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Senator Harradine discusses his reasons for opposing the National Health and Medical Research Council's recommendations in relation to abortion; comments briefly on cross-media ownership and the 10-point Wik plan

KERRY O'BRIEN: Such is the nature of the Australian Senate these days, that Brian Harradine is rarely far from the headlines. In fact, over the years, he's probably attracted more column inches than all other Senators from Tasmania put together - at least in modern times. Over the years, he's learnt to extract maximum benefit for his single vote, but it's never been worth more than it is today.

Until the fate of Senator Mal Colston is finally determined, the Howard Government needs Senator Harradine to secure the passage of a number of controversial items of legislation like cross-media laws, John Howard's Wik plan, even a possible new charter for the ABC.

This week he's in the news again over a paper on termination of pregnancy published by the National Health and Medical Research Council. The paper recommends a number of measures in relation to abortion that Senator Harradine finds offensive. It's been reported that he's been one of several people who lobbied to have its publications suppressed, a claim he's denied; and Senator Harradine joins me now from Hobart.

Brian Harradine, I know that you have denied having spoken to the Minister for Health to have this NHMRC paper suppressed. Did you try to put any pressure on the NHMRC itself?

BRIAN HARRADINE: When the committee was appointed I publicly criticised the appointment of the committee because it was biased, and you could only get a biased report out of it. And I did that before the Senate Estimates Committee because I was interested in the expenditure of scarce medical research monies - taxpayers' monies - on the setting up of a committee - 'an expert committee' - which almost all of whom were pro-abortion and many of whom where associated with the industry. I thought that was a waste of taxpayers' money and said so then.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And their argument is that it was the first such review since about 1937.

BRIAN HARRADINE: Yes, but you could have had some balance, couldn't you, and no wonder the National Health and Medical Research Council, without any influence by me, I can assure you - not that I'd have any influence - had decided that this wasn't a report that really met the strict research criteria, if you're looking at ethical and legal matters as well.

KERRY O'BRIEN: So did you in fact maintain pressure, as best you could, over the course of that committee's work, and then after the report was written?

BRIAN HARRADINE: No, I didn't as a matter of fact because ... I haven't actually seen the report and I am happy - well, when I say I am happy, I think it's a waste of money, but I'd be interested to see the final report. I believe it's not much different from the draft. Is that so?

KERRY O'BRIEN: As I understand it, except that it's taken off the imprimatur, if you like, of the NHMRC on the front, on the actual front.

But one of the recommendations that I believe you are opposed to is that the Government should revisit, should review progress on the morning-after pill, RU486 - I think it is.

BRIAN HARRADINE: No, RU486 isn't the so-called PCC....

KERRY O'BRIEN: There are the two, yes.

BRIAN HARRADINE: Yes. RU486 is a dangerous steroid and I certainly don't want to see Australian women used as guinea pigs for that particular dangerous steroid's application here.

KERRY O'BRIEN: This wasn't suggesting its release, it was simply suggesting that reviewing it should be reopened.

BRIAN HARRADINE: No, the experiments are going on in various places in the world. It's a Roussel-Uclaf French drug, and even in France, patients who are, or women who are asked to take the drug, are asked to stay within a cooee of a cardiac hospital because of the cardiac problems and various other serious problems that emerge from the drug.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But it's true, isn't it, that you also don't like the so-called morning-after pill?

BRIAN HARRADINE: Well, the PCC is ... and that's been objected to by people who are concerned that that is really an assault, a hormonal assault on the body of women who take it. It's a huge increase in the normal dose and....

KERRY O'BRIEN: But you're opposed to it too, isn't that right?

BRIAN HARRADINE: Oh, yes, yes, I mean, for two reasons I am opposed to these things: one is of course that the victim is an unborn human being; and secondly, its effect on women. And a lot of the material that I am working on has come from women, not only in my office but other professional people as well.

KERRY O'BRIEN: But with more than 80,000 abortions already performed in Australia each year, isn't abortion a fact of life? Don't you see any worth at all in a morning-after pill, if it can be demonstrated that a morning-after pill is, by comparison with other abortions, a relatively safe and easier way to go, that there is some merit in that?

BRIAN HARRADINE: Well, is it? I mean, I could go ... it would take me too long to say what effects it could have on various aspects of the woman's body, including the ovaries....

KERRY O'BRIEN: But are you really qualified to make those judgments?

BRIAN HARRADINE: Well, I don't suppose any politician is, in the sense that we do have to rely on evidence and material. But can I say this to you, Kerry: the PCC is not generally a ... well, it's not a conceptor, it really is a contraceptive; it's an abortifacient. And that's the trouble with all of this debate, the facts should be known. There are 80,000 abortions in Australia and there are many, many women - that's to say 80,000 unborn human beings are killed....

KERRY O'BRIEN: Well, that is your view of it. There are many ... there is, as you know, another view of that.

BRIAN HARRADINE: What are they, Kerry? They're not sort of animals, are they? They're human beings....

KERRY O'BRIEN: The argument as you know, is at what point life begins, in medical terms. But....

BRIAN HARRADINE: I don't think there's any doubt at all, Kerry, that life begins at the beginning, namely conception.

KERRY O'BRIEN: As you also acknowledge we could go on all day with that argument, and that particular argument has been around for decades.

BRIAN HARRADINE: But could I also mention to you....

KERRY O'BRIEN: Very briefly.

BRIAN HARRADINE: The other recommendations ... one of the recommendations is for the normalisations of the dilatation and extraction method which procedure requires the doctor to take the unborn child of four or five months through the birth canal, to the stage where everything is visible except the head. The surgical scissors are then taken and pierced at the bottom of the....

KERRY O'BRIEN: That particular ... sorry, sorry....

BRIAN HARRADINE: Let me finish.

KERRY O'BRIEN: I am sorry, I do have to cut in there because we are out of time. I am afraid that I really can't allow more time on this right now and perhaps we'll revisit it another day.

What I was going to say there, Senator, was that as you know, there are other ways ... what they're talking about, that is an alternative method.

BRIAN HARRADINE: Yes, they're saying that it ought to be the method at that particular stage and ... I was going to say, through the hole a catheter is put, the brains are sucked out and the skull collapses and the unborn human being, Kerry, comes forward.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Very briefly, Senator Harradine, your vote is seen as crucial to the outcome of many contentious government issues at the moment - for starters, cross-media ownership. Do you see any need to change cross-media rules?

BRIAN HARRADINE: Well, I've got my doubts. I can say that to you, Kerry, because I am looking at the actual situation, the comparison of the print media and electronic media on the development of social attitudes and the perception of public policies. And I am doing that very thoroughly, I hope, and I am also aware of the need for diversity. There is a need for diversity. There's no question about that.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And clearly, if Kerry Packer gets Fairfax without surrendering the Nine Network, that would shrink diversity, would it not, and on that basis could you vote for it?

BRIAN HARRADINE: Well, how do you get the diversity then? There are some saying that we should have more people from overseas interested in our media so that we can get a widespread diversity. These are the sorts of things I am looking at very thoroughly. And I haven't seen what the Government's going to do and I don't think anybody has.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And very briefly, on the Prime Minister's 10-point Wik plan. Are you impressed with that plan as a way out of the native title dilemma?

BRIAN HARRADINE: Well, I can say this to you, that I supported Mabo and have supported that concept of native title rights right throughout. I can't see my vote changing in this particular area. I am studying the 10-point plan. I'll be studying very carefully the legislation that is proposed arising therefrom.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And if it means that your vote goes against that and that that plan is rejected, are you phased at all by the prospect of a double dissolution?

BRIAN HARRADINE: Oh, we could do without a double dissolution. Personally I am not, but I don't think it would be wise to got to a double dissolution on a matter of such a nature, frankly.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Brian Harradine, thanks for talking with us.