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Prime Minister discusses IVF for single women and the right of children to have a mother and a father.



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3 August 2000

TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP RADIO INTERVIEW WITH JOHN LAWS, 2UE

Subjects: IVF and Sex Discrimination Act

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

LAWS:

Prime Minister good morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning John.

LAWS:

Did you ever anticipate the debate that your announcement would create?

PRIME MINISTER:

I thought it would generate some debate but I don’t know that I gave a lot of thought to the amount of debate. I was interested in upholding and the government was interested in upholding what it saw as an important principle and that is the rights of children in these circumstances, and that was our dominant motivation.  I don’t know what the end of the legislation will be. I hope in the end the Labor Party supports it. I just don’t know what’s going to happen but we think it’s reasonable that States that want to legislate to limit this facility to married people or women living with men in defacto relationships we think that’s a reasonable thing to want to do and that’s why we took the decision we did.

LAWS:

Can you tell me this - do you believe that IVF treatment should be available only to those people who have some medical difficulty in conceiving child and not some social difficulty?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it’s hard sometimes to draw the line between those two things and I as a non-medical person would begin to stray into a medical area in endeavouring to do that.  It’s a very important, very difficult procedure, I understand that.  It’s a very expensive procedure.  And I don’t think it’s unreasonable of governments to seek to put limitations on its availability.  I mean you’re opening up I guess another way of looking at it.  I think it is probably simpler from a public policy point of view to say that well, it’s a community service because the taxpayer is funding it.  Is it reasonable to limit it to people in circumstances where the children conceived have a reasonable prospect other things being equal of having the care and love and affection of both a mother and a father?

LAWS:

Yeah. Could I ask you what you mean when you say ‘other things being equal’?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well sometimes you can be born into a family and your father gets killed.

LAWS:

Oh yes, okay.

PRIME MINISTER:

Or the marriage breaks up and the father turns out or the mother turns out to be totally disinterested in you.  Look I don’t have any idealised view of family life in the 21 st century.  There are a lot of happy families and there are a lot of people who don’t come from happy families.  There are a lot of people who grow up in single parent families where the mother or the father, usually the mother, do a magnificent job on their own and I have nothing but admiration for them.  But you must always as a government have some kind of benchmark.  And the benchmark should surely be that all things being equal people have the prospect of the care and affection of both a mother and a father.  And it’s beyond argument that it’s valuable for people to have the role model of both a mother and a father if that’s possible, and of course the circumstances where we’re looking at it’s simply not by definition possible and that is why we’re taking the attitude that we do.  We’re not seeking to punish people for a lifestyle choice but we are saying that it’s reasonable for the community to have a benchmark and that benchmark is based on a concern about the interests of children.

LAWS:

I find areas of this very confusing in as much as adoption laws have been changed to allow children, adopted children, to discover their real parents because it was considered important from a family point of view for people to understand……

[break in interview]

LAWS:

Prime Minister are you there?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yes I am, I’m on a car phone going out to visit the Primary School I attended almost fifty years ago as part of education week here in NSW, and I’m sorry it dropped out.

LAWS:

That’s all right.  It couldn’t have been that long ago Prime Minister could it?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well, it’s a primary school.

LAWS:

Okay, just back to this IVF debate.  I talked last night to Professor Karl Wood and he surprisingly had a very liberal view about this and he was firmly of the belief, that homosexual couple are equally as competent in bringing up children, can give as much love and I’m sure you’d agree with that, because people are homosexual….

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah, I don’t take the view that homosexual couples aren’t capable of total love and affection.  That’s not the issue.  That is really not the issue at all and I know people who are trying to criticise what I’ve done, have tried to make that the issue and are inferring that I’m sort of against them.  I mean what people’s private sexual preferences are is a matter entirely for them and I just remind you that when the former Labor government sought to override the anti homosexual laws in Tasmania I supported them because I took the view that those laws were unfair and they did discriminate.  Now, we are not dealing with that, we are dealing here with the rights of a child, not the lack of affection or the level of affection of people who are

homosexual, that’s not the issue.

LAWS:

It’s your belief I know that the rights of the child should be paramount, that the rights of the child are more important than the rights of the parents because if a couple, be they homosexual or heterosexual decide on whim that it would be a good idea to have a child, that doesn’t mean that they automatically have the right to do it, anymore than they have the automatic right to be able to fly to London.  I mean things don’t happen automatically in this world do they?

PRIME MINISTER:

No they don’t, but of course when you are dealing with children who are born in to a situation by definition and unqualifiedly, they have no control over those circumstances do they.  Therefore, it’s not unreasonable of communities to have certain benchmarks about what is possible in relation to the circumstances into which they’re born.  And what we’re arguing is that it’s part of the right of a child born in to this world to have the possibility, the expectation, as I said a moment ago all things being equal of a mother and a father.  Now people will disagree with that, but that is the basis on which our decision has been taken.  It’s not a basis of discrimination against, it’s a basis of a positive assertion of the entitlement of children to have the expectation of a mother and a father.  Now there will be circumstances that will deny them of course…

LAWS:

Of course.

PRIME MINISTER:

..the fulfilment of that expectation, but that’s something over which no government and no society can have any control but at least it ought to try and legislate in a way where the possibility is there if all things are equal, that’s the basis of our position.

LAWS:

And another fact that confuses me is that adoption laws were changed to allow children who are adopted by others to discover their real parents and it was considered to be important, that they should be able to know who their mother and their father in fact was and that facility is now open to them, but of course a child born under the circumstances involving IVF, if it was a single parent or a lesbian couple would never ever be able to find out who their father was.

PRIME MINISTER:

I mean, that in a sense reinforces the point I make.  I haven’t thought of that.  I take your point.  There was of course a lot of debate some years ago when those laws were changed and I understand the arguments in favour of changing them.  I also understood some of the arguments against.  But the view prevailed that people had an undeniable right to know this.  Now you make a very valid point in relation to IVF, absolutely valid and that does reinforce the point I make.

LAWS:

Sure.  Under existing arrangements, anybody who undergoes IVF treatment is eligible for a Medicare rebate.  Isn’t there a bit of a contradiction?  You are trying to preserve bans on IVF treatments for singles and lesbians in some states and yet you’re prepared, not you directly, but the system is prepared to fund those who undergo fertility treatment in other states?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well the difficulty, and we looked briefly at the Medicare thing that the difficulty of that is that if you use the Medicare funding as the vehicle for trying to prevent IVF being made available to certain people you end up discriminating against the less well off in the community because there’ll be people who, if the only criterion is whether you can afford it with or without Medicare, well some people can afford it, others can’t.  I don’t think that is

fair and we would quite legitimately be accused of discriminating against the poor wouldn’t we?

LAWS:

We would.  Could I ask you if you can spare a minute?  I’d just like you to hear what Professor Woods said.

PRIME MINISTER:

Sure.

LAWS:

I just hope the phone doesn’t break up in between. 

PRIME MINISTER:

So do I.

LAWS:

But if you can listen to this for me Prime Minister.

PROFESSOR WOODS:

Well I certainly supported the change in the law because we for some time have had a lot of single women, quite a lot of lesbians who’ve come to us wanting to have children and the studies of children from lesbians, there’ve been extensive studies in the United States, show that their children are just the same as heterosexual children in health, physical development, intellectual development, racial stability.  And also the interesting thing is their children are no more likely to be homosexual than heterosexual couples.  And I think you’ve got to recognise that even in normal marriages where people have a legal certificate there are many males that don’t play an effective proper role.  I think the main emphasis is on a loving caring couple irrespective of their legal situation.

LAWS:

But surely it’s more refreshing to know that there is a father there than the fact that there is no father there?

WOODS:

Well it is in the normal way we look at family but I still think the idea of a family may gradually broaden.  There needs to be more study but it’s quite possible, I know quite a few lesbians, that two women may well be better than a man and a women in rearing children.  Certainly in some cases.

LAWS:

Prime Minister did you hear that?

PRIME MINISTER:

Yeah I heard that and there’s nothing entirely surprising, nothing in that surprised me I mean about the gentleman in question.  But that’s an argument I’ve heard and in a sense it doesn’t really alter this debate because this debate is not as I say about the fact that people living in a homosexual relationship can’t be loving or affectionate towards children or to each other.  I mean that is not part of the Government’s position at all.  But the view the Government takes is that you know all things being equal it is better for a child to have the opportunity of a relationship with both a male and a female parent.  A mother and a father.  Now you can express it in all sorts of different ways but in the end you come back to that.  And we have to ask ourselves as a society whether we think that goal, that objective, that ideal if you like is worth preserving, is worth trying to achieve.  Now of course there are plenty of marriages that fail.  There are plenty of indifferent fathers and a fewer number but none the less, too large a number of perhaps indifferent mothers as well.  But the great bulk of parents in our society do

their damnedest and do a terrific job.  And we tend in all of these debates to focus on the failures rather than the successes.  And the great bulk of parental relationships are extremely successful and children do benefit from the role models of both a mother and a father.  Now it’s just a question of whether you have the belief that that kind of benchmark should be there or not.  Now if people don’t well they won’t agree with what the Government has done.  If they do well they will understand why we’ve done it and they’ll see it’s not an exercise in discriminating against homosexuals or homosexuality or not a lack of sensitivity to the value they attach to their lifestyle, that’s not the issue at all.  It’s a question of whether you think you should be saying to a community that it’s an important right of a child to have the possibility, the expectation, other things being equal of the care and affection of both a mother and a father.  And nothing that is said and has been said can sort of in a way get away from that fundamental point.

LAWS:

Okay I appreciate your time Prime Minister I hope you have a good day.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you nice talking to you.

LAWS:

I hope you have some fond memories when you see the primary school. 

PRIME MINISTER:

I will. 

LAWS:

Okay.

 [Ends]

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