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Thursday, 14 November 1985
Page: 2142

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Community Services)(11.54) —I appreciate Senator Walters's concern. I would have some concern myself, although I must express some caution about her use of statistics. Senator Walters talked of 34 home births in Tasmania in 1983 with six perinatal deaths. But there are home births and home births. I dare say that one could take the example of the royal family and point out that in recent times there has been a frequent number of home births and the number of deaths has been very low. However, the situation in that case, of course, is that preparations are made for home births. The situation is very different under a system in which home births are the norm, where the mothers are carefully screened and the facilities are available. We can compare this with a place like Tasmania where I would suspect that most of the 34 people who had their births at home were in fact ill-prepared. I know that in a couple of cases there was no antenatal care at all. I certainly accept what Senator Walters says, that the perimortality rate is high. However, I think to quote the figures in that way probably does not help the cause of those who would suggest that most births should be held in hospital. I think that this is a very selective use of statistics.

The Government, certainly to my knowledge-I am in the Cabinet and on all the relevant committees-is not at the moment considering encouraging or, I suppose, discouraging home births. I do not know that we have made any decision at all. The Medical Benefits Schedule Review Committee is in the process of considering this matter as a result of a request from, I assume, the home birth people and will be making its recommendations next February. The Government and the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) will then have to consider the situation. As Senator Walters has accurately said, the Medical Benefits Review Committee is considering this. It considers all sorts of things as a result of requests by various individuals and organisations. She has said that evidence has been taken from the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and others. I am sure that the Committee will take a close look at this matter.

I do not think the Senate or inexpert people like me should make decisions on the basis of statistics such as the ones presented by Senator Walters. I think we should be looking at the facts and the expert advice and then make our decisions. That is when the Government will make its decision. It is certainly not in the process of making its decision now.