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House of Representatives passes legislation on abortion drug RU486

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Thursday 16 February 2006

House of Representatives passes legislation on abortion drug RU486


MARK COLVIN: After two days of emotional, and at times very personal debate th e Federal Parliament has cleared the way for the abortion pill RU-486 to become available in Australia. 


In a rare conscience vote, the House of Representatives passed a Private Members' Bill removing the Health Minister's right to veto the drug. 


That will leave final approval with the scientists at Australia's medicines assessment body, the Therapeutic Goods Administration. 


In the end the bill was passed on the voices, after the Prime Minister indicated he didn't favour a division. 


The bill's supporters expect RU-486 to be approved for use in this country within a year. 


From Canberra Peta Donald reports. 


PETA DONALD: After days of passionate speeches for and against the Private Members' Bill, it was finally time for the conscience vote, a vote that was always expected to be close. 


SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The question now is that this bill be agreed to. All those of that opinion say "aye". 


MP: "Aye" 


SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The contrary "no". 




SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think the ayes have it.  


(Murmurs from the House) 


Division required? 


PETA DONALD: With a nod from the Prime Minister, there was no division. The bill carried on the voices. 


SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This bill has been agreed to.  


PETA DONALD: Despite attempts to avoid it, it had been a de facto debate on the divisive issue of abortion, and with it suddenly all over, Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull scrambled to make sure his position was known. 


MALCOLM TURNBULL: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I just want to record that I support the amendments having been defeated. I support the bill. That can just be recorded.  


SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I thank the Parliamentary Secretary and that will be noted.  


PETA DONALD: There had been a clear sign of the result when two attempts to amend the bill, to give the final say on the abortion pill to the Parliament, after approval from the TGA failed convincingly, although not without arguments put strongly on both sides.  


Liberal MP Steve Ciobo. 


STEVE CIOBO: I strongly urge all members to get behind the amendment put by the Member for Bowman. It's a considered amendment, it's one that enables us to take the very best advice from the TGA.  


But it also ensures that supreme in the decision making is the will of the Australian people and we as representatives of the Australian people should be the final arbiters on these very facts.  


(Hear, hear.)  


PETA DONALD: Labor's Health Spokeswoman Julia Gillard argued against giving the Parliament a final veto.  


JULIA GILLARD: People would be coming up to this dispatch box and putting their views on abortion and I don't think a disallowance procedure should be set in law, which means that we re-fight the abortion debate inappropriately in this Parliament, time after time. I don't think that's right.  


PETA DONALD: And as we now know, her view prevailed.  


A final plea from the Prime Minister, in his contribution to the debate on the bill failed to sway enough last minute votes. 


JOHN HOWARD: There is just a whiff in this whole debate of this being a little too difficult and controversial so let's give it to somebody else. Now, I'm disappointed, may I say, in that attitude, because in the end we are elected to make decisions on difficult issues.  


Life can be very difficult, it can be complicated, it's never simple. And I do worry about a proposition which says, well, we get this difficult issue so let's give it to some experts. But in the end, on an issue like this, aren't we with proper advice, as expert as anybody else? 


(Hear, hear.)  


PETA DONALD: John Howard said it had been a good debate, something the Opposition leader agreed with. But when it came to his position on the bill, Kim Beazley had a different view. 


KIM BEAZLEY: They by their scientific expertise are vastly more likely to arrive at correct conclusions about these matters than anybody in this Chamber and it should be appropriately left for them. 


I have heard statements made by people from time to time in the debate that these are bureaucrats taking these decisions. These aren't bureaucrats! They're not bureaucrats on the TGA, they're scientists! 


PETA DONALD: There was much condemnation for what Mr Howard called offensive remarks about the Catholic beliefs of the Health Minister Tony Abbott. But it was Mr Abbott who made perhaps the strongest comments over the last two days, last night likening abortion to murder. 


Tonight Mr Abbott is silent, his office issuing a statement that says he's disappointed the bill has passed, but he's confident the TGA will exercise its additional responsibilities with the utmost professionalism. 


The four women Senators who initiated the bill - a Liberal, Labor, Democrat and National had been on the floor of the Chamber for the final result. Liberal Senator Judith Troeth says she feels euphoric. 


JUDITH TROETH: Personally, I'm very happy that we have been able to mount a strong argument based on logic and reason against a very emotional argument and actually win what is a very important vote for choice for Australian women and their families. It meant a lot to me.  


PETA DONALD: As it did for the Democrats Leader Lyn Allison. 


LYN ALLISON: I've personally enjoyed working with my Senate colleagues and I think we've had a very productive relationship and one that I hope goes on to fix up a few more problems that there might be for women, if I can put it that way.  


MARK COLVIN: Democrats Leader Lyn Allison ending that report from Peta Donald.