman to have an abortion.

Laws of this kind are not just legacies or things which sit on the statute books with no real effect. Just a few years ago, a Brisbane couple were prosecuted for purchasing drugs to induce a termination. Even in jurisdictions where abortion is legal, women often face difficulties in accessing it. For instance, just this year we've heard tragic stories that arose from the lack of service providers in Tasmania. Women in rural and regional Australia struggle with ongoing challenges in accessing and receiving appropriate care. This is despite the fact that abortion is one of the most common medical procedures for Australian women to seek over the course of their life. One in three pregnancies in Australia is unwanted and one in five is terminated.

Women seek assistance with an unwanted pregnancy for a wide variety of reasons. No woman does so thoughtlessly; no woman does so without carefully reflecting on her own circumstances. Over 70 per cent of terminated pregnancies are the result of failed contraceptives. Others have found themselves in a more complicated situation. One-third of women who contacted Children By Choice for pregnancy options counselling were at that time experiencing domestic violence. One-fifth of women were the subject of reproductive coercion. I say all of this to make the following point: abortion law reform is not merely academic. Abortion law reform is an issue that has real and significant consequences for the lives of Australian women. It deserves and needs to be handled in a serious, considered and deliberate manner.

Abortion law reform has succeeded where a Labor government—and it always has been a Labor government—works with advocates to build a coalition for change around a well-developed policy proposal. In Victoria, for instance, the Brumby government declined to proceed with a private member's bill in 2008. Instead, the government tasked the Law Reform Commission to provide advice on options to modernise and clarify the law and reflect current community standards without altering current clinical practice. It then built one of those options up into a detailed and functional piece of legislation and garnered the necessary support. The bill eventually passed unamended.

Likewise, the legislation tabled in Queensland this year to decriminalise abortion came after an extensive and detailed process that included a referral to the state Law Reform Commission. What these state governments have in common, a decade apart, is a real commitment to achieve meaningful progress on abortion reform. That was a pattern repeated when the Northern Territory Labor government decriminalised abortion in 2017, when the Tasmanian Labor government decriminalised abortion in 2013, when the ACT Labor government decriminalised abortion in 2002, when the WA government decriminalised abortion in 1998, and even when the South Australian Liberal government liberalised abortion way back in 1969. That is how you create change on an issue as contentious and difficult as this. You take work with advocates and the community to build a broad coalition of support. You spend time to develop a properly thought-out and detailed proposal that reflects the community's view and is capable of being supported in the parliament. You reach across the aisle to generate majority support. It is a delicate and involved process. It is the difference between Penny Sharpe and New South Wales Labor successfully legislating for safe access zones in New South Wales this year and the unsuccessful attempt at decriminalisation led by a minor party in New South Wales last year.

A motion such as the one before us today represents a very different approach to the careful work that I have described. Today's debate concerns a high-level statement of principle about abortion law, not a proposal for change. The absence of detail in a debate of this kind makes it much easier for opponents to argue against a straw man rather than deal with the circumstances most commonly faced by Australian women.

In a debate of this kind in this chamber, there is little opportunity or reason for the participants in the debate to be lobbied, to talk, to deliberate or to change their minds of their own accord. After all, this is not even a jurisdiction which has legislative responsibility for criminal law as it relates to terminations. In a debate of this kind, there is no real opportunity to build relationships between stakeholders or to build a campaign to change. There are some risks though, if few benefits, because failure is not benign. There is a view sometimes in politics that says, 'Keep knocking and eventually the door will open.' That works on some issues, but for an issue like this there are real costs to unsuccessful attempts for reform.

I do want to speak briefly about some of the things that we can do at a Commonwealth level to ensure that women's reproductive rights are respected and supported. We need to improve reproductive freedom through decent sex education. Young people need to learn informed by science and knowledge and through discussions about relationships on how to have fun, healthy, respectful relationships when they're ready. Through Medicare, we need to ensure that people are able to access effective contraception and we need to ensure that all across our country vulnerable women can access health care when they need it.

If you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant, you ought to be supported. If you wish to avoid pregnancy, you ought to be supported. If you wish to end a pregnancy, you ought to be supported. A strong public health system needs to take responsibility for supporting women in their choices. Our systems need to ensure that women are not subjected to violence at home, that they not subjected to coercion, that their choices take place in an environment of genuine freedom.

Labor women understand that, to support women, these are the tools available to us in the Commonwealth parliament. We have unfinished business here. There are things that we can do. I say to my colleagues: this is an area where we ought to proceed carefully and that success is dependent on hard work, on community work and on collaborative work in the context of the parliament.

4:12 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Australian Greens support a woman's right to choose what happens to her own body. Abortion has been around since women have been bearing children. Women have been dealing with unwanted pregnancies since time immemorial, especially those with the financial means to pay for safe abortions. The Greens advocate for free, legal and safe abortions in public hospitals because we want to make sure that all women, regardless of their financial means, don't die because of unsanitary and unsafe terminations. This is especially important for women in rural and regional locations.

In the 1970s, Australia brought in universal health care in the form of Medicare, yet all of these years later access to health care, reproductive care, is still based on your postcard and, sadly, your bank balance. We're in the 21st century now and we need our laws to live up to our aspirations for the future. We want to see a future where the state guarantees the rights for all people, where society respects the rights of women and where religious ethics stay well away from the lives of people who do not subscribe to any faith—or as our former senator for the Greens Kerry Nettle once famously said to the then member for Warringah Tony Abbott, 'Get your rosaries off my ovaries.'

Queensland, sadly, has the worst laws on abortion—the most restrictive. Abortion is considered a crime in my home state of Queensland and it's governed by criminal laws that were drafted in 1899. That is somewhat out of date. Case law has established that abortions are generally regarded as lawful if it prevents serious danger to the woman's physical or mental health, but it is still on our criminal law books. The urgent need to clean the law books from unfair, sexist legislation that criminalises women for deciding what is best for their body and themselves is a matter of public importance, and I'm proud that we're debating it in this chamber today. We are certainly in the majority on this one. A poll of 1,200 Queenslanders taken in February 2017 by Fair Agenda found that 82 per cent of people agree that it should be legal for a woman to terminate her pregnancy—every child wanted.

Over the course of the 21st century, most Australian states and territories have re-examined and reformed their laws to varying degrees, starting with South Australia in 1969, leaving Queensland, as I said, with the most restrictive abortion laws in the whole country. Queensland's abortion laws date back to two centuries ago, but attitudes about women's bodies have moved on, and it's time our laws got on with the times too. It's a matter of public importance that, in my home state of Queensland, rape and incest are not even considered grounds for lawful abortion unless a woman's physical or mental health is concerned.

Every Australian state that has initiated legislation to reform sexual and reproductive rights has ended up passing legislation to legalise abortion to one degree or another. This shows that there is demand and support from the community for fairer access to this simple medical procedure that medical professionals say is safer than a colonoscopy.

Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT have removed abortion from their crimes acts. In the ACT abortion is legal as long as it's provided by a medical doctor, with all abortion laws fully repealed in 2000. In Victoria, abortion is legal for up to 24 weeks with the woman's consent and after 24 weeks with the additional consent of two doctors under decriminalisation legislation that was introduced 10 years ago. In Tasmania, a decriminalisation bill passed in 2013, which made abortion legal on request for up to 16 weeks and, after that, with the approval of two doctors. Also in Tasmania are those fantastic exclusion zones to prevent protesters outside abortion clinics on a matter that is a medical privacy issue.

Women are 51 per cent of the world's population. Despite much progress, our society still has gendered expectations about what form people's lives should take. Women are expected to be nurturing mothers, yet they're punished in the workplace for their decision to pursue maternity or they're criminalised when they make decisions about what's best for their lives, their bodies or their families, such as a decision not to carry a pregnancy to term. As has been said in this place previously, no woman takes a decision to have an abortion lightly. If you are against abortion, then don't have an abortion and kindly refrain from interfering with other women's choices.

On the matter of access, Queensland Health estimates that only one per cent of pregnancy terminations performed in Queensland are provided in public health facilities. The rest are provided through private clinics, day surgeries and a small number of GPs. These services are of high quality and are offered by experienced clinicians, but they have out-of-pocket costs which can make access very difficult for some women. The cost can be anywhere from $250 to $4,000, depending on a woman's gestation and location. In addition to the high cost barriers for Queensland women, women in rural and remote areas often face long travel distance to get to an abortion provider. Although medical abortion is now available through some GPs, there is no public list of certified prescribers, so finding a general practice that offers medical abortion can be very difficult.

I urge the government to use the COAG meetings that are coming up in just a few weeks time to advocate for free, safe and legal abortions accessible in public hospitals so that no woman is disadvantaged because she lives in a rural or regional part of the country. I would like to place on record my immense pride for the work that's been done by Dr—now Senator—Mehreen Faruqi in the New South Wales parliament on this issue; by Shane Rattenbury, our Greens member of the ACT parliament; and our now first elected member in Queensland state parliament, Michael Berkman, for the seat of Maiwar.

We would also like to see reform so that there is transparency in advertising services so that Commonwealth funding is strictly spent on unbiased counselling. In some Australian states, women are forced to undergo counselling before they can terminate a pregnancy. Of course we support all medical procedures coming with informed consent, but each woman is the best and most knowledgeable expert about her own life, including the decision on whether she needs additional counselling. Counselling should be made available to all who request it but should not be imposed on anyone who prefers to keep their own counsel. Likewise, it should not be a smokescreen for pushing an agenda that is not one that simply places the woman's needs and rights at the forefront.

The only way to reduce abortion is to invest in sex education to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to urgently address the epidemic of rape that threatens people in their homes, in their university campuses, in parks and on the streets at night. Without us, there is no production and there is no reproduction, and I urge the Senate to work to protect the rights of all people to safe, free and legal abortion in all Australian jurisdictions. And I'd like to flag that this is an issue that I feel particularly personally strongly about. How dare the state tell us what we can do with our own bodies? I would urge every woman in this place—indeed, every person in this place—to reflect on the state of mind of women. We are perfectly able to make our own decisions. We should have the legal right to make our own decisions about our own bodies. It is repulsive to me that the state can still dictate what we can and cannot do with our own bodies in this day and age, particularly in Queensland, which is governed by laws drafted in 1899. You can bet there was not a single woman in the parliament when those laws were passed.

It is long past time that we reform these laws. I'm so pleased to see progress has been made in many state parliaments around the country. Queensland has been lagging behind, despite the fact that we have a Labor administration who say that they are sympathetic to this issue but have still done nothing for decades. I welcome that there are moves afoot now to address this issue. I note that our Greens bill before the Queensland parliament would help. It certainly would decriminalise abortion and would help address those access issues and those issues of unbiased counselling.

I will be continuing to talk about this issue in this place because we have a strong role here in the federal parliament to ensure access to legal, safe and free health care for women, and that is an important role that the federal Senate, I think, should be playing. I would urge people who have strong religious views on this issue to hold those views themselves but to not impose those on others. I look forward to the rest of the debate. I'd like to thank the contributors to the debate for the modicum of civility that has occurred; it's not always the case. But I would urge people to listen to the views of women and to empower us to make our own decisions about our own bodies.

4:21 pm

Photo of John WilliamsJohn Williams (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a sensitive and delicate issue. It probably doesn't surprise you, Mr Acting Deputy President Ketter, that I do not support abortion. However, there are situations where I think abortion should be considered—as Senator Waters said: rape, incest or a situation where the lady's life is at threat. They would be considerations I could certainly accept. Senator Waters encourages everyone to think like her. That's pretty common here in this chamber by the Greens. We do have various opinions in this chamber, and my opinions are very much different Greens' on most respects. Yes, it is a woman's decision, but I'm alarmed to hear of the after effects when a woman does decide to have a termination of a pregnancy—the psychological effects on that lady. To many, there may not be any effects, and hopefully that's the case, but some go through emotional effects such as regret, depression and even anger and guilt.

This is my argument: whatever happens between a man and a woman, and if a pregnancy results, it is not the kid's fault. It is not the kid's fault; the kid had no say in it. So my attitude is: why kill the kid? They're pretty harsh words, I know, but the thing is: I've seen over my life so many people and so many couples who could not have children and would have loved to adopt children. Back in the sixties and seventies, if a young lady fell pregnant, of course they would not have an abortion. They made it secret, went off somewhere to another town, had the baby, put the baby up for adoption and returned back to their hometown to save themselves from shame and guilt. That's how society was in those days. Of course, in the seventies, when I was a young fellow, if a girl fell pregnant, you simply had to marry her. That was the situation. In the small country town of about 1,500 or 1,600 where I grew up—where everyone knew everyone—if a girl fell pregnant, she simply got married. The marriage didn't always last, of course. But my sympathy is with the unborn child. As I said, it is not the kid's fault.

I find it appalling that there are gender abortions. A couple living together, who may be married or may not be married, might have two daughters and would like a son. So the lady falls pregnant, they have the test and it's another girl. 'We don't want another girl,' is the discussion. So they terminate the pregnancy, because they want a boy. I think that is wrong. I think to take the unborn life of their little one because they are the wrong sex is simply wrong. I do not condone that one bit. It is a sensitive issue and there is a lot of debate about it. The states, of course, make these decisions. I think later on in the pregnancy, at 22, 24, 26 weeks—there is even talk now of full-term abortions—is cruel, and I think the little ones should be given a go. If the parents do not want the child or the woman is in a situation where she has fallen pregnant through—and the situation is obvious, of course—lack of knowledge and education on contraception or whatever, then let the child live. Put the child up for adoption, because that child more than likely will have a happy life. Especially being adopted by good people, good parents, they would go ahead in life to have a good education and probably end up being a good Australian—a very good Australian, with the right education, the right upbringing and the right parenting.

I cannot see how termination of pregnancies because they are the wrong gender is acceptable. As I said, it's not the kid's fault. Give the kid a go. The kid had no say in it. I've been through a lot of these experiences, talking to constituents who've have come to me with problems and so on. My final word to them is, 'It's your decision, but just remember: it's not the kid's fault. The kid had no say; don't blame them. Give them a chance in life.' I know it's a sensitive topic, and I do understand sympathy in situations like incest, rape or threat to a lady's life.

4:26 pm

Photo of Fraser AnningFraser Anning (Queensland, Katter's Australian Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Firstly I would like to say that I'm stunned at Senator Faruqi's claim that her religion cares for women. This is a religion that has probably the worst history of abuses of women that I've ever heard of, including genital mutilation and stoning, and every woman is a second-class citizen.

However, I rise to speak on the MPI that abortion not be regulated by laws which penalise a woman's decision over her own body. How wrong can anyone be? Again and again we hear the claim that abortion is about a woman's rights over her own body, as though the child that is the subject of the action did not exist. This is simply an outright lie. The life of the unborn is a sacred trust, not an inconvenience to be disposed of. Today in Queensland the Labor Party is introducing new laws to regulate abortion of babies up to 22 weeks old, effectively as a routine means of contraception. At 22 weeks, a stillborn in Queensland gets a birth certificate, a death certificate and a funeral, which would indicate that the state believe this is a person. Babies much older than 22 weeks would also be able to be terminated with medical support. Let us be clear, what is being legislated here is nothing less than state sanctioned murder. A baby at 22 weeks is a fully-formed person and, although premature, is capable of growing to an adult and living a full and normal life. James Elgin Gill was born in Ontario, barely more than 21 weeks old, and he still survived to adulthood. In most US states if a woman was 22 weeks pregnant and was run down by a drunk driver, the drunk driver would be charged with the killing of two people, not one.

No-one disputes a woman's right to decide what happens to her body, only to decide what happens to someone else. Just because an unborn cannot speak for themselves, they are still entitled to the same rights as anyone else. Even if you've conceived them, no person should be able to own another. If the plantation owner in Antebellum South having the power of life and death over his slaves was wrong, so too is a woman having the power of life and death over a child within her body. When you choose to conceive a child, you have made a choice that endures forever.

Today in Queensland the socialist Palaszczuk government is trying to force doctors to commit abortions on babies against their own conscience. Doctors who morally object to their involvement in abortion will only be legally permitted to refuse if they can find another doctor who agrees. In compelling doctors to undertake abortions, this law by the Queensland state government actually contravenes the Hippocratic oath, which includes the phrase:

I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing. Neither will I administer a poison to anybody when asked to do so, nor will I suggest such a course. Similarly I will not give to a woman a pessary to cause abortion. But I will keep pure and holy both my life and my art.

Dating back 2,050 years, the earliest known expression of medical ethics, the Hippocratic oath, has survived the millennia only to be extinguished by the laws of the Palaszczuk government.

Why murder of the innocent is being legalised in Queensland is beyond my understanding, but I can only conclude that the state's new abortion laws are a direct result of the influence of the hard Left on the current Palaszczuk regime. I and my party condemn this immoral action by the Queensland government in the strongest terms. I pledge that if the Katter party gain the balance of power after the next Queensland election, we will insist that these heinous abortion laws are repealed. Abortion should be regulated, because the killing of the unborn is not a woman's right to choose but simply murder.

4:31 pm

Photo of Amanda StokerAmanda Stoker (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Greens will tell you that this motion, which makes reference to the pending Queensland abortion bill, is just about taking abortion out of the Criminal Code, to make it a health issue. There could not be a more dishonest smokescreen for the most radical liberalisation of abortion laws in this country. And here's why it's dishonest. There are many reasonable people who would agree with the notion that this is a sensitive issue that shouldn't be dealt with as a crime. But those same people would abhor the full reality of this bill if they were told the whole truth. That very unpalatable truth is that this bill facilitates abortion, not just in the early stages of pregnancy and not just when it's necessary to save a mother's life but all the way up to a child's due date. It facilitates the termination of children capable of survival outside of the womb. Even the most liberal-minded Queenslanders would be horrified by that prospect. But framing the matter as mere decriminalisation gives barbarism the cloak of civility.

As a society, we, quite rightly, pour resources and expertise into ensuring the viability of babies that arrive prematurely. If this bill passes it will allow termination of children well beyond that gestation point; in fact, right up to full term. It defies logic. Right-thinking Queenslanders are horrified by this prospect. So let's not pretend this is simply about moving this out of the Criminal Law. No woman has been convicted under the Queensland law for decades. Abortion is already available in circumstances of physical or medical need in Queensland. In truth, this bill is a palatable Trojan Horse inside which is hidden the most brutal abortion laws in this country.

The Queensland bill provides for abortion on demand, which means without the need for explanation, justification or medical need, up to 22 weeks gestation. But for pregnancies after 22 weeks, the sign-off of two doctors will be required, only one of which needs to see the mother in person. The doctors must determine the mother's physical, psychological or social interests. You'll note that the needs of the child are irrelevant. How can they properly determine the mother's physical, psychological or social interests? One can only imagine what constitutes a situation adverse to one's social interests. It would be a tragedy to see children losing their lives in favour of a parent's right to socialise. Clearly, the considerations made by the doctors are not merely the health of the mother, balanced against the health of a child.

Further, this bill provides no protections against abortion coercion—a manifestation of domestic violence in which a woman is forced to terminate a pregnancy by a family member. The Greens speak loudly against domestic violence in other contexts, but why not in this one? The bill doesn't allow any cooling-off period for a woman or a couple that seeks an abortion. It makes no requirement for a mother to undergo counselling before making a decision of this nature, despite the substantial body of evidence that demonstrates that, in some circumstances, serious psychological harm is inflicted by abortion upon mothers and fathers, particularly in circumstances where it is late term.

If we were really serious about women's empowerment, we would be offering a real choice to women and full information about the options available with time and counselling to support that choice—support to raise a child, even in unplanned circumstances; and support to deliver a child for adoption to one of the thousands of Australian families seeking to adopt in circumstances of their own infertility.

The bill will also enable abortion for the purposes of sex selection. It smacks of a repugnant treatment of children as accessories for adults rather than lives with their own inherent value. Further, there are no protections for the child, not even pain relief for the child being terminated, despite the abundance of evidence that late-term abortions are excruciating for the child. You want to talk about antiquated practices: well, to me, this sounds antiquated.

If we're going to talk about antiquated concepts, then let's talk about the criminal regulation of our fundamental right to free speech, religious freedom and conscientious objection that the Queensland bill will introduce. It harks back to pre-enlightenment days. The Queensland bill would establish a 150-metre exclusion zone around abortion clinics in which it would be an offence for a person to engage in conduct that relates to terminations or could reasonably be perceived as relating to a termination. Such a loose description of what is to constitute prohibited conduct puts at risk a fundamental human right to engage in free speech. For instance, prohibited conduct would not be limited to what might be seen as something reasonable like stopping harassment, abusive speech or demonstration; it would also include benign actions such as respectful conversation, provision of an information leaflet or silent prayer.

More concerning yet is that the proposed 150-metre exclusion zone would be subject to extension at the discretion of the minister. I'm deeply concerned about a minister being given unfettered discretion to declare zones the size of their choosing around abortion clinics that threaten to criminalise even the most respectful of debates around this theme. How many turned-back mothers, as they're sometimes called, would be at risk of never knowing their child under such a change? If you wanted evidence that freedom of speech was under fire in this country, you don't need to look any further.

It's ironic that these changes have been put forward under the guise of complying with international human rights obligations. Since when has it been a norm of international human rights to declare speech on a controversial topic squashed in favour of a confected human right to readily access abortion clinics? Some further try to say that abortion is a matter of women's human rights as though somehow the right to terminate a child would make us more liberated. What a false promise that is. It's about time people started thinking about what the real human rights at stake are. The fundamental human right to life is set out in article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the most important of human rights laws, and it is very clear:

Every human being has the inherent right to life. This right shall be protected by law.

Yet, further impinging on the freedom of Queenslanders would be the draft bill's effective abolition of medical practitioners' right to conscientious objection. While a doctor retains the right to refuse to perform such a procedure, they are nevertheless obliged and forced to refer a patient to another practitioner who is willing to do so. One would wonder if a doctor were to advise against an abortion yet be compelled to refer a matter on, would they be at risk of breaching the zone of silence if their practice is located in the same hospital or facility as an abortion clinic? Doctors who refuse to so refer in other jurisdictions have been referred for disciplinary action by their profession. It will disproportionately impinge upon the freedom to conscientiously object against doctors in rural and regional areas too, because there are fewer doctors available for referral.

We invest years training our doctors, teaching them to heal and save lives. Then these laws would ask them to kill babies and end their careers if they refuse.

I leave you with this thought: when we believe in a woman's right to control her body and that she deserves this right no matter where she lives, we must give her that right, even if she's still living inside her mother's womb. This is not progress and it is neither pro woman, pro child, pro family or pro freedom.

4:40 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm proud and pleased to be here today speaking about women's rights to control their own bodies, speaking about women's rights to decide for themselves whether an abortion is right for them in their own unique circumstances and speaking about the rights of all women in Australia to be able to access free, legal and safe abortions, and for abortions to be accessible in public hospitals and for abortions to be accessible for every woman who needs one. And it's my privilege to be in this place to support my colleagues, Senator Waters and Senator Faruqi, who spoke so eloquently before me, and to feel supported by them in the face of some of the most hurtful, awful, divisive, revolting rhetoric from the other side.

I speak as someone who has had an abortion, a late-term abortion. Hearing myself being accused of being a murderer by both Senator Anning and Senator Stoker hits me pretty hard. You could imagine that it's not something that is easy to take, but I know that my late-term abortion was done in a position where I was very privileged. It was supported by my medical practitioners and supported by my family. I had the privilege of being in a capital city at the best hospital. I had the privilege of having my family supporting me, and I am an empowered woman, which means that I'm used to having my rights and speaking up for them. I know that many other women don't have those rights. In this debate today, they are the women whom we need to listen to. Hearing the contributions from the senators in this place, they are not listening to women. They have their very, very strong religious views that they are imposing on women.

If you listen to women and you think about the lives and the experiences of women throughout the ages, you would know that women don't have abortions lightly. They don't do them without thinking. They think about the consequences. They think about whether it is right for them and then they make that decision. In times gone by and in states where abortion is still is not decriminalised, regardless of what the law says the women who have decided that having an abortion is what they need to do will proceed to have one. Abortions will continue to occur and that is what we need to realise in any debate about abortion. Abortions will continue to occur and it's our role, as legislators, to make sure that they occur and that women have the opportunity to have the discussion and the support of the people around them to decide whether it is right for them to choose an abortion. To the people who have strong religious convictions and say that, because of those religious convictions, they think abortion is not right, it's their choice not to have an abortion, but they should not impose that choice upon other people. Even worse, they should not impose their religious views on other people and then demonise women for having abortions.

There have been contributions going to the issues of late-term abortions and gender selection, saying that the Queensland laws will make that occur. Anybody who wants to look at the facts about late-term abortions will see that a woman having a late-term abortion has gone through a huge thought process, discussion and consideration of whether it's the right thing to do. Most of the late-term abortions are because there are issues with the development of the fetus, and that was certainly the case for mine, and yet Senator Anning and Senator Stoker are willing to stand here in this place and call me a murderer. Yes, this is a difficult issue; yes, this is a personal issue, but we need to listen to women. We need to know that abortion is something that all women should have access to if it is right for them. It is important for us in this place and in all of our state parliaments to do the legal reform that's currently going on in Queensland and that Senator Faruqi tried to make happen in New South Wales, so that all women can have access to free, legal, safe and accessible abortions.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the discussion has expired.