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Wednesday, 14 March 1973
Page: 557

Mr MATHEWS (Casey) - The importance of this legislation lies not in its economic implications but in its social promise. Exempting contraceptives from taxation represents an early and quite minor stage in our new Government's program for enabling Australians to regulate as they choose the fertility with which they are endowed. After listening to the speech of the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock), which represented a welcome nod in the direction of the Women's Electoral Lobby, I feel that I should fill in with more care and precision than that honourable member some of the background against which this Bill is set. President Nixon's Commission on Population Growth and the American Future reported last year that 21.1 per cent of America's unmarried women were sexually active before their seventeenth birthday, 26.6 per cent before their eighteenth birthday, 37.1 per cent before their nineteenth birthday and 46.1 per cent before their twentieth birthday. The Commission pointed out that most of the women concerned seldom or never used birth control techniques. Comparable figures are not available for this country, but there are facts upon which an informed guess can be based. In Australia, as in America, two-fifths of all illegitimate children are born to teenage mothers. Whereas 10 per cent of all Australian births occur out of wedlock, 33 per cent occur out of wedlock where the mother is under 20 years of age. Two-thirds of the first births of wives under 21 years of age occur less than 9 months after marriage. It is significant in the light of the figures I have just quoted that whereas about one in every 10 marriages ends in a divorce court, a symposium sponsored in Brisbane by the Australian Medical Association was told that half of Queensland's divorces involved women who married under age.

Ninety per cent of Australia's married women of child-bearing age practise family planning but only 63 per cent of those who do so use reliable methods such as oral contraceptives and intra-uterine devices, or exercise an informed preference for the ovulation method associated with the Catholic faith. One per cent of the married women who practise family planning rely upon douching, which has a failure rate of 31 per cent; 2 per cent upon spermicides, with a failure rate of 20 per cent; 5 per cent upon diaphragms, with a failure rate of 12 per cent; 9 per cent upon condoms, with a failure rate of 14 per cent; and 19 per cent upon withdrawal, with a failure rate of 18 per cent. In all, 37 per cent of these women are dependent for protection against unwanted pregnancies upon techniques which are known to be unreliable. It is interesting to note that the consumer organisation in this city of Canberra found unreliable in tests which it conducted in 1964 2.7 per cent of Durex brand condoms, 8 per cent of Superchecker, 9.3 per cent of Silvertex, 10 per cent of Durex Gossamer and 28.7 per cent of Wet-chek. It will be recalled that the former Minister for the Navy told the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) on 28th September last that condoms to the value of 38,335 issued by his Department over the preceding 5 years had not been for contraceptive purposes. That, it seems, was just as well.

Unwanted pregnancies are occurring in excessive numbers in all sections of the community, and they are occurring most frequently in those sections of the community which can afford them least. Whereas only 7 per cent of married women with 13 or more years of formal education have never practised family planning, 11 per cent of those with 10 to 12 years of education, 13 per cent of those with 7 to 9 years of education, 19 per cent of those with 1 to 6 years of education and 22 per cent of those who are devoid of formal education - they are a significant group within our community - have never done so. Up to 37 per cent of women from professional, managerial or white collar occupational backgrounds use oral contraceptives or intra-uterine devices, but only 15 per cent from unskilled occupations do so. Conversely 36 per cent of women from unskilled occupational backgrounds rely upon withdrawal, but only about 2 per cent of professional, managerial and white collar women do so. Less educated women are more likely to use unreliable family planning methods and to adopt them without the guidance of doctors. Only half a sample of women who were interviewed recently at the Royal Brisbane Hospital had ever consulted a doctor about family planning, although 85 per cent of them thought family planning was a good idea. We are faced not only with women who cannot afford to buy reliable contraceptives but also with women who have no idea which contraceptives to buy.

Ignorance of family planning and failures of family planning, often arising from the economic circumstance with which this Bill in part deals, have created a situation in which doctors estimate that up to half the pregnancies which occur in Australia each year are unwanted. Surveys show that 11 per cent of the mothers of 2-child families, 28 per cent of the mothers of 3-child families, 41 per cent of the mothers of 4-child families and 45 per cent of the mothers of 5-chiId families would rather not have had their last-born child. Estimates of the number of pregnancies which are aborted range as high as 120,000 each year.

Mr McLeay - Whose figures are those?

Mr MATHEWS - I will gladly provide the honourable member with a list of references after the debate. Abortion is a repellant practice which remains, in the situation I have described, inevitable. We need better policies to minimise the frequency with which women are aborted and to ensure that abortion is regarded as a last resort. Our present laws have turned out to be a means not of achieving these objectives but of corrupting our police forces and of creating a bonanza for backyard butchers. Abortion has not been prevented, but we have made relative freedom from the pain and risk of death or mutilation associated with it yet another privilege of the rich. The program of which today's legislation is a part should be seen as seeking through education and pricing policies a reduction in the incidence of abortion which laws have not achieved and can never achieve. It should be seen in a wider sense as an affirmation by our national Government of the basic human right to exercise over reproduction a voluntary, rational and responsible control.

It should be remembered that unwanted pregnancies involve a community not only in familiar moral and social problems, to which I have referred, but also in economic problems which are less well understood. A recent Swedish study reveals that children born after their mothers have been refused abortions were far more likely than other children to become members of broken families, inmates of public institutions and recipients of welfare benefits. Cost benefit studies which were carried out in 1972 by Political and Economic Planning for the British Family Planning Association established that averting the birth of an unwanted child saved in public health and welfare services alone $1,350 in the case of a child born fourth in its family, $1,510 in the case of a child born fifth in its family and $8,728 in the case of the illegitimate child. It is a mark of our backwardness in matters of family planning that comparable studies on the cost of unwanted children to Australia do not exist.

Our former Government increased enormously the likelihood of unwanted pregnancies, abortions and unloved children by refusing to promote sex education in schools or to assist the States, local government bodies and voluntary agencies such as churches in the establishment of family planning clinics through which information on birth control techniques, Including for those who prefer it the ovulation method, could be disseminated effectively. It hampered family planning by prohibiting the advertising of contraceptives, imposing tariff duties and a 'luxury' sales tax of 271 per cent on contraceptives and by excluding prescribed oral contraceptives from the pharmaceutical benefits scheme.

You would be aware, Mr Deputy Speaker, that sales tax is levied under item 62 of the Second Schedule of the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act on 'Potentex Cream, Ortho-Gynol Cream, Rosuvin Tablets, Q.T. Cream, Kareen Cream, Agressit Tablets, Semor Tablets, Controids, condoms, goldpin pessaries, cervical caps and goods used for purposes similar to the purposes for which these goods are used*. It is a mark of the time which has gone by since last the tax was revised that no more than two or three of the preparations named can still be bought. Sales tax was introduced on 30th October 1941 as a wartime measure at the rate of 20 per cent and increased subsequently to 271 per cent. Its effect is exacerbated in the case of imported contraceptives by the imposition of tariff duties. Oral, spermicidal and other contraceptives of a chemical character attract a general rate tariff of 321 per cent and preferential rate tariff of 171 per cent. Rubber contraceptives such as condoms and diaphragms attract a general rate of 371 per cent plus 10 per cent primage and a preferential rate of 171 per cent plus 5 per cent primage. Intrauterine devices attract a general rate of 45 per cent and a preferential rate of 271 per cent. These duties are eased in some instances under by-law, but in each case one and onefifth of the sum of the value of the goods and the duty payable on them attracts sales tax at the rate of 271 per cent.

Whereas the former Government inflated artificially the cost of contraception through its tariff and taxation policies, the present Government has acted through the legislation before us to exempt contraceptives from taxation.

Whereas the former Government excluded prescribed oral contraceptives from the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, the present Government has incorporated them in the scheme. Health authorities expect that as a result of that single initiative, the number of women reliably protected against unwanted pregnancy by oral contraceptives will rise from 750,000 to lm. Whereas the former Government subsidised family planning for Aborigines but not for other Australians, the present Government has already made available $300,000 for the development of family planning in all sections of our community, including those whose interest is restricted to the ovulation method.

The increasing frequency with which women are being aborted, unwanted children are being brought into the world and couples are marrying for no other reason than to legitimatise a pregnancy confronts Australians with a challenge. We cannot meet that challenge by remaining inactive like the former Government, nor can we meet it by confining our interest to changing or defending against change the law on abortion. We must provide women who choose to practise family planning with reliable means of doing so at a price they can afford to pay. We must ensure as far as possible that decisions about pregnancy are made before rather than after conception, and that every child born in this country is wanted and loved.

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