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Thursday, 25 September 2014
Page: 7089


Senator CAROL BROWN (Tasmania) (11:45): I rise to speak as an individual senator on the Health Insurance Amendment (Medicare Funding for Certain Types of Abortion) Bill 2013 and also to touch on the discussion that has been happening in the course of this debate about talking this bill out. I certainly do not come in here to talk this bill out; I come in here to put my view forward, as each and every senator has a right to do. At 9.30 this morning, I thought we were going to be talking about the Fair Trade (Australian Standards) Bill 2013. Then the Order of Business was changed to accommodate Senator Madigan's private senator's bill, which was supported by the Labor Party. I very strongly support senators having the opportunity to put their views forward, particularly on private senators' bills, because there is a lot of interest in those bills.

But, as we know in this place, our time is organised around Senate business. We have meetings, committee meetings and meetings with constituents who come here to talk to us. So we organise our time around Senate business. I believe that every senator should have the opportunity to speak to the bill if they want to take that up. Many senators would not have been aware that the Order of Businesswas going to change. I just wanted to put that on the record.

This bill seeks to amend the Health Insurance Act 1973 by inserting a new section to remove Medicare funding for abortions procured on the basis of gender. Like every senator whom I have heard speak in this debate this morning, I too want to make it clear that I strongly oppose terminations based solely on gender. However, I do not support this bill. This bill, I believe, is an attempt to erode the right of women to make choices about their own bodies and to reignite a debate about abortion. If those who support this bill are truly concerned about the occurrence of gender-based abortion in Australia—and I do not believe there is an issue about gender-based abortion in Australia—rather than seeking a solution through the law, they should challenge that stereotype or discrimination based on gender. This bill will not achieve it nor does it seek to achieve it. Instead, we need to continue to work to eradicate sex discrimination. We should support policies and programs that promote gender equality. This must include action to address violence against women. This must also include fair representation of women in all areas—in the boardroom, in the media and in the government. I believe that women have the right to make decisions about their own bodies and I believe that access to safe and legal abortion is a fundamental aspect of this right.

We have already heard about the 2011 interagency report titled Preventing gender-biased sex selection, which was issued by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations Children's Fund, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and the World Health Organization. That report rightly states that the practice of gender selection is discriminatory and generally prejudices towards the girl child and women. I absolutely believe that it is critical that we take action to address prejudice and discrimination based on gender. However, I also believe that this is not what this bill is about nor is it an appropriate means of addressing such inequality.

The Finance and Public Administration Committee conducted an inquiry into the bill in June last year. The inquiry was chaired by Senator Helen Polley. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend or participate in that inquiry. In evidence to that inquiry, the Australian Medical Association stated:

…the interagency statement offers a range of recommendations for addressing the issues and does not recommend denying financial assistance for legal medical procedures.

The AMA pointed to this interagency statement in its submission, in particular:

It is clear that, while intending to affect a common good, restrictive laws and policies implemented in isolation from efforts to change the social norms and structures can have unintended harsh consequences, and may violate the human rights of women.

The AMA went on to say: 'There is a wide agreement that the causes of biased sex selection lie in gender-based discrimination and that combating such discrimination requires changing social norms and empowering girls and women.'

We must take effective and necessary actions to promote equality and empower women and girls to bring an end to discrimination. But this bill will not achieve this; in fact, I believe that the bill will disempower women. This bill puts women's rights at risk and all for reasons based on ideology rather than the evidence of any real problem, which as I have said I do not believe exists in Australia and has also been mentioned many times in some of the contributions that have been given here this morning.

In bringing this bill to the Senate, Senator Madigan asserted that gender-based abortions are happening in Australia. However, I do not believe that there was evidence presented to prove this assertion in his second reading speech or throughout the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee inquiry into the bill. Put simply, as others have said in this debate, there is no evidence that terminations are being performed in Australia based on gender. In their evidence to the Finance and Public Administration Committee inquiry on the bill, Liberty Victoria stated:

We believe that changing access to Medicare for abortions in Australia because of cultural biases and practices occurring in other countries is inexcusably bad public policy.

I believe this bill acts as a blunt instrument. In evidence to the same inquiry, Reproductive Choice Australia argued that gender selective terminations cannot be disguised, and cited evidence of skewed gender ratios in China and India. On this point, Women's Health Victoria also pointed out that Australia's sex ratio at birth is 105.7 male births over 100 female births— (Time expired)