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Thursday, 20 March 1980
Page: 904


Senator KILGARIFF (Northern Territory) - I reject the thought that this debate should be considered a debate on abortion. We should look at what the debate is all about. It is about human rights. One facet of human rights is the protection of the unborn child. As honourable senators expect- as we can cast a free vote, a conscience vote, on this issue- I support Senator Harradine 's amendment and the Martyr amendment which was passed in the other place. I feel that the Simon amendment, which has come from the House of Representatives and is now before us for debate, whilst it goes a certain way towards achieving the desired result, is not sufficient. Surely what has to be done- a lot of honourable senators have said this today- is to determine when life begins. Perhaps I am in the minority, but I believe that life begins at conception. I see absolutely no reason to accept any other argument. Paragraph 5 of Article 6 in Part III of the Human Rights Commission Bill states:

Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age and shall not be carried out on pregnant women.

One presumes that that would apply to a woman right from the time of conception. This morning I was struck by remarks made by Senator Tate who does not appear to be here at the moment. I believe that he and other honourable senators gave a very good resume of how they saw the situation. I believe that Senator Tate put forward quite a good case. Honourable senators will remember that he talked about the protection of the unborn child. I think he listed some five or six points on the need for an unborn child to be protected. He outlined various situations in which that need was apparent including when the mother is in contact with disease and so on. His remarks were all thought out. I believe that the only aspect of protection of the unborn child which he did not mention was abortion.

As we are discussing human rights today, I believe that there is reason for us to discuss abortion. I, like other honourable senators, feel very strongly that too many abortions are being performed today. I think it was Senator Bonner who said, rightly or wrongly- I have not seen the figures, but I can well believe that what he said is true- that this year some 62,000 abortions would be performed. The figure must be at least as high as that. I suppose that in the past few years, since the laws in this respect were eased to quite a degree, we have lost far more Australians as a result of a change in the law than we have lost in any war. That is a matter which ought to be considered.

Let us consider the Right to Life Association and other such associations which have been lobbying honourable senators and members of the House of Representatives. I believe that there is cause for some criticism in some areas. It is quite foolish for anyone to say that the honourable member for McMillan, Mr Simon, who moved in the House of Representatives one of the amendments which are now before the Committee, is a marked man. For an organisation or a person to make such a foolish statement harms the organisation or person concerned. I believe that in many cases these organisations have fine ideals. It is a pity that on emotional issues such as this some people cannot curb their tongues. As can be seen now, the organisation concerned has come under attack because of such a statement. I reject that statement as emotional. I hope that it was not meant.

I have seen the Right to Life Association in action over the years. I believe that the people of that organisation have very strong feelings on the matter which we are discussing today, namely, human rights- the defence of the unborn child. The Right to Life Association has a right to lobby honourable senators and honourable members, as many other organisations lobby us here in Parliament House. I feel sure that we all receive letters from many women's organisations, some couched in very strong terms, some threatening. In some the language used is so exceptional, so threatening, that we disregard them. I suggest to honourable senators that they should remember that the people who are involved with the Right to Life Association have fine ideals, but I have no doubt that at times some of the people are too emotional. I think that when the honourable member for Swan, Mr Martyr, put his case on this issue in the other place he put it very well. I will take just one minute of the Committee's time to read the first part of his speech, when he said:

The purpose of the first amendment is to define the human rights of every human life, not from birth but from conception; and, secondly, to include in this Bill specific protection for those human rights. The right to life of every innocent person is the central base on which is built the whole of our Western civilization. If any innocent person, however insignificant that person may be, is done to death, his death denies the absolute value of every human life. If we reduce the life of every person to merely relative importance and if we force lives to compete for position on someone 's personal scale of values, we deny all the rights that any of us expect to have. However good our values might be, the integrity and the rights of every human person are reduced to someone's personal opinion. When that happens man is no longer free. He has become a pawn in a game in which only the powerful call the moves. This has happened in Australia. Here unfortunately the value of each human life from its conception is no longer absolute but is subject to the actions of those who can exercise their power against the weak.

That is what this issue is all about. This is a debate on human rights. We are seeking the protection of the unborn child. I suggest that the amendment moved today by Senator Harradine is well worth supporting.







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