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Thursday, 10 May 1973
Page: 1989


Mr ENDERBY (Australian Capital Territory) (Minister for the Capital Territory and Minister for the Northern Territory) - I thank you for the call, Mr Speaker. I will keep my remarks short because I know that other honourable members wish to be heard and I am mindful of your own thoughts in that regard. I have no prepared speech to make. I will adopt what I sense was the method of presentation adopted by the honourable member for Casey (Mr Mathews) and the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Turner) and not be so much an advocate* for the cause- which I accept or believe - but rather try to describe the problem as I see it. Indeed, I have been identified, I believe, with this issue for some time and I can only repeat things that I have said before and which probably are well known.


Sir John Cramer - Why did you not bring in the Bill yourself?


Mr SPEAKER - Order! I have appealed to all honourable members to hear speakers in silence.


Mr ENDERBY - 1 should like to put some opening remarks as part of the backdrop of the scene as I see it. I would urge upon honourable members the view that we live in a pluralist society. It is a society that should, as it is developing, place a high emphasis on tolerance and accept divergent points of view in the community. As far as is possible people with one point of view should not insist that their points of view be followed and accepted by other people. One group should not have to live by the standards of another. It seems to me that this debate highlights that issue. I should also like to put another thought which goes back to the 19th century in British philosophical thinking and criminology thinking. I refer to the thoughts of Jeremy Bentham, the school of utilitarianism, Picaria in Italy, Mill and Romilly - that school which led to the great reforms of the 19th century in the United Kingdom. This is the school of thought that started with the proposition that all criminal law on the face of it is bad and can be justified only if it seeks to overcome a social evil. In other words, put in different ways, they said one legislates to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number. It was utility they sought to bring about in their somewhat primitive attempts at scientific legislation. If one applies those tests here one sees the existing law as being criminal.

In answer to a question from an honourable member the other day I said that it was remarkable that a criminal offence could bring 10 years imprisonment in the Australian Capital Territory and a life sentence in the Northern Territory. Those are maximum terms of course. The laws are unenforceable. What social cost does society pay for having these unenforceable laws on its statute book? The honourable member for Casey talked about 120,000 people who might be aborted every year. I do not think anyone knows the precise number. It is often said that the number is 100,000 while some say it is lower. It depends on which side of the fence one sits. If one is trying to make a good case for one side of the argument one puts the figure high, for the other side one puts the figure low. This is the difficulty of the situation. I am sure that every honourable member here has known women who at some stage in their life have found themselves in the situation of considering abortion. I am sure every honourable member has known women who have decided to have an abortion and some who could not have one perhaps because of fear. Many honourable members would know the social cost in terms of neuroses when women for one reason or another do not have an abortion. Perhaps it is because of fear of the consequences and the pain and suffering they would undergo.

We also know in terms of social cost what this unenforceable law produces in the form of pressure on policemen who are called upon to enforce what is an unenforceable law. Those honourable members who have had experience with the law must know this. We have seen it referred to in the report of the Committee of Inquiry into the Victorian police force. One honourable member referred earlier to the corruption in high places in the Victoria police force which can result from the temptations and the pressures that this sort of law places upon police officers. Anyone who has had experience of the New South Wales police courts knows that this occurs in New South Wales. I do not want it to occur in the courts of the Australian Capital Territory as the Territory grows bigger. So there is that sort of cost. There is also the inequality of the present system. A woman who is educated, who can gain access to good advice through a sympathetic doctor, coupled with financial means, who can shop around for the right doctor can have an abortion or, if you like, terminate her pregnancy or procure a miscarriage. It can be done. She can fly to Japan if she wants to do so or to the United States of America.


Dr Klugman - Hong Kong.


Mr ENDERBY - Or Hong Kong, I am reminded by an honourable member. The poor woman who is not so well informed and who does not have the money, cannot do any of these things and worries herself sick as does the man who is involved with her, and her parents and her family. The present situation works in that way. This Bill seeks to do away with that. The sentiments I am expressing have already been reflected in different ways by the United States Supreme Court which in, I think, a 5 to 2 majority decision - this kind of issue reflects a divided community - brought down a 3 part decision on how this problem should be treated, in much the same way as this Bill seeks to do, firstly, on request up to a certain number of weeks; after that a second period because a degree of viability has been achieved and in that case a different and more difficult test has to be satisfied; and after that a much more difficult test to satisfy. It seems to me that that accords eminently with common sense for those people who do not accept that it is murder. I accept that there are people in the community who do think in that way. I do not, and I feel confident that a lot of honourable members on both sides of this House also do not feel that it is murder. It is a dishonest argument to suggest that it is murder. It brings emotion into the debate and into the argument. The Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) has been called a murderer. I have been called a murderer. What sort of argument is that?

I am mindful of your caveat on time, Mr Speaker, but I come back to the fundamental issue which I do not think any of us is prepared to accept at this stage - what can be loosely called the civil liberties issue. If a responsible woman, accepting that we live in a pluralist society, wants to have a pregnancy terminated at an early stage why on earth should she not have it done? Is she not the best judge? If she is forced to carry the child because of some specious argument that it can be adopted out, what sort of penalty is that to impose on her, that she has to carry this foetus, to use a word, until it becomes viable and is born and then give it to someone else? What sort of a penalty does that place on her to make her do that? Why on earth should she not be allowed to terminate the pregnancy at some reasonable time? Yet the level of the debate that has been waged in the community is such that abortion on request, which should be the simplest, most honest, cleanest and best way to describe the situation, has been made into a dirty expression as though it were a crime. We insist that she go to a psychiatrist. We know the figures in this respect in the Australian Capital Territory. I think 70 per cent of abortions are done on psychiatric evidence. A woman can complain of a few headaches and things like that and if she has a sympathetic psychiatrist the abortion can be done with assistance and sympathy. There is a double standard all the time.

There is a sign on the lawns across the way belonging to one of the groups - I can imagine which one it is - which says: 'You don't need a psychiatrist to have a vasectomy'. Is that not a reminder of what the honourable member for Bradfield said, that we sit here as men making decisions for women when there is not a woman amongst us? I accept the division of opinion in the community on this issue. However, surely we have reached the stage in a pluralist society - I am using that word in the best sense - involving tolerance of different points of view, a society in which those who take a different view should not force their view on people who support abortion on request or the liberalisation of abortion laws. I am not opposed to the inquiry. It is probably a good idea. I do not see it as in any way an excuse. I support the Bill.







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