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Thursday, 20 March 1980
Page: 907


Senator MARTIN (QUEENSLAND) -We are in the Committee stage of the Human Rights Commission Bill, which puts some constraints on us in terms of time. In the Senate we normally have a generous allotment of time in which to speak but in the Committee stage we have only 1 5 minutes. I have not spoken in the chamber on the subject of abortion. On the previous occasion that the matter was debated I did not state my position on it. I will seek to do so just very briefly in my speech today. I would like to indicate that the fact that I make a brief speech does not mean that I am stating all that I would have liked to have said on this issue.

A number of good speeches have been made. I indicate that I do not intend to repeat a large number of the arguments with which I agree but will allow them to stand in the record. For example, I indicate that I agree with the views and hold as part of the reason that I will vote against these amendments the legal points put by, for example, Senator Missen. Given the constraints of time it is necessary for all of us to take what we think to be the central issues. In my opinion a central issue to which the chamber is addressing itself today on the Simon amendment and the Harradine amendment is whether they are necessary. If either of those amendments is carried, what effect will that have on the Human Rights Commission? What is the purpose of the amendments being moved in the Parliament? I hope to have the chance to say something about the conclusions that can be drawn from the vote that will be taken on them.

A number of honourable senators have spoken on the subject of whether the Simon amendment is necessary. It seems to me that. rejecting the amendment will not in any way reduce the rights which already accrue to the unborn. The amendment adds nothing in terms of rights for the unborn. Unborn children have rights at present accruing to them, of course, after they are born live. Nobody is suggesting that they should have no rights or that anything should be taken away from them. To vote against the amendment is not to vote against the rights of the unborn. Nobody rejects the rights that exist. Nobody is attempting to diminish them. Those who proposed the amendment say that they are trying to enshrine those rights. The amendment does not do that. All the amendments moved are very general amendments fraught with all sorts of dangers for the Human Rights Commission, the effect of the Human Rights Commission Bill and women in the community.

Some suggestion was made at one stage of the debate that if those who support the amendments felt this way they should have said so or moved amendments when the Bill was originally debated in the Senate. I will not be quite as tough as some have been on that subject. I take up the point that Senator Tate made. He said that if cases were taken to the Human Rights Commission relating to the unborn- one takes that to mean also cases relating to abortion- the Commission could make constructive suggestions to the Parliament on how the rights or facilities of the unborn could be improved. Nobody disagrees with Senator Tate 's statement that he is concerned, as we all are, about the welfare of the unborn. As I recall, he said that he made statements to that effect when we had a debate on abortion in the Senate more than a year ago on a motion moved by Senator Ryan. Senator Tate referred to statements he made in that debate along the lines that I have mentioned. Without in any way taking away from Senator Tate 's bona fides which I totally respect, if he has already expressed that view and if he now holds that the view is valid in relation to the Human Rights Commission Bill and the amendments to it, I am surprised that he did not take the chance to raise the point when we had a long debate on the Bill in the Senate last year. In fact, the present debate has been inspired by an amendment which was moved in the House of Representatives, the socalled Martyr amendment. It came as a surprise to a number of people. I suspect that it came as a surprise to honourable senators as well as to members in the House of Representatives and people outside it. It did not occur to them that such an amendment could be moved. They had not thought of moving such an amendment to this Bill.

The effect of passing these amendments is a matter for judgment. There are those who have claimed throughout the debate that the effect would be to so divert the Human Rights Commission as to make it virtually unworkable and to so occupy its time with deciding whether an abortion should take place that the true purpose of the Human Rights Commission would be swamped. The amendments could, I believe, lead to an overloading and distortion of the Commission. One of the reasons I believe that that is possible is the very fact that we are debating these amendments in the Senate today. There are people in our community who take an extraordinary extreme view on the subject of abortion. I respect the views of those who differ with me on the subject of whether abortion should be made available but I find repugnant, as other honourable senators have indicated in the debate today and as some members of the House of Representatives have indicated, the tactics of some of those who hold the view that to abort a foetus is to commit murder.

We can debate forever- many people have been debating throughout the history of human existence as far as we are aware- when life starts, what constitutes life and what constitutes a living person when we address ourselves to the subject of abortion. But we end up with an opinion. I object to those who have a view that to abort is to commit murder and who insist that everbody in the community shares that view and that we debate the subject in relation to the Human Rights Commission Bill. As has been indicated, there has been some attempted intimidation of members of Parliament. Given the extremity of the activities of certain people who try to bully members of Parliament into voting for legislation which conforms with their view, I have no doubt at all how those people will treat the

Human Rights Commission if these amendments are carried. They have shown us many times how far they are prepared to go and how extreme they are prepared to be.

I pose a question to the Senate: If this tactic is successful on this Bill how many debates in the Parliament on other Bills will turn into debates on abortion? This Bill had nothing to do with abortion until an amendment was moved in the other place and then an anti-abortion campaign started. I do not think that any of us dreamt when we thought about, debated and voted on this Bill last year that it would come back to us with an abortion amendment attached to it to which we would have to address ourselves. I can see potential for all manner of government legislation to impinge on human or civil rights, medicine, health treatment or other factors. Such legislation could suddenly be subjected to these sorts of amendments and we would be in the same position. I am not saying that abortion debates are irrevelant in the Parliament. I am saying that they are not relevant in every subject into which one could find some guise for slipping them. If these amendments were passed it would be an invitation for people to try this. We would have endless pressure, intimidation and everything that goes with it from people who will not respect a contrary point of view.

What is the purpose of those who support this amendment? I do not address these comments to honourable senators who may choose to vote for the amendment. I respect the views that have been put by all senators who have indicated that they will support either the Harradine amendment or the Simon amendment. The motive of those who initiated the amendments and who conducted a campaign once the amendments were moved in the House of Representatives was simply to prevent abortions because they think that abortion is murder. If the Bill is amended in this way, those people will have the means, via the Human Rights Commission, to intimidate and harass pregnant women who want abortions. It will hang over the heads of those women that it is possible for others to take a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. That is intimidation and harassment.

I think it is relevent to look at the resolution passed at the national conference of women in Canberra earlier this month. Out of about 140 delegates only 1 7 registered their opposition to a motion relating to abortion. That is significant. Nobody can argue that those women were ratbag, radical leftists or whatever label is in vogue these days to attach to women who think that women's position in society is capable of favourable amendment. I believe that all members of parliament received a statement headed 'For Information of all Members of Federal Parliament' which outlined that resolution. It indicated how many delegates were present at the conference and the spread of the organisations which were represented at the conference. It indicated that only 1 7 delegates refused to support the resolution. A number of names appear at the bottom of that statement. We received today a letter from a woman who is a member of the Australian Capital Territory House of Assembly indicating that there was something unrepresentative, radical or extreme about some aspects of that conference, particularly the fact that the resolution was conveyed to us.

I do not know all the women whose names appear on the bottom of the statement to which I have just referred, but I know several. I know certainly that some of them are of my political persuasion. They vote for the Liberal Party. They would be considered by those who vote for the Australian Labor Party to be conservatives in terms of their overall politics. I know that they are also reasonable women and they have a view which they subscribe to and believe in this case to be reasonable. So to dismiss that statement in those terms is grossly misleading. I note that my time is running out, which means that I will have very much to truncate the last couple of points that I wanted to make, but I want to make one point very clear.


Senator McLaren - You can take as long as you like. If nobody stands, just carry on.


Senator MARTIN (QUEENSLAND) - Thank you. I would be pleased to have that option, if for only a couple of minutes. This week I received a telegram from Archbishop Rush of Brisbane, a gentleman whom I very much respect, admire and, just as importantly, like. It is a telegram which conveys to me his personal deep concern on the subject of abortion. It is a view that I would accept the Archbishop holds quite genuinely. However he uses a term in the telegram which so many of the anti-abortion lobby use. He uses the term 'prolife'. He urges me to take a pro-life stand. What I will not accept is that from the views I have on the subject of abortion and the way that I will vote on this amendment, anybody could conclude that I am anti-life. I will not accept that. I know the Archbishop does not mean it, but some of his flock will certainly take that point of view and they have no right to do that. When it comes down to the subject of whether abortion is murder, one essentially comes down to an opinion relating to whether all abortions are murder, some are murder or none are. My view is simply that I do not have any objections on those grounds to abortions in the first and second trimester of pregnancy. I have very deep reservations about abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy. However, I do not rule them out because there are circumstances where a doctor may advise that the mother may die if a termination of pregnancy is not performed in the third trimester. But that is my opinion. I do not seek by means of legislation or anything else to impose that view on others.

I would like to see a society where people are able to make decisions, as we do in this place. I find the way that we all claim vigorously the right to a conscience vote very distressing in these debates. Yet so many can turn around and say: It is my conscience which would be imposed on people out there'. They are not allowed a conscience. They are not allowed to decide whether the first, second or third trimester abortions in any way offend their own morality. (Extension of time granted) I thank the Senate. I shall speak for only a couple of minutes. I do appreciate and realise that an extension of time is a device of the Senate that should be used sparingly and I shall respect that the Senate has given me that opportunity. The point I am trying to make is that essentially it comes down to a matter of opinion. My opinion is that abortions in the first and second trimester do not constitute murder. I know that there are many people who have the opinion that abortion any time after the beginning of the pregnancy is murder. I respect their view. They base it on a philosophical concept of what constitutes life. I totally respect their view. I only wish they would show the same respect for my view. A number of them do. I have had many indications from Catholic men and women that they are prepared to accept my view. They say they do not agree. The women may say: 'I believe that I would not have an abortion if I had an unwanted pregnancy, but I do not believe that my view should be imposed on others'. Certainly that view deserves respect. Unfortunately, that sort of respect is not shown in the anti-abortion campaign to which we are subjected at the moment and from time to time.

There is the question about when life does begin and when human rights begin. Are human rights enforceable before birth? Nobody on any occasion I am aware of has attempted to explain that. There are human rights which pre-date birth once a child is born alive. It would be a mistake to confuse the debate that will go on and the issues, because if the amendment is defeated it must go back to the House of Representatives which must make a judgment on what it is to do. I am personally gratified at the tone of the debate on this subject. It has been about an amendment to the Human Rights Commission Bill. It has been about how the amendment could affect the Human Rights Commission. Honourable senators have taken the opportunity to indicate views on abortion because their views could be their reason for voting the way they do. Nevertheless, in this chamber today I think the debate has been essentially the same as that in the House of Representatives. But none of us has any illusions about the effect that passage of the amendments would have. I thank the Senate for its courtesy in extending me an additional three minutes and recommend that the Senate reject both amendments put to it today.







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