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Thursday, 20 March 1980
Page: 894

The CHAIRMAN - Order! We are discussing the amendment moved by Senator Harradine and the amendments that have come from the House of Representatives. The debate should relate specifically to those amendments and not to any other part of the Bill.

Senator McLAREN - I am asking the Attorney-General a question in relation to a statement that he put down in the chamber today when he introduced the amendments from the other place. I seek some clarification as to what is to be the position if a pregnant woman is sentenced to a gaol term in the Australian Capital Territory and has to be transported to New South Wales to serve her term of imprisonment.

Senator Mason - Mr Chairman,I take a point of order. Under Standing Order 1 40 an amendment proposed but not seconded shall not be further debated. Has the amendment been seconded?

The CHAIRMAN - That applies to amendments moved in the Senate, not in the Committee of the Whole.

Senator McLAREN - I am not debating Senator Harradine 's amendment. I am debating the amendments which were introduced into this chamber earlier today by the Attorney-General as Acting Leader of" the Government in the Senate. I am seeking clarification as to the legal situation which will apply to a pregnant woman who is arrested in the Australian Capital Territory, sentenced to a gaol term and transported to New South Wales or any other State to serve her term of imprisonment. What will be the legal situation of the unborn child? If the amendments are passed the unborn child will be determined to have the rights of a human being. Will the child be able to sue for wrongful imprisonment? If so, who will the child sue? Will he or she sue the Commonwealth Government for wrongful imprisonment in the Australian Capital Territory or will he or she sue the New South Wales Government? Until that matter is cleared up lengthy litigation could occur in trying to determine which Government would be responsible. Action could be taken to sue the Commonwealth Government, the New South Wales Government or any other State government for an unlimited amount if these amendments were passed.

The other question I ask relates to the family allowance. If the Simon amendments are passed, when will payment of the family allowance commence? Senator Missen may well laugh. He is a man of high legal standing. He puts forward good legal arguments. If the Simon amendments are passed and the law states that a person is a human being from the time of conception how do we determine when the mother of that child is to commence receiving payment of the family allowance? That is the question I pose to the Attorney-General. Before introducing amendments such as these, surely the Government has received some legal opinion on those two matters.

I raise another matter which arises from a statement made by Senator Missen. It pertains to Part II of the Human Rights Commission Bill which will be law whether or not these amendments are passed. Under the division entitled Establishment, Functions and Powers' the Commission, among other things, may sue and be sued in its corporate name. This gets back to the question I have just posed. Is the Commission open to be sued by a child who was bora in a prison? Will a child be able to sue the Commission for compensation for having been born in gaol when he or she has committed no crime even though the mother may have? Will the child sue the New South Wales or the Commonwealth Government if the mother is sentenced in the Australian Capital Territory?

Senator Missen - Not the Commission.

Senator McLAREN - Senator Missensays not the Commission'. These are the questions that have to be answered. Another matter that concerns me is that members of Parliament are inundated with piles of correspondence prevailing upon them not to support the Simon amendments. Had Senator Harradine 's amendment been floated prior to today no doubt we would have been inundated with correspondence asking us to support it. What concerns me is that this group of people outside the Parliament urging us to support the amendments seems to be concerned only with putting a case for the unborn child. In the length of time I have been a member of Parliament I have never been inundated with as much correspondence asking me to support measures to uplift the living standards of small children who are under-privileged, young girls who may be raped, kids who suffer from malnutrition or who are bashed by their parents and so on. They are not concerned. I have asked people who are now propositioning members of Parliament why they do not take up the cudgels on other matters. They say: 'That is another sphere. We are not interested in that'. They are interested only in the unborn child.

As a father of three and a grandparent of five I am concerned about the children who are born in the community. I am very concerned that these people do not show as much interest in their welfare. That remark also applies to many members of Parliament. When we are debating in the Parliament legislation to uplift the living standards of people, we have a job to get a quorum in the chamber. Yet when we have a debate on abortion both houses of Parliament are packed all the time the debate goes on. It appears that many people in the community live by double standards. I hope that the Attorney-General will be able to give me an answer before these amendments are put to the vote. I reiterate that I will not be supporting either the Simon amendments or the Harradine amendment.

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