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Wednesday, 15 February 2006
Page: 176

Mr WAKELIN (10:16 PM) —Firstly, in speaking to the Therapeutic Goods Amendment (Repeal of Ministerial responsibility for approval of RU486) Bill 2005, I thank all constituents and colleagues for their wonderful interest in and advice on this difficult issue. The gift of life is our greatest gift, and anything which intrudes on that is a sad event and creates for me, as I think it does in most Australians, a sense of personal distress. Personally, I find it impossible to separate abortion from that general description. It is said that we have 91,000 abortions per year in this country. I further find it impossible to make this a gender-specific issue—that is, a specifically female issue. I believe that my wife, my daughter, my grand-daughter and my sisters are of great interest to me and that I care for them as much as other people in this country care for their loved ones. Therefore, I find this narrow definition of gender quite difficult and impossible to accept.

I am advised that it has always been possible under current arrangements to apply for approval to market RU486 but that no such application has ever been lodged in Australia. We could debate for some considerable time whether potential sponsors are deterred because of the ministerial power or authority. That is not my role here tonight, but I just make the point that it has been possible and no-one has sought to make an application.

I would just like to describe the substantive clinical facts of RU486. Medical abortion using the RU486 misoprostal combination will lead to a successful abortion in between 92 and 98 per cent of cases. In the five to eight per cent of cases in which there has not been a successful abortion, the abortion will need to be completed surgically by a qualified physician. In some cases women will require urgent medical care for side effects such as internal bleeding and infection of the retained products of conception, and safe medical abortion like surgical abortion requires the availability of an appropriate level of backup medical care to address possible complications arising from the procedure. Wherever people sit in this debate, that seems to be generally agreed.

Coming from a rural, regional and remote part of Australia, the case has been put to me that RU486 offers some benefit to people living in remote areas in particular. I would just remind the House and those who have an interest in this issue—and I think that is very many Australians—that safe medical abortion, like surgical abortion, requires the availability of an appropriate level of backup medical care to address possible complications arising from the procedure. We all know that that very specialist support is quite limited in remote and regional Australia and therefore quite difficult to rely upon.

I cannot separate the ethical issue from the clinical issue. I cannot put the abortion issue over there, accepting the jurisdictional factors, and say that it is not part of this discussion. I cannot abdicate what I regard as my key responsibility as a member of parliament. To say that the minister—and members of parliament, for that matter, but particularly the minister—does not have access to accurate advice is an insult to this place, to our executive and to our system of government. The Minister for Health and Ageing has the Chief Medical Officer and a bureaucracy which is of a very significant dimension. So the minister can seek the best advice that this country can offer.

In concluding my comments—and I do not wish to repeat what many others have said—it is important that I just reiterate that the gift of life is our greatest gift, that parliamentary responsibility stops with me as an elected representative, that it is impossible for me to separate the ethical from the clinical and that there is a very clear ethical and moral dimension to this discussion. Therefore, I will be supporting the amendments to the bill and voting against the bill if necessary.