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Thursday, 29 March 2001
Page: 26061

Mr McCLELLAND (5:14 PM) —Before the interruption of the debate for question time I was saying that the Sex Discrimination Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2000 was a response to a single case—the McBain decision—and that is always a bad way to make law. We are winding back human rights protections in response to a decision by one judge in that case. Indeed, it is unnecessary for us to consider the matter at this point because the High Court is hearing an appeal of the decision by Mr Justice Sunberg of the Federal Court in that case on 30 April or thereabouts. It is entirely premature.

One wonders why the government have brought on the bill at this stage after the initial drama of trying to politicise the ALP conference. This bill was on the list of bills to be debated just about every week until the end of 2000. Then, for some reason, it evaporated. We then saw a string of election losses suffered by the government. This week we saw the treaties issue—the Convention on the Rights of the Child—cranked up in the Senate and we saw the sex discrimination bill brought in. Again, the government are playing high-risk strategy here. They are looking for scapegoats. They are trying to show their superiority and they are trying to enlist the support of those who would be inclined to support the One Nation element in the election. They are trying to enlist the support of that sort of ideology by looking for scapegoats. Between now and the election we are going to hear a constant assault on Aboriginals, refugees and homosexuals. That will be a mantra of this government—rather than leading the country and saying, `Look, you have to have your frameworks in place to deal with issues that affect minorities.' Rather than bringing Australians together and working out solutions to issues—in this case, assisted reproductive technology, with very complex moral and social issues—the government are simply winding back human rights.

I asked the library to do a bit of research for me on the countries that had researched this area and adopted courses of action. The United Kingdom has considered the issue. Indeed, Canada had a royal commission. France has had several inquiries. All have taken action. Which of those countries have taken action by simply winding back human rights? None. Of course they have not wound back human rights, and why? Because it is futile. It does not address the issue on a national basis and, as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission said in its evidence to the Senate inquiry examining this bill, to wind back human rights itself is dangerous but to do it on a basis that is fragmented around the nation is absolutely crazy. To determine whether women have access to assisted reproductive technology in a nation as a result of their postcode is totally absurd and does not acknowledge the factors that you should rationally consider.

I spoke earlier of the British model, for instance. I went through the sorts of things that they are compelled to consider under that model. These are rational things that we should consider. For example, the person seeking access to IVF treatment is considered. They consider their commitment, obviously, to having and bringing up a child or children; their ability to provide a stable and supportive environment for any child produced as a result of the treatment; their ages and likely future ability to look after and provide for the child's needs; their ability to meet the needs of any child or children who may be born as a result of treatment—multiple births would obviously be a factor when you are considering this technology—and any risk of harm to a child as a result of things such as inherited disorders. These are all logical things which we should be debating and considering. We should be conferring with Australians on the sorts of criteria that we as a nation want to apply, but we are not. We are simply looking at bashing a particular sector of society—namely, single women.

If any person on the other side of the House can tell me what rights this bill creates for any child, I will listen. They cannot. This bill does not create any rights for any child. What it does is enable the state and territory governments to deprive certain people of very important rights. Those certain people just happen to be single women. Why is that important? Why is that crucial and something to be concerned about? Because we are all aware that, in the areas of family planning and female health, there are controversial issues and people have very strong views on how they should be resolved. But this bill does not even scratch the surface of how they should be resolved. It simply says, `Single women have no rights.' This is the first time in 26 years that a government of Australia has wound back human rights, and we are doing it now because an election is approaching. That is all we are talking about. There is no doubt about that. Quite frankly, women on the other side of the House should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. They should be disgusted at the situation that they have got themselves into.

The other point that has been raised in this debate—and it is not fanciful—is this: once you start the process of winding back rights, because of the values of a male dominated parliament, where do you go? Do you go back to the days before 1983? We can remember that the banking and insurance industries had a policy that married women would not be employed. Indeed, towards the 1980s there was some liberalisation of their procedures and they would enable them to remain on as temporary employees after they were married, but only until they became pregnant—then they were out the door.

A number of local councils prohibited married women being employed. Council mayors said that was because their policy was that women should be in the home. It was not all on the conservative side of politics. For instance, the Barrier Industrial Council at Broken Hill had similar views before 1983. Do we wind back human rights because of the value judgments of male dominated parliaments that there is a certain place for women? As soon as you start treading on that territory you start having your feet fall through but, worse than that, the rights of women, particularly in this case, are going to be rent asunder.

What are we talking about? We are talking about very expensive procedures. The Senate committee report, for those who are interested, went through the difficulties of women becoming pregnant as a result of this treatment and the number of procedures required, at a cost of about $3,000 to $5,000 per cycle. Most couples try about eight of these procedures before they become pregnant. It is a tremendous cost. As the committee found, Medicare does not cover the cost of this procedure for single women. If a single woman wants to utilise this technology and go through the physical trauma, the mental anguish and the enormous expense of these procedures—we are not talking about a situation where someone is being frivolous—she must fund it herself. Certainly there has been no evidence presented to me or none revealed in the media or anywhere else that any of the 150 single women who have accessed this treatment during the last year have sought to claim social security benefits from the service. Because this legislation is fundamentally framed in the Sex Discrimination Act, we are not looking at these issues rationally.

In summary, we have to be national leaders, bringing people together and putting in structures for a national framework for resolving complex moral and social issues. This government is not about that; it is about creating division. I move:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"the House

(1) condemns the Government for introducing a bill which is:

(a) discriminatory and socially divisive;

(b) a completely inadequate response to the complex ethical, social and economic issues involved in the development and use of assisted reproductive technologies; and

(c) totally ignores other areas involving the care and upbringing of children where similar issues and principles are raised; and

(2) calls on the Government to implement the strong and unanimous recommendations of the Australian Health Ethics Committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council to establish a national framework to regulate the provision and development of assisted reproductive technology (ART) services which should include:

(a) mechanisms to evaluate, assess and prioritise the provision of ART services, including providing necessary criteria to protect, as a primary consideration, the interests of children who may be born from the use of ART as well as the interests of donors and those persons seeking to use ART;

(b) measures to ensure that any child born as a result of the use of ART is able to identify and locate his or her biological parents;

(c) adequate facilities and resources for medical practitioners to obtain expert advice and guidance on the complex ethical, social and economic issues involved in the use of ART; and

(d) procedures to monitor and review the use of ART to ensure that the benefits of ART to participants are balanced with the interests of society as a whole".

(Time expired)

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl)—Is the amendment seconded?

Mr Tanner —I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.