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Tuesday, 8 September 2009
Page: 8949


Mr WOOD (7:13 PM) —On Monday this week I went down to Old Parliament House, where I was met by over 1,000 protesters who were greatly concerned at the changes for the medical indemnity insurance for midwives, which will prevent midwives from providing care outside a clinical setting by restricting their access to insurance. I say right from the outset that this is an absolute disgrace.

It was quite amazing to see these protesters standing there in the rain—the majority were ladies, a number were actually pregnant, and there were a number with babies and small children—most without umbrellas, getting soaked for the simple reason that they deserve the right to choose how they wish to have a baby. That is an absolute disgrace.

I would like to mention some of my local residents. Jacinta Munn, Iznaya Kennedy, Narelle Key, Melanie Cane, Karyn Peverill and Donna Sheppard-Wright were amongst the 100 from my electorate who attended the protest. I have been a member of parliament for five years, and there were a number of very contentious issues faced by us in government and there are a number that we face now in opposition. I have never seen so many people from my electorate visit Parliament House to have their voices heard on one issue. Why did they come? Because the Rudd Labor government would deny them the right to choose the method of delivering their children. The Rudd Labor government is denying women the choice of how they have their babies. It is just ludicrous.

I have been a strong supporter of the rights of families to choose homebirths since day one. Last October I attended the mothers and babies family picnic hosted by the Homebirths in the Hills group in support of homebirths. I met parents including Carolyn and Serge Charles, Tom Murdoch, Jan Deany, Gypsy O’Dea, Jade Leak, Kate Schultz, Sharizaar O’Heart, Linden Holder and Margaret Duncan, to name a few. I listened to their incredible stories of giving birth in their own home, with their loved ones surrounding them and a caring midwife on hand to provide assistance.

The Health Legislation Amendment (Midwives and Nurse Practitioners) Bill 2009 and related legislation will force women into overcrowded public hospitals and strip them of their right to choose the best method of birth for them. That is their choice, not a government’s. It is a personal choice, and it is not a decision they take lightly. The federal Labor government claim they are acting in the best interests of mothers and their children. However, what they are actually doing is taking away mothers’ choice and turning Australia into a nanny state. It is not the government’s right to decide how a mother should deliver a baby; it is the mother’s.

Last Friday the government dished up a half-baked backflip to midwives and parents by exempting homebirth practitioners from needing to have indemnity insurance until June 2012. However, after June 2012, without proper intervention from the government by subsidising medical indemnity insurance for midwives, their geese will be cooked. The costs of getting indemnity insurance are prohibitively high for independent midwives, meaning that many will not be able to assist in homebirths. The Minister for Health and Ageing has admitted that requirements to have insurance could force many practitioners underground. That is the minister’s view.

Midwives who practise without registration could face a maximum penalty of $30,000, so the cost of practising homebirths without a licence is extremely high. Either way, the costs are too great, meaning that this option is effectively off the table for thousands of Australian women. Cynically, the government are pretending they are supporting the midwives by saying, ‘If you get insurance, you can practise and help deliver babies at home,’ knowing damn well midwives will never be able to get that insurance in the first place. And, if you do try to do it without insurance, you will get slugged $30,000. Why would the government ever consider this a way to treat mothers-to-be?

Providing an exemption for midwives until June 2012 is simply a stalling tactic. The government are delaying making a decision about the future of homebirths until after the next election. They are treating Australian women with contempt, hoping that their anger will subside over the next two years. I tell the minister and the Rudd Labor government this: the women who travelled 800 kilometres from my electorate of La Trobe and the thousands of women who travelled thousands of kilometres from across Australia to stand in the pouring rain to have their voices heard are outraged by the government’s proposed changes. Many have written to me about how concerned they are, and they will not let the government forget. I can tell the minister now: when I met the mothers down at Old Parliament House, even after the government’s decision on Friday, they were not happy.

For some women, giving birth in a hospital is not an option. They may live quite far away from the nearest hospital or may feel uncomfortable in the hospital environment. For others, it is a choice made to ensure that their child is born into a loving and peaceful setting and provides some comfort from the stress and noise of a hospital environment. Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand are amongst the many countries that publicly fund homebirths. A homebirth is not the best option for every mother-to-be, but to deny every woman the right to choose a homebirth will place even more pressure on our already underfunded public hospitals. No-one wants to see babies’ health jeopardised. However, for the majority of risk free pregnancies homebirth is a safe alternative method to hospital admittance. This is about ensuring women have control over their bodies and a choice in the way their child is brought into the world. It is not the government’s right; it is the mother’s right.