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Thursday, 20 March 1980
Page: 903

Senator GRIMES (Tasmania) - I wish to speak briefly on this subject to indicate that I oppose both amendments to the Human Rights Commission Bill. I do so basically for the reasons given by Senator Hamer, Senator Chipp and others today. I will ignore the fine legal arguments that we have heard from the legal members of the Senate. The effect of these amendments- and certainly the aim of those who so vigorously have been campaigning for these amendments with honourable senators and earlier with members of the House of Representatives- as Senator Hamer says and as Senator Bonner so clearly demonstrated, is to provide a platform for the campaign against abortion in this country. In so doing, these amendments will reduce the effectiveness of the Human Rights Commission, and will distort its functions. I do not think that its functions are wide enough and I do not think that they will be effective enough, but they will be distorted considerably by the obvious intent of those who have been campaigning amongst us to use this amendment to wage a campaign against abortion in this country, including the Australian Capital Territory.

I have no objection to these people waging such a campaign. They have every right to do so although, like others, I condemn some of the methods they use. I remind honourable senators that some of those people who have so vigorously campaigned to us to support the Simon amendment condemned Mr Simon as a marked man and said that they would get him in the next election. It is worth remembering that that is what this debate, and these amendments, are about. As I have said, I have no objection to people campaigning as vigorously as they like against abortion in this country but I believe that they should campaign in an appropriate way and in an appropriate place. I believe that those people who would make abortion illegal, and who have been campaigning to me about it, should act against those statutes in the Australian Capital Territory and in the States which make abortion legal, and not try to do it indirectly through health insurance legislation, as was the situation last year, or by tacking on amendments to the Human Rights Commission legislation, therefore reducing the effectiveness of the Human Rights Commission.

Like others, because of the nature of this debate and because of the accusations that are made against people when this sort of emotional debate arises, I must state that I do not share the absolutist views that are held with great sincerity by people like Senator Harradine, on one side, and by people on another side who believe that- in my view, quite ridiculously- abortion is like pulling a tooth or some other very minor procedure. I have no argument with the concept that there is life at conception, but those who claim that that life is the same as life right up until birth and from then on do not follow up their arguments and beliefs in practice in everyday life. If that concept were carried through we would report the one out of four or one out of five cases of women who unfortunately spontaneously miscarry. We would have to report such cases to the coroner as deaths. We would have to go to the ridiculous extreme of having a proper funeral or disposal of the body. We do not do that, and God forbid that we would do it.

There is a concept in the community that life is different in the first trimester, and probably the second trimester. Then, we can introduce rules and regulations such as those in the Australian Capital Territory that any foetus that is aborted after 20 weeks is reported as a birth and death, but not before that stage. This distinction is made, and the vast majority of people in the community make their own distinction. It is also my experience that there are numbers of people who take the absolutist view and change that view when it comes to affect them or those who are close to them. At the other end, there are people who take a very cavalier attitude but who, when it comes to affect them, do not go ahead with it. The vast majority of people in the community lie between those points. They are worried by the subject and they do not treat abortion in a cavalier manner. When it comes to a situation where they or their loved ones may have to have an abortion, it is taken very seriously but still they do not take this absolutist view.

That is the problem with this debate, and that is why it gets as emotional as it does, because people on the extremes, who are in very small minorities, take this absolutist view. In this case, the most sincere people of the Right to Life organisation wish to use any means possible to gain a platform to push their views. We should not allow them to use the Human Rights Commission legislation in this way. We should ask them to put forward their views in an attempt directly to change the laws in relation to abortion in the Australian Capital Territory and in the States, if that is what they want. If they succeed in getting a majority on their side then they will succeed in changing the laws. If they cannot, they will not, and that is what democratic government in this country is all about.

I urge the Senate not to allow the Human Rights Commission legislation to be used as a platform so that annually in this Parliament we have what Senator Hamer correctly described as an absolutely futile debate where people get up and give their extreme views from one end of the scale or the other, or get up and express views from the middle, but still we achieve nothing. Let us legislate properly. If we are opposed to abortion, let us change the abortion laws. But let us not try to achieve our aim by an indirect means, by changing health insurance laws, or Human Rights Commission laws. We might just as well tack this sort of amendment on to an appropriation Bill or any other Bill which comes into this place as to do that. To do so would be equally futile and divisive and would waste the time of this chamber.

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